Thursday, 4 June 2015

Marcus Jones - new pubs minister

I don't put much faith in government pubs ministers. I'm sure I'm not the only person who is sick of politicians declaring their undying love of what they usually describe as that great British institution, the British pub - particularly galling from governments that operated the beer duty escalator.

Marcus Jones was appointed to the role of pubs minister a couple of weeks ago. He was also given the high street brief, and I suppose I can see some logic there. The best town centre streets are those with a varied selection of shops interspersed with caf├ęs, restaurants and pubs, making them lively and safer places from early morning until late at night, unlike some shop-only streets that are sad, deserted places after 6.00 pm, such as Chapel Street here in Southport.

He recently said in a speech: “I want to be a proactive minister who really supports pubs. I want to get around the country, I want to talk to people and listen to their views on what’s needed to save the great British pub. I’m always very keen to get involved in the industry and support events.”

Fine words, but will he be any different?

He worked part-time in a pub for 10 years, so he'll understand that most pub-goers are a cross section of society who generally behave in a perfectly civilised manner. He helped secure a debate on the beer duty escalator in 2013, and said in the Commons: "From my postbag, I know that popping down the local for a pint is becoming more and more expensive and out of reach for many of my constituents. Incomes have been squeezed over the past five years or so, and the cost of a pint has become more and more unaffordable. Beer is fast heading towards being a luxury item."

Titanic Brewery have welcomed his appointment, saying that if they were to ask for one thing, it would be stability because of the number of changes imposed upon the industry - it now just needs the chance to get on with the business of brewing and selling beer.

So it's not sounding too bad, although it is extremely early days. He is of course a Tory, but that shouldn't really make a difference. Traditionally, the big old brewers were staunch supporters of the Conservative Party; more recently it's not political ideology but surrender to the propaganda of the anti-alcohol brigade that has led to governmental attacks upon the pub and brewing industry. The nanny statists of "New" Labour who introduced the escalator were little better, and their ludicrous music licensing laws, scrapped by the Coalition, were a serious impediment to local live music of all kinds.

Breweries and pubs are capitalist companies that provide a lot of employment and it should be natural for a Tory government to support them or, at the very least, not attack them. I'm not holding my breath on that one, not least because of the completely disproportionate hysteria that greeted the three cuts of a penny in beer duty during the last government: those people are not going away. In the real world - as opposed to the microcosm of political dogma - pubs and brewing are not, and should not be, subject to partisan politics.

Politically, Marcus Jones and I are miles apart: for example, his record includes voting against gay equality rights four times and for the repeal of the Human Rights Act. Despite all that, if he does this job well, I'll happily give him the credit that is due.

Ten facts about Marcus Jones.

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