Electing to lobby

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Daniel Pearce discusses the General Election with BBPA chief - and elections expert - Rob Hayward, and looks forward to the challenges facing the...

Daniel Pearce discusses the General Election with BBPA chief - and elections expert - Rob Hayward, and looks forward to the challenges facing the next government.

Do you know what impact the "Nixon effect" could have on the General Election? Don't worry, you are not alone. Rob Hayward, the chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association and parliamentary expert, used the expression to illustrate his concerns about the Tories' chances during a briefing with political journalists earlier this month.

That's nine of the most experienced political correspondents in the country, from Sky News to the Financial Times - not to mention a director of research from the London School of Economics - and not one of them knew what Rob was talking about.

But the fact that he can, and regularly does, command the attention of a roomful of senior political hacks - quite apart from his involvement with the British Beer & Pub Association - illustrates the reputation that the ex-Tory MP has in these circles. And the fact that he talks easily about election matters and voting patterns that fly above even their heads offers an indication of Rob's standing as a "psephologist".

Rob, a self-confessed elections "freak", is in his element at the moment, looking forward to May 5 with barely-concealed glee as he is called on by the London Evening Standard, BBC2's Politics Show and others to offer his parliamentary knowledge.

And that's despite the fact that the card-carrying Conservative party member reluctantly admits that he can't see the Tories winning the election. "All things considered it's most likely to be a Labour government," he says.

And he usually gets it right. Back in 1992 as beleaguered John Major was bidding for a fourth term for the Conservatives, Rob's was one of the few voices that predicted they would put paid to Neil Kinnock's Labour Party and win the election. They did - but the irony was Rob lost his seat in Kingswood, Bristol, to Labour MP Roger Berry.

"Politics is a drug," says Rob (pictured)​, who was MP for Kingswood for nine years. "But I get that drug from lobbying now."

And no-one in the pub trade will need reminding of the myriad of issues that have kept Rob on a high for the past 12 months and up to this General Election.

But licensing matters, from binge-drinking to the Licensing Act, are unlikely to take a central role in the countdown to May 5, he believes.

"Crime will play a part in the election, and part of that will be binge-drinking. But it's just one of a vast number of issues relating to law and order," contends Rob.

"The Licensing Act will be an issue as people will still be applying. But something we've been saying for months - that hardly anybody will apply for 24-hour licences - is finally coming to pass. The whole Daily Mail 'Say no to 24 hour trading' thing is becoming less of an issue." Clearer waters ahead?

Looking ahead to the next government - whoever ends up in charge - Rob can see clearer waters for the new licensing regime. Some have been predicting a delay to the Second Appointed Day, which is still assumed to be set for early November, but not Rob, who believes local authorities will cope with the flurry of applications likely to come in before August 6.

"As the transition to the Act is completed, and eventually in Scotland too, I think the industry will take a lower profile," he says. "The Gambling Bill has been completed too. A series of things which have been on the agenda for a long time will have been completed."

The challenges facing the pub trade may not be quite as high profile in the years to come but Rob will continue to take his drug of choice - lobbying the government - in areas such as minimum pricing and paid-for-policing.

The recent report from the Home Affairs Select Committee has raised the temperature on these issues, and they will continue to be discussed under the next government.

"There will be continued pressure on all these issues, even though we believe the Office of Fair Trading has made it quite clear that minimum pricing is illegal," comments Rob. "On promotions, we put our own policy to the Home Office over a year ago and we are still waiting for a response from them.

"We'd like to see it implemented in such a way that local authorities look unfavourably on pubs which fail to abide it when they come to renew licences."

On underage sales and responsible trading, Rob can see supermarkets being brought more into the debate. "The nature of the debate will change, supermarkets will be brought more into it," he says. "The question of the things people do when they drink at home will become more of an issue."

But with the latest figures coming from the Home Office suggesting many pubs which have offended in the past are failing to learn their lessons, Rob says there can be nothing less than a hardline approach against those pubs which continue to offend.

Other issues he will continue to battle for with the next government include a cut in beer duty to tackle cross-Channel imports - "I really believe it is achievable. We have a duty, no pun intended, to push for it."

The smoking gun

Another issue that won't be blown away, of course, is smoking. The suspicion is that the new government will get to grips with the new issue sooner rather than later, with Labour planning a bill implementing the proposals laid out in last year's White Paper on Public Health early into the next Parliamentary term. A possible change of personnel at the Department of Health (see below) could yet see a shift away from the current strategy, which is to ban smoking in pubs serving food by the end of 2008.

"My guess is that within five years smoking will be banned in all public places. Not because of this particular government, but just because that is the way that society is going," says Rob.

He doesn't quite convince, however, when he says pubs would have moved towards an all-out smoking anyway, without government intervention.

"If the government produces a smoking bill after the election it won't be on the statute books until after 2006. As with the Licensing Act, it would then be two or three years before it became law. As an industry we can do it quicker though - we can manage the change almost as quickly as the government can deliver the legislation."

With the Tories omitting any mention of smoking from their election manifesto, that all assumes there will be another Labour government, of course.

It remains to be seen what impact of the "Nixon effect" will have on Michael Howard's prospects.

  • During the 1960 US presidential race candidate Richard Nixon visited all 50 US states, despite not having a hope of winning some of them - and lost the election.

How ministers could change

There are likely to be some key changes in the government departments impacting on the pub trade following the election, even if Labour does win again according to Rob Hayward.

One concern is that Health Secretary John Reid (pictured)​ could move on, ushering in a new health chief with a tougher attitude to smoking - possibly Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

"We've got to be ready. I am just keen that the government knows we must have the time to manage the change," declares Rob. "If Tessa Jowell ends up at Health, she'd go for a total ban."

Further changes at the Department of Health could come with the departure of minister Melanie Johnson, who Rob believes could lose her Welwyn Hatfield seat.

What other ministerial changes could impact on the pub trade?

"Charles Clarke has already gone i

Related topics Legislation

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