A swearing ban? Piss off…

Expletives are extremely versatile. You can use them in a variety of contexts, depending on how creative you get, to express all manner of human emotions. But, if you have the misfortune of finding yourself in Salford any time soon, be prepared to cough up anything from £90 to a £1,000 if you’re caught getting creative with your language.

Local councils in the UK have become notorious for trying to control their citizens, but Salford has really outdone itself. In a bizarre move, the council has introduced a public space protection order (PSPO), which, in an effort to ‘tackle anti-social behaviour’, will criminalise ‘foul and abusive language’. Apparently, the council wants to wipe clean anything that it deems unacceptable.

The ban has drawn considerable attention and has been criticised as an outrageous infringement on freedom of speech. But while the ban may well seem bizarre, it is not exceptional. This is just one in a long line of bans, fines and prohibitions enacted by local authorities across the country. PSPOs have been used to criminalise begging, busking, leafleting, drinking in public, and all manner of other activities in an attempt to sanitise public spaces.

However, the swearing ban also reveals a particular disdain for football fans – that section of society considered most odious by the authorities. The ban focuses on the Salford Quays area – a posh docklands development and a route used by thousands of Manchester United fans to get to and from Old Trafford. Thus, under the guise of public protection, the PSPO is being used to protect the supposedly precious sensibilities of residents from yobbish behaviour and ‘foul language’.

This is an outrageous story, but, sadly, it’s far from unique. ‘Anti-social behaviour’ is an ever-expanding and arbitrary term, which has allowed councils to regulate almost every aspect of public space. These restrictions are an affront to our liberty, our free speech and our freedom to let off a bit of steam. It’s time we told the authorities to piss off.

Sadhvi Sharma is a writer and researcher based in London, and has a PhD in international political economy from the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

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