He may have been declaring victory as US tanks trundled up Main Street, Baghdad, but Comical Ali still has nothing on Lincoln Labour MP, Gillian Merron.
This is what she had to say about the effect of the smoking ban on pub closures during a health committee meeting last week.
Merron said: “The pub trade does have challenges and I am aware of that but it isn’t the case that the ban had led to pub closures.”That's right, none at all. No closures have resulted since Labour re-classified community pubs to the same category as crèches and public libraries. No closures have occurred since Labour enforced the equivalent of making you eat your fish inside the restaurant but your chips outside.
She went on to describe the smoking ban of 2007 as a “tremendous success” and said it had the support of 80 per cent of the public
I'm not sure when, if ever, Merron last pulled a pint, but those who spend their lives doing so think her statement is, quite frankly, risible. One columnist in the trade paper, the Morning Advertiser, described her as 'laughable', 'ridiculous', and 'shows a severe lack of knowledge of the problems the pub trade is facing right now'.
Gillian Merron: "Pah! Comical Ali was always an amateur"
Alistair Darling was in 'no doubt' that the smoking ban had had an effect on pub closures, and even Martin Dockrell, Policy Director of ASH, put the decrease in footfall attributable to the ban at 50%.
The only excuse is the Tom Harris defence, that no-one had expressed any disquiet to her about the law, so therefore everyone must be happy.
However, Gillian cannot even remotely claim that. Because she was visited, at her constituency surgery, by two local publicans chosen to represent Lincoln businesses who were suffering under her party's legislation.
Here are some extracts from an e-mail one of them sent to me yesterday describing their meeting with Merron over a local surgery table.
I can’t remember what month it was but it was late 2007 about Nov/Dec when I asked for a meeting with GM to bring in petition from about 20 different pubs in the city, that were all feeling the effect from the smoking ban, I know that my petition alone had over 100 signatures, which would have been more, but quite a lot of my customers were not coming in any longer.Whether she did or not is debatable as all this landlady received after the meeting was a letter detailing the dangers of second hand smoke.
A fellow Landlady and I went to present our petitions to GM and also had a discussion with her, as she seemed really keen to know how we were coping and we had a really good talk.
We let her know the problems we were having because of the ban. She was told of the downhill takings because of people’s refusal to come in a pub any longer. We let her know that this was non-smokers as well and we also let her know that all the pubs submitting petition had not had the honour of welcoming any new non-smokers into their establishments.
It was told to her that my takings were down from £6,200 a week average to £5,200 a week, but bills had stayed the same, £1,266 rent, £400 rates, £2,500 beer bill, £100 spirit bill, £450 staff wages, £230 gas/elec, £150 entertainment and all the other expenses i.e. water, rubbish disposal, beer gas, TV licence, sanitary etc, had to come out of the remaining £100. She seemed so concerned.
The other landlady then said that it was worse for me because I could lose my home as well and by then the discussion had got to quite an emotional stage, because of our struggle, but that was the first time I had actually realised that I could lose my home. I started crying about that thought, which set my fellow landlady off and when we looked round Gillian was also shedding a tear.
Gillian said she would pass the petitions on.
Remember that. 20 pubs in her own constituency took time to petition her to represent their views, yet last week Merron stated that she knew of no evidence of any pubs suffering as a result of the legislation her party bludgeoned, undemocratically, through parliament.
The landlady concerned isn't a landlady anymore.
Since then, my takings carried on going down, I tried spending more on weekend entertainment to try to encourage people in, but none of it worked. I tried doing meals, which worked for a week and finished with just one plate of chips sold a day. In the end our outgoing always exceeded our income and we finished up owing too much and on 1st July 2009 we had to declare bankruptcy and close the pub.Perhaps Gillian might like to revise her estimate of pub closures upwards by at least one, then?
One would have thought that such an emotional meeting would ring a bell with Merron when she boasted of the 'tremendous success' of the ban. This was a face to face meeting after all, and MPs do like to tell us how hard working they are for their constituents. But Merron simply dumped the heartfelt petitions on a researcher or DoH civil servant and got on with the job of defending her party instead.
Fortunately for Merron, and other shameful MPs who boasted of the huge benefits of interfering in private property rights, she isn't forced to live with the consequences of her party's actions. Sadly, others have less scope.
I am now paying £800 a month Mortgage as we took a remortgage to take the pub on. (The mortgage was only a manageable £350 a month before we took the pub on) We are waiting for the interest rates to go back up and then we will probably lose the house, our home. Thanks to the smoking ban.If you live in Lincoln you have one chance, and one chance only, of gaining the support of your local MP. You must be fully in adherence with Labour party policy or you might as well be whistling in the wind.
For Gillian Merron, party comes first. Constituents are just a necessary evil.