British politicians ease pub restrictions ahead of elections
Just seven months ago, the British government introduced the so-called “Drinking Banning Orders” that made it a crime for certain individuals to even set foot in a pub. But with the arrival of election season in Britain, politicians are positioning themselves as saviors to desperate drinkers across the country.
The manifestos released last week by the Labour and Conservative parties each contain provisions to help people preserve the ‘essential services’ that pubs provide.
“Nothing underlines the powerlessness that many communities feel more than the loss of essential services, like post offices and pubs, because of decisions made by distant bureaucrats,” reads the Conservative manifesto.
The Tories are proposing a ‘right to buy’ scheme to help citizens fend off a corporate takeover or closure of these ‘community assets.’
According to Labour’s manifesto, the party plans to protect these ;hubs of community life’ by creating a ‘fund for community ownership.’ Labour further promises to curb the restrictive property and brand agreements imposed by pub conglomerates on their establishments.
Author Paul Kingsnorth, whose book “Real England: The Battle Against the Bland” rails against what he sees as the homogenization of British culture, said that he is pleasantly surprised to see the preservation of pubs become an election issue. But he remains skeptical.
“Whenever politicians give interviews and want to look like ordinary people, they always talk about how much beer they drink, and how they like to go down to the pub and watch some football, and it’s completely untrue, they never do,” Kingsnorth said. “They think it’s kind of the common touch.”
Kingsnorth asserted that the Labour government has been disastrous for pubs.
“They’ve refused to tackle the increasing power of pub companies, which has just been growing and growing over the past ten years,” Kingsnorth said.
“[The government] has done nothing about the way that landlords [licensees] are being squeezed on rent, it’s consistently raised taxes on beer and other drinks, it’s banned smoking, it’s introduced all sorts of complicated health and safety regulations which landlords have to comply with that put a lot of personal expense on top of them,” he added.
Kingsnorth asserted that the recent focus on pubs smacks of political opportunism.
“There have been petitions and campaigns on behalf of landlords and pubs, and they just haven’t taken any notice, so it’s very interesting that they’re suddenly jumping up and saying ‘we want to protect the local pub’ because, of course, they’ve had 13 years to do it,” Kingsnorth said.
But years of petitions and campaigns by groups such as the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) may have finally earned pubs some degree of prominence in the election debate.
Emily Ryans, CAMRA’s campaign officer, said that one reason parties are taking these issues more seriously now is that CAMRA recently lodged a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading that highlighted the anti-competitive practices of large pub companies.
Ryans, who said it is her job to promote “real ale” over what she described as “the bland mass-produced lagers of the four major multinational brewers,” also noted that 39 pubs are closing every week.
CAMRA is urging candidates of all political persuasions to sign their charter outlining five key commitments to tackle the current crisis facing community pubs and breweries, in exchange for a photo-op with CAMRA staff.
However, at a time when Britain is involved in a war on two fronts, increasing national debt, and fleeing multinationals, all this fuss over a venue for guzzling beer may seem a bit misplaced to those outside the U.K.
“There’s something about a pub in England, particularly the idea of a pub in a small community, that a lot of people feel a great attachment to,” said Kingsnorth. “It’s a bit like the idea of the countryside in England. Most people don’t live in the countryside anymore, but we have this kind of historical cultural idea that it’s at the heart of our national identity.”
Just down the road from the Houses of Parliament, ale drinkers at the Marquis of Granby are being encouraged to vote for the next steward of British identity — with their throats. Customers can choose from ale pumps featuring caricatures of Labour’s Gordon Brown (red), the Conservatives’ David Cameron (blue) and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg (yellow).
“The reds are in the lead, definitely,” said the pub’s gregarious landlord, Gwylym Arthur. “Blues are second, and yellow is third at the moment.” When asked his thoughts on the pub provisions in the party manifestos, Arthur demurred.
“As a manager I’m not allowed to comment,” he said.
With the British economy in such a fragile state, and an election in the balance, some are wondering what the odds are that Brown and Cameron will side with the pub-goers rather than the pubcos.
“There is a slight class element to it,” said Kingsnorth. “I think we’ve got a government of wine drinkers here.”