He was afforded a brief vox pop on Radio 5 today stating his industry's case in response to Teresa May's proposal to charge pubs and clubs for policing anti-social behaviour. It went very much like his organisation's press release.
“We would also like to see a renewed focus on individual responsibility. While it is absolutely right to hold business to account, it is equally vital to hold individuals responsible for their behaviour – drunken louts need to be penalised for the menace they cause to their communities."An admirable sentiment, and one with which I would wholeheartedly agree. Except for the fact that Hastings has been backsliding on individual responsibility for quite a while now ... to his industry's detriment.
In 2004 when blanket smoking bans were first mooted, for example, he was bullish in defending pubs and their customers.
British Beer and Pub Association spokesman Mark Hastings believes a total ban would prove costly and be legally complicated to implement.He was correct on all counts. Uncannily so, in fact, when predicting pub closures and job losses. He possessed all the aces, he merely had to bravely play them again and again.
He added: "Clearly they (the chains) recognise non-smoking is on the increase and they want to reflect that. But we also believe in freedom of choice.
"While customers want more restrictions on smoking, only 20% would support a total ban in pubs - that is (from) a Department of Health survey on this".
Mr Hastings also claims Ireland has seen a 15% drop in trade following the introduction of a total smoking ban in pubs.
He says that if the same thing happened in the UK and had the same impact, 5,000 pubs would be shut and 75,000 jobs lost.
But rather than stick to his guns, he subsequently seems to have lost his balls on the London Underground between media spots.
In 2007, he downgraded the damage, which he had correctly predicted, when faced with opposition from a few anti-smoking fanatics.
Mark Hastings, communications director of the British Beer and Pub Association, said that although the ban may lead to a small decline in beer sales, pubs would also see an increase in the sale of food.I don't know where the 'freedom of choice' part had managed to lose itself in the interim, nor the quite correct assertion that a significant majority didn't want to see a total ban (which they still don't).
Forward to March 2008 and Hastings was probably wishing he'd been more heroic as his initial fears began to disastrously materialise.
BRITAIN'S pubs are at the heart of every community – yet they have never been under such pressure. We are experiencing a "perfect storm" of rising costs, falling demand for our key product, draught beer, and grappling with the impact of a smoking ban that has hit sales hard.Food wasn't helping 'sales' after all. It was full-on devastation ... and well before any recession had been felt, you notice.
What's more, the government wasn't just walking all over Hastings and his weak will, they had also ensured that his own members would be the ones to enforce their own demise. If Hastings was on the ball, he would have noticed this potential development quite early considering the Times had mentioned it in 2005.
In licensed premises the responsibility for enforcing the law would be placed on landlords and it would be policed by health and safety officers from local councils. Failure to comply would result in a fine.And now? When much of the hospitality trade is calling for a sensible amendment to a law which has wrought so much damage? Which Hastings predicted? What say the pubs' stalwart and defender?
Mark Hastings, director of communications, British Beer and Pub Association ("We do not want to see a return to smoking in pubs. It would be a backward and unwelcome step.").Game, set and match to the government over a quite limp and apologist approach from the gibbering wreck that used to be the proud BBPA.
Now. Taking into account the abject capitulation by Hastings over the smoking ban, it was almost pitiful to hear his weak attempt to deflect government focus away from pubs, with regard the 24 hour drinking debate, in favour of a reliance on individual responsibility.
Weak because he surely must know by now that government doesn't attach much importance to individual responsibility or freedom of choice, and pitiful because - by his own inaction - the state has established a precedent whereby pubs are to be solely responsible for policing their customers.
Hastings allowed that to happen. His organisation, despite the political clout it used to carry, woefully failed to rigorously stand up for its members and their right to self-determination. He presided over a period of time where his members became unpaid enforcers for the state, and he did so with an inconsistent whimper and a cowardly retreat from conflict.
The BBPA are now busted. Government know they are an easy touch and will fleece pub owners for everything they can get. What's more, once the precedent has been established for city centre barns - who can confidently assert that all licensed premises won't be charged for policing costs in the future? That the landlords won't, for example, be invoiced for the cost of squad cars parked outside rural pubs to catch those who may have had more than one pint?
Why not? After all, in Hastings' words, they "need to be penalised for the menace they cause to their communities".
And, like the scourge of city centre 'binge drinkers', the government won't be too willing to foot the bill themselves when they have a proven spineless industry just sitting there bravely turning tail and fleeing whenever a battle presents itself.