If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

'Pubs Minister', FFS!

Keen to bolster their man-in-the-street credibility in the run-up to the election, Gordon Brown has appointed John Healey as 'Pubs Minister', with responsibility to reinvigorate a key UK industry following the recession.

Mr Healey, a former local government minister and current member of the Cabinet, was seen by Number 10 as the ideal choice to lead the government’s response to the deteriorating pubs industry. (source)

Now let's see ...

  • Increasing alcohol duty so that the high-volume supermarkets can sell alcohol far cheaper than the good old British pub ever could
  • Banning smoking completely, so that smokers stay at home and enjoy said cheap alcohol rather than go out
  • Tightening licensing laws so that if the landlord wants to whistle behind the bar as he cleans the glasses he must apply two weeks in advance for an entertainment licence and pay £200.

I could go on. Labour, despite its origins in a working class movement, has a very strong Puritan element, and they don't actually like pubs. Pubs are where people meet and have fun. Friendships are made, conspiracies plotted, plans made, people relax and forget their serious citizenly duties for a short time. People sit with who they want, and don't care a fig for diversity targets. Pubs are random, and a mild form of anarchy. I'm pretty sure that Labour would far prefer us to meet in evenly-lit community halls, in diverse ethnic groupings (duly monitored and adjusted for proper balance), where we can discuss third-world poverty over a cup of fair-trade decaffeinated coffee and a slice of carrot cake. But we don't, as a rule, do this from choice, so the next best thing is to make life for pubs as difficult as possible.

The smoking ban is a good example of this. As an ex-smoker, I fully support the ban in the workplace and on public transport, where non-smokers don't get the choice of breathing clean air. When the ban was proposed, it was said that pubs would get the choice of whether to be non-smoking or not, or perhaps that smoking rooms, well away from non-smokers, would be the norm. That seemed to me entirely reasonable. A notice on the door - "This is a smoking establishment" - would be enough for non-smokers to make their choice. Or a division of the pub into clearly signed smoking and non-smoking areas, with extra forced ventilation to ensure the smoke stayed where it should. Or even (warning: radical concept) let the landlord choose what his pub should be, and let the punters make it a success or not. Smokers can choose to smoke, and non-smokers can choose a truly smoke-free environment. I can't see a problem with that. But when the ban came, it was absolute. I can see no good reason for this, unless it is punitive in its intent - Down, nasty smokers, Down, nasty drinkers, Down, nasty conspiratorial public who won't do as they are told!

And so people - smokers and non-smokers alike, for friendships cross the borders of nicotine habits as surely as they do across races and gender - stopped going to pubs, and pubs started to close at the rate of several a week.

Suddenly, that is a problem (election any time? ah yes). Labour are now furiously back-tracking as they see their core vote vanishing like morning mist. BNP taking our votes? Quick, someone make a couple of speeches that sound hard on imigration. Working people resentful about pub closures? Quick, appoint a Pubs Czar to show we care, and we are doing something, unlike those uncaring, do-nothing Tories.

The unbeatable and hilarious thing is that they will get this one wrong too. Because why did they appoint John Healey? What were his qualifications for the role? Used to own a pub? Ran a working-men's club during his Union days? Known to like a pint with the lads of a weekend?

Whitehall sources said Mr Healey was well equipped to tackle the industry’s problems, as he would be able to draw on his detailed knowledge of local community regeneration plans gleaned from his time at the Department for Communties and Local Government.

Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up.

Listen, you stupid, stupid people: left to their own devices, people will always form communities. They will, to the amazement of socialists everywhere, quite naturally look after their sick and old, and will find all sorts of ways of meeting up to share stories and have a bit of a laugh. They do not need a government minister to do it for them. In fact, it's when governments start to interfere in organic things like this that things start to go wrong. Centrally-directed and top-down initiatives will always miss the point, as Soviet Russia so amply demonstrated.

So, Mr Healey, I suggest you butt right out. Leave people to make their own choices: smoking or smoke-free, or a bit of both. Quiet conversation, live jazz or a juke-box. Beer, wine and spirits which are not punitively taxed out of reach, except from the bargain bins at Tesco.

Mr Healey 'gets it', though:

‘Pubs are often at the heart of village life, and are important meeting places for many people,’ he said.

Yes, indeed - just a regeneration plan, a few eye-catching initiatives, a handful of meaningful and demanding targets and a quango to administer it all, and we're there.

Or you could just fuck off.


  1. How could you forget the move for compulsory CCTV to capture all transactions involving alcohol as another enhancement to the traditional British pub? Not legislative (yet), but increasingly a pre-condition for licensing.

    Re: smoking. It was never about protecting people from secondary effects. It was always about getting people to buy into the state overriding personal choice for "good reasons". Good choice, as it's difficult to defend smoking when it impinges on other people's space, and there are plenty of rabid anti-smokers out there willing to make up apocalyptic statistics to back the public ban.

    So, the fanatics won. All they asked for and more, with the total indoor ban. We stand outside in the freezing, pissing rain like modern-day lepers - and that still isn't good enough for the likes of Andy Burnham, whose avowed intent is to further legislate against smokers because...it's a bad habit and they must give up for their own good and to save the NHS.

    So now we have the true agenda confirmed: it was never WMD, it was always regime change. Drinkers, fatties and Conservative voters, you're all next. For your own safety, obviously.

    "Fuck off" doesn't come close to expressing the depth of contempt and rage I have for the New Labour project. But it'll do as a starter.

  2. Finely-controlled rage as usual, Endo!

    "Fuck off" doesn't come close for me either, but I have friends who read this blog who are a little more sensitive to bad language than I am, and I wouldn't like them to think I was a foul-mouthed neanderthal, even if I am. Also, a blog is public discourse, and I would regard gratuitous swearing on a blog as poorly as those 'funny' t-shirts that proclaim "SAME SHIT DIFFERENT DAY" to every vicar, child and granny that passes by. (Oh, you are so wild, funky and unconventional to have a rude word on your clothes!) One day, I will really let go, and on that occasion I will preface the blog with an adult content warning :)


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