Monday 28 September 2020

10pm pub closure - stupidity or hidden agenda?

The shape of things to come?
Like most people I know, I try to follow the CV19 restrictions and I can see the logic for many of them. In other words, I am not a Covidiot. That said, I have to say that the latest restrictions on pubs and bars seem guaranteed to achieve the precise opposite of the ostensible aim, i.e. restricting the spread of the virus.

Like most places, Southport where I live has a range of establishments where you can buy alcohol for consumption on the premises, such as pubs, bars, clubs, hotels, restaurants and micropubs. Their closing times are correspondingly varied from 10.00 p.m. to well after midnight. As a result, the times when people are leaving are automatically staggered over several hours.

Now we have the situation that all venues have to stop serving at 9.30 p.m. and be closed by 10.00 p.m. My first thought was that throwing everyone out on the streets at precisely the same time when previously they would have left in dribs and drabs over several hours was the height of uninformed stupidity, and if anything is likely to spread the virus. I heard on the news earlier today that Greene King have made a similar point, suggesting that many drinkers head straight for supermarkets to buy supplies to continue drinking at home with their friends, which would also help spread the virus.

But then I began to wonder whether it is stupidity, or is there another motive at work here? If this particular restriction does cause an upsurge, I am certain that the government will blame the pubs and not their own rules. They will then have the perfect excuse to close pubs down altogether. The question is: why would they want to do that?

I have long held the view that the Establishment in this country, supported by much of the media, does not like ordinary people gathering in large numbers. This has applied throughout history: for example, Peterloo, Chartists, suffragettes, the general strike, the miners' strike all led to vicious overreactions and clampdowns by the state. It is noticeable that certain sections of the Establishment and the media will always condemn any collective action such as a strike, regardless of the cause and how peacefully it is conducted - ordinary people acting together is anathema to them. I have been going on demonstrations since the 1970s, and I have never seen any trouble. However, you might have a couple of dozen hotheads on a demonstration of hundreds of thousands, and guess who the attention will invariably be focussed on?

What does all this have to do with pubs? Every day, in every town and city, thousands will go out for a drink in an environment that involves alcohol, and this spontaneous gathering of ordinary people is unwelcome in certain quarters, because it cannot easily be controlled. The fact that the vast majority of pub-goers are simply socialising and enjoying themselves is irrelevant to the mindset that I am describing.

What other evidence is there for hostility to pubs?

  • Beer tax in the UK is among the highest in Europe.
  • Business rates are set at unrealistically high levels.
  • There isn't much protection for tenants of predatory pub-owning companies. The minimal safeguards that do exist were grudgingly granted after the strenuous representations by pubcos resulted in the dilution of the measures to near worthlessness.
  • Alcohol in supermarkets is a fraction of the price of that in pubs.
  • 'Trouble' involving pubs is always given disproportionate prominence in the media. 
These could all be just coincidences, of course, and this CV19 measure which may well cause permanent pub closures could simply be yet another one, but I find that increasingly implausible.

Concerning the last bullet point: pre-CV19, I'd go out for a pint between four and seven times per week, rarely less, and it is quite literally decades since I have seen anything worse than the occasional argument. However, the repeated drip-drip reporting of pubs as dangerous places can put people off going to them. In my last job, some of my colleagues were amazed that I went into town every weekend: "You wouldn't catch me doing that!" is the kind of thing I tended to hear, and my argument that I never saw any trouble was disregarded. 

This CV19 measure looks likely to cause precisely what we are told it is intended to prevent. If pubs are blamed for an upsurge and are consequently completely closed down again, many will never reopen. I believe that some people in the Establishment would welcome that; in their eyes, the more people supping supermarket drink at home rather than gathered in groups, the better. Some politicians like to be seen in a pub quaffing a pint, usually with a big head*, to show that they are 'men of the people', and they usually are men. This is all just for show. If after CV19 we have lost whole swathes of our pubs, bars and clubs, some will be mentally punching the air and shouting, "Result!"

I also believe that, if they could get away with it, they'd have everyone watching sports, football especially, on subscription channels at home rather than in stadia.

Would they deliberately provoke an upsurge by this 10.00 p.m. rule? I wouldn't put it past a government that wanted the virus to sweep through the population, regardless of the number of casualties, to achieve the unproved aim of herd immunity. There was a report in the press, later denied, that an unidentified individual (although I can guess who) in a government meeting about the virus said it wouldn't matter very much if old people in care homes died of the virus, and it is a fact that for several months those homes received almost no help despite high mortality rates. So yes, I do believe they are callous enough to provoke an upsurge, blame it on pubs and close them down again. 

Even if you disagree with my opinion, this point remains: because this measure is seriously flawed, either they are stupid, or they have an agenda which, if you reject my speculation, is what?

I'd just finished writing this post when I noticed in the news today: Covid: Manchester mayor calls for 'urgent review' of 10pm closures

* I mean the pint rather than the politician.

Monday 7 September 2020

CAMRA Southport & West Lancs awards 2020

The Southport & West Lancs branch of CAMRA will shortly be presenting its branch awards to local pubs, bars and clubs. These awards are decided by the votes of ordinary CAMRA members who have visited all the finalists. Because the branch covers two quite dissimilar areas, Southport and Formby on the one hand and West Lancs on the other, there are two sets of awards. This year the winners include a traditional pub, two micropubs, a modern pub and a cricket club. 

West Lancs
• Pub of the Year is Tap Room No 12 (formerly the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe) at 12 Burscough Steet in Ormskirk. Formerly a shop, it was converted into a single-roomed bar, and the wooden panels and genuine pub furniture successfully recreate the atmosphere of a traditional pub room. There's a choice of real ale, as you'd expect, but they can also sell you 20+ gins as well as craft and continental beers.
• Cider Pub of the Year is the Court Leet on Wheatsheaf Walk, just off Burscough Street in Ormskirk. This JD Wetherspoons pub is much more modern than the customary house style of the pub group with large windows and a bright and airy interior. The pub is on two levels with an open air balcony on the first floor overlooking the Ormskirk skyline.

North Merseyside
• Pub of the Year is the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. The impressive exterior is half timbered, and inside the walls are wood-panelled. It is mostly unaltered with three separate rooms, a drinking area around the bar and an outdoor drinking area to the rear. It regularly sells up to 11 real ales.
• Cider Pub of the Year is the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillside. In addition to a good selection of real ales, this two-roomed micropub has the widest choice of ciders in the area. There are tables to the front where you can sit and enjoy the sunshine – when we get any.

Club of the Year
Formby Golf Club in Cricket Path, Formby. This club has recently been celebrating the return to playing cricket after the lockdown. With a comfortable club house serving real ale, what better way to enjoy what has been described as the King of Sports? 

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.