|The shape of things to come?|
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.
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.