(Top photo: VICE)
If you're the sort of person who will staunchly defend your right to mutter "fuck sake" at late buses, rain and really anything you want to mutter "fuck sake" at, you might want to give Rochdale a wide berth.
Rochdale borough council wants to introduce £80 fines for anyone caught swearing in public. Understandably, critics have pointed out that punishing people for speaking would be a breach of their human rights. Under the same move, begging, "loitering", antisocial parking, playing loud music, loudly revving car engines, drinking in the street, unauthorised charity collections and skateboarding could also be banned, while a curfew could be imposed on under-18s that would prevent them from entering the town centre between 11PM and 6AM. Good luck to the Police Community Support Officers whose job it'll be to criminalise homeless people, OAPs with charity boxes and children.
Laraten Caten, the legal officer for Liberty, told Manchester Evening News that the plans would be hard to enforce: "These proposals would unjustifiably curb the rights and freedoms of Rochdale residents. The swearing ban is so vaguely defined it would prove impossible for anyone to know whether they were breaking the law or not, while a blanket ban on begging will criminalise some of the most vulnerable people in the town."
Richard Farnell, the leader of Rochdale borough council, hit back: "With all the horrific human rights abuses happening around the world right now, I would have thought Liberty had bigger things to worry about. We are clamping down on a small minority of antisocial ne'er-do-wells who drunkenly shout and swear and harangue shoppers in our town centre."
While it's admittedly refreshing to hear "ne'er-do-wells" used outside a Dickens novel, it might be appropriate to ask why Rochdale borough council isn't trying to tackle the bigger problems facing these people, rather than trying to squeeze them dry for swearing when it's not directly offensive to anyone. That said, some of Rochdale's residents are happy about the plans, including Gillian Duffy, the same woman who Gordon Brown accidentally publicly declared a bigot after forgetting to turn off his microphone after an interview in 2010.
Duffy, 72, told the Guardian she had once had a go at a schoolgirl for swearing on a bus in Rochdale. "She was swearing her head off, and there was this old lady – this was a while ago, I'm an old lady myself now – shaking her head and saying, 'Oh dear, oh dear.' I said to this girl: 'Shut your filthy mouth.' It shocked her."