Labour MP John Grogan is right behind pubs. He wants them saved. Bravo! He talks the talk too.
John Grogan, chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group, said the government had to recognise that pubs - like post offices - were vital to communities. 'It is now a race against time to convince ministers that the British pub has as valuable a place in our community [as the local post office] and is just as much under threat,' he said.
Perhaps he could start by letting his own party leader's head of strategy know that pubs exist as a distinct branch of the hospitality industry.
Tory Lord, Paul White, aka Baron Hanningfield, has been attempting to ascertain the government statistics on pub closures for quite a while now, but doesn't seem to be having much success.
He asked in December:
Lord Hanningfield: To ask Her Majesty's Government how many public houses have closed in each of the past three years; and how many of the closures were in Essex.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): We do not collect statistics specifically on public house closures. The DCMS Statistical Bulletin on Alcohol, Entertainment and Late Night Refreshment does not identify the number of pubs in England and Wales but rather the number of premises authorising the sale or supply of alcohol by means of a premises.
He asked again last week:
Lord Hanningfield: To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Carter of Barnes on 15 December 2008, what mechanisms they have in place to record the number of public house closures.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): The Government have no mechanisms in place for recording the number of public house closures ...
I think that's government-speak for 'I haven't a scooby'.
It won't surprise you to learn that Lord Carter of Barnes is not from Barnes, and has no grounding in the hospitality industry, he is a spin doctor brought in from the world of advertising and appointed as chief of strategy by Gordon Brown in January 2008. He is also yet another Jock crowbarred into the UK government at a high level (he was given the Lords gig as part of the package), who was described by a former associate thus,
"Scottish puritanism runs through him, He does things because he thinks he should. He's not a great hedonist and very rarely lets go .... He is always in control. He's a bit scary in that way"
A puritan, non-hedonist. Perfect for fielding Lords' questions about the welfare of pubs then.
Quite why pubs aren't treated as a separate statistic by government is rather baffling seeing as there
It could explain the source of the latest piece of misdirection from Martin Dockrell of ASH, in response to Ken Clarke's recent commentary on pub closures in Wales.
"Meanwhile, the licensed trade has done rather better, with the number of licensed premises up by 5%."
See what he did there? He was rebutting Clarke's views on pub closures, but threw out a stat about the licenced trade. A very subtle difference which won't be picked up by most, and will be regurgitated by many. It's how liars work.
If that figure is true, could anyone be remotely surprised if saggy-arse Donaldson turned it back on its head and used it as reasoning for further business barriers on pubs to counteract anti-social behaviour? He is already insisting on minimum pricing to penalise the many for the excesses of a small minority, it's not much of a sideways shift to punish all pubs in order to curb the closing time mayhem at a few troublesome venues.
Alistair Darling has no plans to reduce the pre-budget report hike in duty which negated his VAT reduction, due to revert in December, and the accelerator on alcohol is enshrined in previous budgets. A reversal of that is possible, but when unelected puritan after unelected puritan is rolled out to pontificate on one hardline healthist measure after another, it's difficult to see anything substantial being done to make the publican's lot a happier one (you're not even allowed to mention the smoking ban).
Remember Labour MP John Grogan's words because they are significant. "It is now a race against time to convince ministers that the British pub has as valuable a place in our community". Why should they need convincing? Why can't he, as a Labour MP, and Chair of the APBG, just have a quiet word with the Labour front bench?
Quite simply because they don't really give a monkey's chuff about pubs. They can't even be bothered to count pub business losses. If pubs close, so what? Their business model relies on clients that exceed the government's meagre limits on unitary intake anyway. There are still 5% more places where you can buy (not give away free) an ultra small glass of Lambrini in Labour's presbyterian world.
Best just actively vote against Labour and hope (and it is merely hope) that whoever replaces them will take the issue seriously. The alternative is a further five years of the same.