One year in office for Boris, a bit of free parking and that menthol cigarettes ban

*Photo: Parking charges – photo by Chris Constantine

First published in the Isle of Thanet News of Friday 24th July 2020

So BORIS has been in Downing Street for a year today. Photos from July 24, 2019, show him jabbing a finger in the air, while declaring that the time had come to “change this country for the better.”

Since then, he has of course prorogued parliament to get his own way, won an 80-seat majority by repeating “Get Brexit done” 786,000 times, taken us out of the EU without much hope of the “new deal, a better deal” that he promised – God help us, (the pound has still not recovered against the Euro since the first disastrous days after the referendum); been in hospital with Covid 19, and become a father for at least the sixth time.

What he hasn’t done is make hospital parking free. Although rumours claim he once wanted to adopt this as a policy but was talked out of it by Matt Hancock. Now there’s a thing, you might well say, except that when Mr Hancock claims such a move would cause a harmful shortage of spaces for patients, he is probably right.

I find the Health Secretary as annoying as the next woman, but I discovered long ago that the subject of paid parking is a tricky one.

Of course it is utterly disgraceful that it should cost NHS workers to go to work – I had no idea, pre-Covid, that this even happened – and the free spaces they enjoy now should certainly be continued. But if you make it free for everyone, then I can see how this could cause problems too.

Long ago, I wrote an opinion piece, asserting that parking should be free in Broadstairs High Street and Northdown Road and other popular retail spots, to increase the footfall to the shops. Someone wrote to me pronto, to calmly point out that the free spaces would immediately be filled by the shops’ workers or those who lived in the surrounding roads, and there would be nowhere for the “shoppers” to park at all.

Suitably chastened, I would now query why the first half-hour can’t be free? Long enough to pop hither for a loaf or a pound of parsnips, and to collect the dry-cleaning, but not so long one can dump the car and disappear with abandon for a five-hour lunch.

Surely it would not be beyond the wit of man to come up with a similar plan for hospital forecourts?

You can currently stay 20 minutes after passing through the barrier at QEQM before being charged – sufficient time to drive round four times looking for that elusive space, wait five minutes for someone who shouldn’t be driving to attempt to manoeuvre a four-by-four, and then queue for the privilege of using the machine. Which isn’t much use to anyone.

What could be, is an extension of that to forty minutes.  And a system whereby someone like me – who can afford to pay for a ticket while I have my dodgy elbow looked at or I visit a pal after her hysterectomy –  is expected to cough up, while the pensioner who wants to visit her husband daily for the three weeks he’s bedridden, or the patient on chemotherapy, does not.  A small slip of paper could be issued for the windscreens of those known to be on low incomes or with long-term health conditions.  Preventing the chancers from clogging up a free space for hours while they go to the pub, or take their children to the beach.

Nigel Farage in his (mercifully unsuccessful) campaign to represent South Thanet, talked of hospital parking being free. It made me cross at the time because I knew it wasn’t in his gift. It’s no surprise to realise now, that he hadn’t thought it through either.

ANOTHER move that had totally passed me by was the prohibition of menthol cigarettes which came into effect in May of this year. The friend who informed me  was scathing about the ban, claiming it wouldn’t make any difference to whether someone smoked or not.

Deborah Arnott, however, of Action on Smoking and Health, put the view that “research shows that menthol in cigarettes makes it easier for children to try smoking and to go on to become addicted smokers.”

I have to say, I’m with Deborah.

I tried my first menthol cigarette at a shockingly young age, and when, later,  the good chum I puffed with, instructed me bossily (yes Karen H, it was you!) that I wasn’t inhaling properly I stood in front of a mirror aged sixteen and practised till I got it right. My nicotine-partner got bored with smoking a few months later, and has never indulged since, while I spent the next 15 years spot-welded to a packet of Consulate, or St Moritz, or any sort of fag with a minty twist. Being pregnant eventually saved me from myself, but since I could never bear “ordinary” cigarettes, I do wonder if there’d not been menthol ones, if I’d ever have started in the first place.

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