Thursday, 9 April 2015

Why pubs (and publicans) matter

Many years ago I trained as an agent in the Old Bexley & Sidcup (member one Edward Heath) constituency. The full time agent, Tom Jolly, used to organise what he called 'opinion former' events - inviting certain groups to meet Heath, listen to him and have the opportunity to raise questions. There were three groups Tom focused on - doctors, vicars and publicans. This isn't a random or arbitrary selection but one driven by the belief that these three sets all speak to a lot of people and that their opinion is given more credence than that of others. The aim wasn't to have the doctors, vicars and publicans act as mouthpieces for policy but rather for them to say "Heath's OK, when I met him last week...".

Now it's true that there are a lot of pubs (although far fewer than there were before politicians started mucking around with the industry through beer orders, smoking bans and a mountainous duty on beer) and MPs can't spend all their time popping in for a pint but the figures above tell us that, for all the rhetoric about 'community pubs' some MPs aren't giving enough attention to these important businesses. Some are even falling out with them!

My ward - Bingley Rural - has 13 pubs (plus four Conservative clubs and a working man's club) and there are only three or four where I'm seen other than infrequently. But making the effort to visit is important - even if you don't have a drink. I know that Philip Davies, my teetotal MP, has visited pubs both privately to discuss their concerns and publicly to talk to regulars. Seeing pubs as a problem (all too common among some politicians not to mention the new puritans of the public health industry) is the wrong approach.

The pub industry provides lots of jobs - from highly skilled crafts through to casual bar and restaurant work - and in many places is at the forefront of improvement and regeneration. The 'craft beer revolution' has seen an explosion in both variety and quality resulting in a new generation of pubs and a different - more savour less volume - approach to drinking. Yet some MPs still rail against the 'concentration' of pubs, about 'drink fuelled' violence and on the 'chaos' in A&E departments because of the industry. They ignore the fact that 99% of drinkers go out, have a great night and go home without causing anybody any bother. And it is these people who the anti-pub brigade are attacking not the tiny minority who get into or cause trouble.

None of this is to say that pubs are never a problem but politicians - if that statistic is correct - need to change their attitude. Not by mouthing platitudes about "community pubs" but by talking to the industry about how lawmakers can help make it better, safer and more exciting that it is already.



Jon Beech said...

Central heating and better insulation are consistently missed out of tales bemoaning the fate of British boozers

Simon Cooke said...

...and TV, video, hi-fi and less crowded housing.

Curmudgeon said...

Good blog - I linked to it on Twitter and got quite a few retweets.

It's certainly true that the home is a much more appealing place, and less somewhere to escape from than it was thirty or forty years ago.

On the other hand, a good pub can still provide a feeling of welcome, good cheer and companionship that it is hard to find anywhere else.