How pubs contribute to democracy

By John Grogan

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Elections

Grogan: expects debates to generate big audiences
Grogan: expects debates to generate big audiences
Pubs and British general elections have a somewhat chequered common history, says John Grogan.

Pubs and British general elections have a somewhat chequered common history.

Up until and indeed beyond the passing of the Corruption Act of 1883, one of the most widespread forms of "treating" by candidates was the provision of free beer to voters on polling day. Candidates headquarters were frequently in local pubs so this was easily done.

Attitudes remained ambiguous for many decades after. When in 1894 the Gloucester Temperance Society, allied to the Liberal Party, appointed "vigilantes" to tour the pubs on election days to check out possible malpractice, the ploy backfired. Apparently there was a reaction amongst the electorate against these "spies" and the Tories romped home.

Even today when an election candidate walks into a pub the regulars will often joke that they would like a round of drinks, but they know in reality it would be wrong if they were to get one.

Recently it has become commonplace to praise pubs for the role they play in sustaining local charities, sports teams, and pensioner groups. Little is ever said about the part they play in helping the democratic process.

Some pubs will even serve as polling stations in the forthcoming general election, particularly in rural villages where they are the only remaining community building.

Many more will serve as the venues for local political party meetings. Over the past 25 years, for example, Tadcaster Labour Party in my constituency has been meeting in the spare room at the Fox & Hounds, boosting takings on many a wet Monday evening. Some with the space available may even stage election meetings or debates — I can remember a particularly invigorating session with the Countryside Alliance in a pub in Selby in 2001!

More candidates than not will probably be in a pub with their supporters at 10pm on election night as they wait to hear news of the exit polls before going on to the count.

Before that, the three leaders' debates will take place on TV on Thursdays during the campaign (to avoid the European football matches on Wednesdays).

Given the fact that these debates are expected to deliver huge audiences (more than the eight million who watched BNP leader Nick Griffin's appearance on the BBC's Question Time) might some pubs be tempted to show them live with the volume up? Now that surely would be a sign that democracy is on the way back.

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