Thursday, 29 August 2013

"Bad pubs"

Via Timmy, I see that the war on working class boozers has now been made explicit...

'Bad pubs' will close, and good riddance too, says Good Pub Guide

Up to 4,000 pubs will close in the next year, but they are ones "stuck in the 1980s" offering indifferent drink and food, according to a new guide.

The smoking ban was always part of a wider agenda of the professional classes to cleanse British social life of traditional working class culture. Many crocodile tears have been shed about the shocking decline in the number of pubs, bingo halls and working men's clubs that followed the 2007 legislation. Rarely, however, has their delight at the success of this social engineering project been expressed so shamelessly.

The aim of the chattering classes is not unlike that of the early Anti-Saloon League—to rid of the country of what they see as the scourge of drink-led, politically incorrect, smoke-filled, privately run, child unfriendly, sports-watching boozers that are frequented mainly by working class men—pubs that have customers who are indifferent to food because they don't go there to eat. Proper pubs, in other words; havens from sterile, prod-nosed Britain. A place for grown ups.

When politicians and metropolitan pundits disingenuously pay homage to the 'great British pub', these are not the kind of establishments they have in mind at all. Their vision of a pub is essentially a mid-priced restaurant with horse brassings on the wall; somewhere to take their children on a Sunday afternoon. Somewhere to read The Observer for four hours while nursing a solitary pint.

So when a bien pensant like Mark Easton says that "pubs aren't dying - they are evolving", he means that pubs are dying, but that's okay because there are more bistros and restaurants opening up (albeit in much smaller numbers) and they serve a fine cup of coffee. The photo below shows the winner of Pub of the Year according to the Good Pub Guide. I'm sure it's a very agreeable place, with its Cold Pressed Ox-Tongue, Caramelised Onions, Watercress & Cashel Blue starter and Olive & Rosemary Gnocchi, Globe Artichokes, Tomato & Sweet Pepper Coulis main (£24.95 for a set menu), but it's not really a pub, is it?

 The Guardian quotes the editor of the Good Pub Guide...

"Pubs closing keeps the trade healthy and robust. They have got to diversify if they want to succeed – they just can't open for lunch and open again in the evenings any more."

The arrogance is astounding. As anyone who has followed events in the licensed trade over the last few years knows, many pubs have reduced their opening hours because fewer people are coming in during the afternoon. The classic afternoon regulars—often retired—who pop in for a few pints and a smoke have been driven out. Needless to say, neither The Guardian nor The Telegraph even mention the smoking ban as being a factor in pub numbers plummetting from 2007.

The Telegraph quotes some bloke from a trade union who also ignores the massive elephant in the room...
Steve Kemp, political officer of the GMB union, said: "The report identifies that there are thousands of pubs that have not been refurbished, where the offering to consumers is outdated.

"The report does not identify the root causes as to why these pubs that survived the depression and the war have been starved of investment.

It's the smoking ban, Steve. That's the biggest thing.

“Action to address the root causes rather than closing them is the answer for staff and for local communities."

So amend the smoking ban. Give landlords the choice.

No one denies that the pubs that close are the ones that do not cater to people's tastesthat is self-evidently and trivially true. The question is whether publicans are unwilling or unable to cater to people's taste. In a free market, it's survival of the fitness, but pubs do not operate in a free market. They are burdened by some of the highest alcohol taxes in the world and one of the most draconian smoking bans in the world.

Almost unbelievably, The Guardian has published an editorial which not only ignores the smoking ban as a factor in the pub trade's decimation, but even implies that it was a voluntary, market-led decision on the parts of landlords:

Now pubs are businesses like any other and, like all businesses, they thrive on picking up on trends, such as a growing hostility to breathing other people's smoke...

This amounts to rewriting history. There were very few non-smoking pubs in the free market that preceded government coercion because they were financial suicide.

That all changed when financial suicide became the law on July 1st 2007. Since then, the first preference of millions of people—to have a drink and a smoke—cannot be catered for by pubs except—on sunny days—in a beer garden (and the squealing, spoilt children of 'public health' have got their eyes set on those too.) This is not because pubs are unwilling to cater for their customers—they have been doing so successfully for centuries—but because the law does not allow them to do so.

And since there is a massive socio-economic divide in smoking rates (see below), a pub's ability to survive largely depends on the demographics of the area in which it happens to be situated.

These are not "bad pubs" in an economic sense. They are capable of prospering. They are "bad pubs" only in a moral sense, according to the preferences of the snooty Good Pub Guide and The Guardian. To say that these people don't care about thousands of pubs going bust is to misjudge them. They are over the moon.


I've just seen this, one of three Guardian articles about pubs today that ignores the elephant in the smoke-free room.

On the upside, there's been a boom in the kind of punky microbreweries that feature in John's beer festivals... Pop-up pubs such as Beer Rebellion in Gipsy Hill. But Amanda Hone, the manager there, has bigger plans. She's negotiating with the giant property group Spirit to re-open the moribund Royal Bell in Bromley as a new breed of pub. One that serves as an art space, a pocket museum, a focus for school trips. A community hub if you will. People like John and Amanda represent the future of pubs.

God help us. This is exactly what I'm talking about.


Curmudgeon said...

Nail firmly hit on head there, Chris - well said!

nisakiman said...

People like John and Amanda represent the future of pubs.

Doubtless there will be a Piers and an Annabel lurking in the background somewhere, too.

As you point out, Chris, these people aren't talking about pubs, they're talking about something entirely different. However much the Islington set try to ignore or deny it, the smoking ban has torn the heart out of the real British pub, and no amount of 're-positioning' or 'changing direction' is going to change that fact.

As you also point out, if non-smoking pubs were 'the future', then legislation would have been unnecessary - they would have been doing it under their own steam in droves. In reality,the only one who did preempt the ban (Wetherspoons) encountered a financial disaster, and rapidly did a U-turn on the policy. All these facts are totally ignored by the Grauniad-reading metro-liberals, who see the ideal 'pub' as being a chintzy chocolate-box facsimile catering to foodies. They've probably never been in a real pub - it would scare the living daylights out of them.

Dick Puddlecote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iain Clark said...

As you say, had people wanted smoke free pubs they would've existed before the ban.

And pubs aren't, or shouldn't be, restaurants. There are plenty cafes and restaurants already. They are places to drink and chat. And smoke.

Curmudgeon said...

Even before the ban, most pubs with a significant food offer had a non-smoking section covering at least part of the area where food was served, because there was a clear market demand.

But non-smoking areas in wet-led pubs were much rarer, and even where they did exist - generally because their provision was dictated by the owning pub company rather than the licensee - tended to be poorly used and the section that filled up last.

proglodyte said...

Ok, pubs were forced to go non smoking inside but there was hardly any real opposition. Alienate over half your customer base and then look forward to a boom....then wring your hands and wonder why it never happened. Pathetic. The fact is that there was never a cat in Hell's chance of attracting enough non smokers to fill the void. Most of these never went to pubs because they weren't, and still aren't, pub lovers. Regardless of smoking.

nisakiman said...

It is interesting to note on Frank Davis's blog today in a response he got from his MEP, and I quote:

Believe it or not smoking inside the EU parliament is actually permitted in the MEP bars and believe us this is regularly taken advantage of- We’re in a position now where some politicians are preaching one thing while imposing misery on people while doing another.

I know hypocrisy is the norm in politics, but this is so blatant that it beggars belief!

Ivan D said...

According to the Guardian,our all caring state retreated from "more than a century of Whitehall mothering" when it liberalized licensing laws.

As you point out, in the Orwellian fantasy inhabited by Guardian hacks, the less than liberal smoking ban doesn't exist and pubs simply catered for changing public taste.

I know that the Guardian is in favour of liberal policies only when they suit its agenda but rewriting history is a new low.