Say what you like about Stephen Nolan, he does have his moments. This morning’s show was deadly crack.
The story was the latest scam sweeping Belfast. If you’re a Phoenix Gas customer, you’ll probably be disgruntled at the way the bills have been going up of late. Well, as per Nolan, now you can get that sorted. If you slip some bloke sixty quid, he’ll doctor your meter so you effectively get free gas. At least, until you’re rumbled.
Nolan had on the PUP’s Dawn Purvis, who was worried that the working class is making a rod for its own back by buying into these scams. Dawn opined that eventually the punters would get hit with massive bills, so it would turn out to be a false economy. And with that, Nolan went to the phones.
If Nolan thought that he could win a few populist brownie points by bashing spongers, he was to be sorely mistaken. Most of the punters who rang in were all in favour of fiddling their meters. They felt they had a right to free gas, and it was Phoenix’s lookout if customers were resorting to these measures. They also reckoned Dawn Purvis was a disgrace to her working-class constituents and their fundamental civil liberties, which include the right to dodge utilities bills.
Nolan seemed taken aback by this blatant support for illegality. At one point his voice got so high that I feared he was in danger of turning into a human dog whistle.
But he really shouldn’t have been surprised. During the Troubles, almost nobody in Belfast bought a TV licence, not even the Prods. People here won’t pay for anything if they can get away with not doing so. (This is why, even though I’m against the water charge, I’m sceptical about polls and petitions showing support for non-payment. Ask Belfast people if they want to not pay for water, and you’ll only get one answer.) And this is the atmosphere where this sort of scam flourishes. For instance, if you know the right person to call and are willing to pay a reasonable fee, you can get a computer hacker to erase your debts.
I think Nolan may have made a bit of a faux pas here. It’s all very well to shoot your mouth off about lawbreakers and spongers, but you don’t want to target a popular scam. Remember, Belfast people don’t think of this sort of thing as breaking the law, just bending it a little, until it comes to closely resemble a Curly-Wurly. In fact, the response seems to indicate there could be some potential for a populist campaign here. Let’s have Eamonn McCann defending the proletariat’s right to fiddle their gas meters!