Sunday 27 December 2015

Free speech in pubs?

The Stoke Inn in Plymouth has put a few rules for its customers for New Year's Eve, covering the wearing of Christmas jumpers, fancy dress, indiscriminate snogging, New Year countdowns and regulars getting preferential treatment as they pay the bills throughout the remaining 364 days. To see the post, click on the date:
New Year’s Eve’s always a disappointment, so this new year’s eve, the Stoke Inn is hosting; “Thursday...
Posted by The Stoke Inn on Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Only partly tongue in cheek, I feel, but it did get me thinking about the rules that some people claim apply to pubs, particularly concerning talk about politics or religion. Why are such subjects apparently forbidden in pubs which are, after all, the most popular voluntary meeting places in the country?

I can understand that there are times when discretion may mean that silence on certain subjects is sensible. For example, speaking in support of the IRA in a pub frequented by the Orange Lodge, or singing The Sash My Father Wore in a Republican pub would only be a great idea if you like hospital food - or can run very quickly. The same applies to praising a football team in a pub associated with hostile supporters of a rival team.

Generally, however, I haven't found any subjects that are out of bounds, and on those occasions when I've discussed politics, it's never seemed to be a problem. After union meetings or conferences, my fellow reps and I sometimes had political chats in pubs and survived, although we weren't fanatics (well, most of us weren't) and might end up talking about anything but politics. The point is I don't think anyone was bothered, and if they were, they shouldn't have been earwigging. Besides, pubs have often been used for political meetings, as assembly points before and after going canvassing or leafleting, and political plots have been hatched in pubs. The back room in the Vernon in Dale Street, Liverpool, was a popular meeting place for Militants during the Hatton era, and Nigel Farage has based a whole political career on being seen with a pint in a pub.

Religion isn't something I discuss very often, but a few months ago I was talking in my local about how I had dealt with some religious door knockers. The two fellows on the next table interrupted me to say that you weren't allowed to talk about religion or politics in pubs. I think I replied, "Says who?" In the end they moved away to another table, which I thought was a laughable reaction: not only had they been listening in to our conversation, but they'd also missed the point: I hadn't been talking about religion, but how I had got rid of religious cold callers. Their attitude was interesting, seeing how much money the Salvation Army raises by collecting in pubs without there ever being the slightest murmur of objection.

Apart from my previous examples where avoiding certain subjects is simple self-preservation, who decides these rules, and why? I know some people say that their political allegiance is a secret between them and the ballot box, an attitude I used to gently mock by saying the same thing while wearing a political party badge; while that's fine for them, why does their reluctance to discuss something mean no one else should either? I find treating politics like a guilty secret quite odd, seeing how comprehensively it affects our everyday lives.

I've been trying to think of any subject that should automatically be out of bounds in pubs, but I can't. I find talk about sport boring, but that's only because I'm uninterested in sport; I wouldn't ban such talk, not that there'd be much chance here in Merseyside.

In case anyone thinks I spend all my time in pubs spouting politics, I don't. I simply can't see why some people consider it a taboo subject.


  1. I think it's more a case of discussion about politics or religion driving a wedge between people who have previously got on perfectly well.

    I've never met you, but I'm sure we could have a great conversation about pubs and beer. But we might fall out over politics....

  2. I think you're right, although I prefer to agree to disagree, if possible, rather than actually fall out.

  3. As a foreigner, I can get away with a bit more, I suppose. I like bringing up why you people bother with voting and all that when you've got a perfectly fine monarch just sitting there waiting for something to do.

    I encountered Nigel F in Thanet's Pub of the Year just before the election, where he was holding court with a family of three and a couple of others, and there was another half dozen or so punters trying to ignore the whole proceedings AFAICT. He pointed out how great the German school system is, with their dual-track education via trade schools with apprenticeships and all that. Put down a couple of pints pretty quick, he did.

    Does the ban on politics go back to George III? The American revolution was planned out in taverns, maybe that has something to do with it.

    Happy post-Christmas in any case.

    1. And that post from the Stoke Inn is brilliant.

  4. I think the “rule” regarding “not talking about religion or politics in pubs”, was primarily advice aimed at new entrants to the licensed trade. Back in the day it was probably sensible advice as well and was given so that new licensees could establish relationships and build up a report with their customers without alienating them with “inflammatory talk”.

    These days, with such a rapid turnover of owners, landlords/landladies etc behind the bar, and the transient nature in general of today’s licensed trade, it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much.

  5. We abide by the religion/politics ban when talking to Americans.

  6. If you can't talk about politics then presumably you can't discuss policies enacted by politicians such as the smoking ban or the duty escalator.


  7. StringersBeer: the suggestion that Americans and British are divided by a common language particularly applies to religion and politics.

    I quite agree, Ian.


Comments, including disagreements, are welcome.
Abuse and spam are not and will be deleted straight away.
Comment moderation is installed for older posts.