Pete Brown: Let's defend pubs in language politicians understand

Related tags General election Beer duty escalator Conservative party

I think we can safely say that anyone hoping for a better deal for pubs after the general election is now disappointed. From Theresa May's completely...

I think we can safely say that anyone hoping for a better deal for pubs after the general election is now disappointed. From Theresa May's completely fact-free analysis of the 'problem' with the fictitious '24-hour licensing', through to the VAT rise and probable commitment to the beer duty escalator, we have to recognise that whatever the colour of the government, beating up the beer and pub industry will never go out of fashion.

Why do they do it?

Because, as we watch the Lib Dems abandon everything they hold dear in return for a sniff of power, and as David Cameron ingeniously allows Nick Clegg to take the flak for all the Conservative Party's most unpopular policies, politics is about pragmatism.

The floating voter is scared of binge-drinkers, because the Daily Mail keeps inventing stories about how they're going to burn down your house and kill your dog. By talking tough and cracking down on problem drinking (which every reliable source of data suggests is on the decline anyway) governments get to look like they're doing something positive, something tough, and hopefully convince you to vote for them again.

The fact that the infamous 'dentist's chair' promotion was named specifically in Labour's legislation banning booze promotions, despite the fact that it only happened in one pub in the UK, is merely the most ludicrous example of a government displaying strong leadership by cracking down on something that doesn't really exist in any meaningful sense.

It's like banning elves and pixies from pubs. (In fact I think they already did — I can't remember the last time I saw a mythical creature kicking off down my local.)

It wasn't always like this. David Lloyd George favoured outright prohibition, and was only deterred from pushing it through by the threat of Communist revolution. His anti-drink stance was hugely unpopular: changes in licensing law brought thousands of barmaids from across the UK to demonstrate in Hyde Park. The Tories, so many of them funded by brewers, some even brewers themselves, stridently opposed any measure designed to curb the excesses of drink.

While I completely and emphatically disagree with what Lloyd George was trying to do, I admire his commitment to his principles. He opposed our industry because he genuinely believed it was damaging to people, and acted on this core belief when it would have been much easier to go with the flow.

Today, middlebrow newspapers attack binge-drinkers in order to sell papers, and politicians take their lead from them and play their part in what is basically a big popularity contest. Politicians need to be loved, or admired, or feared - but overall they have a deep-seated need to feel important. When I participated in student politics, we always used to tell each other that having a genuine desire to stand for office should be grounds for preventing you from doing just that. Standing at the Strangers' Bar in Parliament recently, admiring all the Beck's Vier fonts that fuel the heart of British government, it was striking how short many MPs are in the flesh - and I say that as someone who's only five foot seven.

The famous Napoleon Complex may have been shown to be untrue. But you'd have a hell of a task convincing the barman in here that there's nothing to it. (Oh, and Margaret Beckett drinks champagne. Insert your own 'champagne socialist' gag here.)

But herein lies the solution. If MPs of all parties have swapped principles for pragmatism, if popularity is more important than personal belief, all we have to do is convince our politicians that beating up pubs is going to be a vote-loser.

Britain does love its pubs. Well-run pubs are community hubs. We know this, so why can't we turn it into positive action?

Maybe we just need to get our arguments right. I was in a re-opened, revitalised pub last night which the locals believe has added several thousands to the value of their houses. Now that's the kind of language the Daily Mail really understands.

Related topics Beer

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