wrote a few days ago about how some people can, in my opinion, be quite snooty about Wetherspoon's pubs. In recent weeks I have been hearing another explanation for avoiding them, a more political one. As I said in my earlier post, anyone who chooses not to patronise Spoons because of Tim Martin's strident views on leaving the EU is of course perfectly entitled to do so, but although I completely disagree with him on that issue, it won't stop me using the pubs.
Why not? Quite simply, I take the view that Tim Martin is entitled to his views, although I must question the business sense of potentially alienating up to 48% of your potential customers, but that's his problem, not mine. As I also previously said, if I knew the views of senior directors of a lot of pub chains, breweries, or indeed any companies that get money from me, I'm sure I'd find plenty to disagree with. Sensibly from a business perspective, most people in such positions will be much more guarded in their public statements than Tim Martin.
This second post on the subject of Spoons was prompted by a friend giving me a few vouchers, saying that she'll never use them because of Martin's public statements on leaving the EU, so I might as well have them. Fine by me. While I'm a very political animal, having been involved in unions, political parties, demonstrations and campaigns for most of my adult life, I accept the principle of free speech.
So let's define free speech: it doesn't just mean that you have the right to say what you believe in, it also includes other people having the right to say things that you fundamentally disagree with. In this country, there used to be an attitude of, "I disagree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it", often more simply expressed by agreeing to disagree. Increasingly the attitude is, "How dare you say that!", very often accompanied by insults and abuse.
I believe this change began with Mrs Thatcher because that was very much her approach, but she is not solely, or even mostly, to blame: social media have given very public voices to people with genuinely nasty attitudes who are incapable of tolerating, not only views they don't like, but people they disapprove of, often for irrational reasons such as gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, political views, or even just because they don't find them physically attractive. In other words, bigots. Bigots don't respect free speech in others, which is one of the reasons why we have laws against the hatred they spew out.
The tone of some discussions, especially on-line, has become distinctly unpleasant: calling your opponents 'Brexiteers' or 'Remoaners', by no means the worst terms I've seen, isn't likely to encourage a respectful exchange of views, which is why I have never used them: I prefer 'Leavers' and 'Remainers'. Besides, adults engaging in such silly name-calling is an unedifying sight.
Getting back to Tim Martin. As far as I know, he has not demonstrated any bigotry; he simply has very strong views on leaving the EU and has used his public profile to try to persuade others. He is, in short, exercising his right to free speech. Unfortunately, this issue has become so toxic that rational discussion is becoming increasingly difficult, but as long as he stays within the bounds of civilised debate on an issue about which we've all had the chance to have our say through the ballot box, I have no intention of boycotting his pubs.
One thing I have observed is that the old convention, one I have never fully agreed with, that you don't talk politics in the pub seems to have gone out of the window. In the last month or so, I have heard several animated conversations in pubs about leaving the EU.
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