Monday, 7 December 2009

A conscious act of cultural vandalism

After much searching, I have found one person who agrees with Richard Bacon's figure of one million fewer smokers since the ban. And it's another BBC man, Mark Easton:

Since the ban on smoking in public places swept across Britain in 2006 and 2007, the number of adults who smoke has fallen by about one million.

As I said in the last post, this is sheer wishful thinking. But since no one else is quoting this figure - not ASH, not the Daily Mail, not the Department of Health - perhaps the source of this figure is some BBC memo?

In any case, Mark Easton has form for viewing the smoking ban in a rather idiosyncratic fashion, not least in this mind-boggling piece of doublethink from July 2009:

Pubs aren't dying - they are evolving

The great British boozer, we are told, is dying. But the widely reported news that 52 pubs are closing every week is not what it seems. In fact, it is probable that there are more places to enjoy a drink now than a couple of years ago.

This is quite a statement in the face of overwhelming evidence from the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), which shows a massive increase in pub closures since 2007. To quote one of Easton's readers:

I agree they are evolving, they are evolving into blocks of flats and they are evolving into building sites. Some (few) evolve into restaurants and other family orientated places. When a pub closes it is becoming rare for it to reopen as a place where adults can meet and have a sociable drink.

So what is Easton's evidence for saying that pubs are not dying?

Last week's press release from the BBPA reveals that of the 52 weekly closures the CGA research identifies, 51 are "wet-led" establishments. It also notes that "branded pubs and café style bars are actually opening at a rate of two a week".

Feel free to check my maths here, but surely that amounts to a total of 50 fewer pubs/bars a week?

The pubs that are closing, overwhelmingly, are those that existed to serve customers who came to drink and to smoke.

Isn't that the very definition of pub? The kind of pub beloved of the Pub Curmudgeon? As opposed to licensed restaurants and 'fun pubs', or - to borrow a phrase from the Spiked - 'anti-pubs'. 

Of all the anti-pub chains, JD Wetherspoon is the most successful. Readers from outside the UK who are not familiar with this organisation should read Natalie Rothschild's wonderfully acerbic piece 'A place where nobody knows your name' which describes it with uncanny accuracy:

Here's a taster:

Wetherspoon is, in fact, not a chain of public houses at all - it is a chain of public control houses. It is the anti-pub, a health department official’s dream local, a place where you go not to get a break from your everyday worries but to be told we’re eating and drinking ourselves to death. Wetherspoon is careful to remind customers that they should eat and drink ‘responsibly’, not overstep the officially-recommended daily units of alcohol and calories, and be sure to consume at least five fruit and veg a day.

A Wetherspoon pub is not a place for drowning your sorrows, whiling away time or spending hard-earned cash on simple pleasures like a game of pool with your mates or choosing silly songs on the jukebox for you and your friends to sing along to. It’s not a place where anybody is likely to know your name, because, here, we are discouraged even from talking to one another.

The rise of the anti-pub is an undoubted consequence of the UK's smoking ban. As real pubs close down, the pub chains have taken market share. Perhaps that's why the big pub chains accepted the smoking ban with barely a whimper. JD Wetherspoon even lobbied for it.

Will politicians and public health professionals mourn the loss of the traditional boozer? I doubt it. More likely, they will view the emergence of "public control houses" as an unexpected bonus.

Or maybe not so unexpected. As Mark Easton suggested in his article, the assault on working-class culture by the metropolitan elite may have always been part of the plan.

You may disagree with the new licensing laws, the taxes on alcohol and the smoking ban. You may mourn the demise of old-fashioned tobacco-stained drinking dens. But you could equally argue that the legislation is doing exactly what it was intended to do.



RickDP said...

With the medical takeover of society, very shortly you might be able to get your blood pressure tested or have a prostate exam while having a pint at Wetherspoon’s – pubs turned into doctors’ waiting rooms with a beer available. How wonderful!


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Ken said...

If they'd just left it to people's choices, we could have had Starbucks and real cafes, McDonalds and real restaurants, and Weatherspoons and real pubs, and everybody would have been happy.