This is the first of two articles about the way that Shropshire Council has begun the New Year in a remarkably oddball way.
Steve Charmley, deputy leader of the council has got a bee in his bonnet about vegan adverts on Arriva buses. He wants them banned because Shropshire is “a great County built on Agriculture!” I would have hoped we are first and foremost a great county based on human rights and freedom of speech. Councillor Charmley is calling for a meeting with Arriva buses, a company the council subsidises to the tune of £2 million a year. That meeting would be wrong just at the point the council is planning to cut £405,000 from its £2.5 million bus budget.
The rant by deputy council leader Steve Charmley began with angry tweets. He accused the promoters of Veganuary of promoting “fake news”.
He then spoke to BBC Radio Shropshire and the Shropshire Star. The Guardian has picked up the story. Councillor Charmley might not be so happy with that as the Guardian is among that cadre of media that Donald Trump accuses of “fake news”. But the councillor also gets coverage inthe Sun and the i newspaper. It will only be hours before reporters scratching around for a story at the Telegraph and Mail also file reports.
This could be regarded as a bit of fun, even an irrelevance. But I have no doubt that it is an attack on one of the fundamentals of our democracy. Our ability to speak freely. Steve Charmley is deputy leader of Shropshire Council. The council pays almost £2 million a year in subsidies for the scheduled services Arriva runs in Shropshire. He has said: “I am asking to meet with Arriva to discuss” the advert. That meeting will come just as Shropshire Council is planning to cut £405,000 from its £2.5 million bus budget next April.
Steve is not the sort of man who would make any threat on bus financing and he would not dream of doing so in this situation. But it will be in the mind of Arriva bosses when they are summoned to Shirehall to explain why they advertise a popular cause to the discontent of a former dairy farmer.
Councillor Charmley should not meet with Arriva. There is a long-established route for his complaint. That is the Advertising Standards Authority. He should use that.
There are other ways he can protest. Marks and Spencer has just boosted its vegan clothing range. Surely, he should be organising a protest outside the store? How can we have M&S in this county when we are a great county based on agriculture? Even Greggs now does a vegan sausage role. Will he protest there too?
No one should ever make a threat to freedom of speech. There are enough checks and balances in place to ensure that adverts are legal, decent, honest and truthful. Steve Charmley is perfectly entitled to make his views known. But a meeting with Arriva chiefs just before bus budgets are set be cut should be off his agenda.
For the record, I am a carnivore going on omnivore.