James Wilmore: Is the coalition pub-friendly after all?

By James Wilmore

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Prime minister of the united kingdom

A cynical piece of PR, or a genuine olive branch to the pub trade? I guess that's the real question to ask ourselves after last week's announcement...

A cynical piece of PR, or a genuine olive branch to the pub trade?

I guess that's the real question to ask ourselves after last week's announcement that pubs will be allowed to open until 1am during the Royal wedding weekend (barring the outcome of a two-week consultation).

It's very easy to be sceptical about an announcement like this. For a start, it was completely unexpected. One trade figure I spoke to said it was a total surprise.

Clearly, it makes a nice headline for the media. It could also be seen as a way to take the sting out of the government's controversial licensing overhaul.

In fact, the final details of the Bill could be being finalised around the time of "the wedding".

But, for once, I will park my cynicism when it comes to politicians.

Yes, it may be a headline-grabbing move, but it could be read as the coalition recognising the role pubs play in this country. Think back to Gordon Brown's time as PM - it would have been inconceivable something like this being allowed.

Brown appeared far too close to the health lobby and viewed the alcohol industry with deep suspicion. Although, to be fair to Labour, the idea of relaxing opening hours to mark a national occasion was included in the original Licensing Act.

Perhaps David Cameron himself came up with the idea as a way of proving early that his will be a "pub-friendly" government? It could be the Prime Minister takes the attitude that pubs are a place for relaxing and celebrating - not the dens of iniquity so often portrayed by some in the media and the Home Office.

This positive attitude is best summed up by a favourite line of former BII chief John McNamara. When talking up the wonder of pubs, McNamara would end with the line: "Have you ever heard of somebody having a leaving do in a coffee shop?"

More realistically, the idea could have been suggested by the police or local authorities. In the details of the consultation, it notes the burden the authorities could face with "potentially thousands" of TENS being applied for by pubs in the run-up to "the wedding".

But the initial proof of this government's attitude to pubs will, ultimately, be revealed by the outcome of the licensing shake-up. Let's just hope some of this new "let's be friendly to pubs" attitude feeds through to the final reckoning…

Related topics: Legislation

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