Like it or not the general election will soon be upon us. At the time of writing, the campaign has not formally kicked off, but with some 50 MPs having stood down and many of them citing the abuse they receive as their reason, I suspect it’s going to be a vicious and divisive affair. Possibly in a way not seen before.
For me, going to vote means a trip to the pub because the polling station is in one of my locals. The novelty of going to vote in the pub never wears off. My only sadness about it is that since they passed on some years back I can’t tell my mum and dad about it. I am sure it would have inspired no small amount of family jealousy. In case you’re wondering – yes I always wait until after I’ve cast my vote before I have a pint but I always have a pint on election day because it would be rude not too.
Not so democratic
The pub as a polling station seems appropriate because conversation is integral to the pub and the respectful exchange of views is also central to democracy. If you take a step back from that view though, there’s a parallel with the reasons for the staggering amount of pub closures over the past few decades. The sale of alcohol is another thing intrinsic to the pub – but it may also keep people who don’t drink for religious or cultural reasons away. In business terms, that means such people are not your customers but if your pub is a polling station does that prevent that same group from voting? If, so, perhaps it’s not as democratic as it appears. Perhaps the halfway house is the mobile polling station in the pub car park, providing there is a large enough car park.
Risk not worth it
I raise the issue not just because it’s topical but because party politics can land a pub in hot water. You might argue that JD Wetherspoon chair Tim Martin’s stubborn pro-Brexit stance is not straightforwardly party political, but it still shows the potential pitfalls. His Brexit beer mats have attracted accusations of illegality, despite his spending declaration to the electoral commission, and I am acquainted with far more people who boycott JDW pubs than I am people who continue to use them. I also know of a brewery that no longer sells to a particular pub because it allowed its beer to be used in a party political photo opportunity. Of course, these are simply anecdotes. I don’t pretend otherwise but in the times we live, the smallest thing can ‘go viral’ and blow up in someone’s face. It’s a risk pubs can do without.
Here’s another anecdote, which I offer against a backdrop of recent calls by Castle Rock brewery and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) for the BBC et al to stop using library pictures of real ale to illustrate pieces about binge drinking. I was recently sent a press release by a private pharmacy and healthcare business that sells not inexpensive self-testing kits for what might be considered embarrassing conditions. Its PR angle? A guide to the effects of binge drinking at Halloween parties. You’ll be relieved to hear it didn’t point the finger at pubs directly but here’s a quote from the release: “The recommended limit for alcohol consumption in one week is 14 units, but any more than six units for women or eight units for men in one session is considered binge drinking.” I found nothing on its website to suggest it offers services for those struggling with problem drinking – so why peg its PR to the issue? (The answer is that booze – and by association, pubs – are an easy target).
What’s that got to do with pubs avoiding party politics? It’s this: we are living in a post-truth era. It’s more possible than ever before to get people to believe any old guff, simply by repeating it enough. Hence the valid complaints about repeatedly associating real ale with binge drinking.
Say no to candidates in your bar
The last thing pubs need is to be dragged into the political fray and find themselves a casualty of the same sort of vitriol being directed at politicians. By all means take a leaf out of the BrewDog book and reward people for voting. To vote is intrinsically good and to be encouraged and applauded. But don’t risk your pub going viral, for all the wrong reasons, by allowing candidates to pose with a beer in your bar.