Julian Grocock: Did I watch the debates? No, I was in the pub

Related tags General election Beer

Some wag remarked that, with the sudden leap to prominence of a man called Clegg in this General Election, we don't have to look further than Messrs...

Some wag remarked that, with the sudden leap to prominence of a man called Clegg in this General Election, we don't have to look further than Messrs Brown and Cameron to fill the sitcom roles of his most famous friends, Compo and Foggy.

I didn't see either of the first two debates on TV. While Mr Clegg was demonstrating his potential to break the two-party mould, I was defying volcanic ash and travelling on a ferry to the Isle of Man for the CAMRA Members' Weekend - an annual opportunity to address the burning issues facing Britain's beer consumers.

Who am I kidding? I did attend the AGM this year, but this is really a pilgrimage to renew friendships over a pint or two with campaigning colleagues - real ale champions whose commitment to the cause easily pre-dates the earliest juvenile attempts by Nick or David to buy beer for themselves. (Gordon's much older, but I'm not sure whether he's actually bought any yet.)

The second debate took place when I was in Newton Abbot. For me, SIBA's South-West Beer Competition and the Tuckers Maltings Beer Festival are a more recently added unmissable date in my diary. And once again, although it's part of my job to be there, I cannot deny the sociable aspects of the occasion. So while the follow-up episode of the latest hit reality show was airing, I was taking a break in a pub with friends.

Because that is what this industry is essentially about, born of an innate human urge to mix - to enjoy company and conviviality in a social environment. Over many years politicians have given us countless definitions of society, but none has come close to the reality that is encapsulated in the heritage and culture of community pubs.

Here you will find shelf, fridge and cellar space for all sorts of drinks. But beer is the pub's backbone; and, as consumer passion grows for local produce, real provenance and lower food miles, independent brewers are in pole position to play a leading part in the revival of our beleaguered on trade. Recent internal developments within the industry could well prove this beyond doubt.

What we also need after 6th May is a rational, co-ordinated and fair strategy for beer and pubs from our new national government, whatever its political colour(s).

Here at SIBA we've had an excellent response to our call for parliamentary candidates to choose local beer instead of foreign bubbly for their post-election celebrations. Hopefully, many of our new MPs will then show some resolve to turn that sound-bite opportunity into meaningful and sustained support for our industry.

My plea to Foggy and Compo - and Clegg - is clear: for the nation's publicans and brewers this election is not about the Last of the Summer Wine. It's about putting beer and pubs first.

You may be the stars of the longest running sitcom in history, but a continuation of government's persistent failure to pursue policies that offer the pub trade a viable future just won't be funny anymore.

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