As several other commentators have pointed out, Labour’s 2005 election manifesto included the following commitment:
“We will legislate to ensure that all enclosed public places and workplaces other than licensed premises will be smoke-free.The legislation will ensure that all restaurants will be smoke-free; all pubs and bars preparing and serving food will be smoke-free; and other pubs and bars will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free. In membership clubs the members will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free.”Now, that really happened, didn’t it? And – along with the broken promise not to raise the top rate of income tax – it underlines the point that political manifestos should be regarded merely as a generalised statement of aspiration rather than a cast-iron list of commitments.
But it’s interesting to speculate what the pub scene would be like if that commitment had came to pass. Certainly vastly healthier than it is today, with thousands more urban locals still in existence. But it would have opened up an undesirable class division, with a stark distinction between smoky working-class boozers and anodyne middle-class dining outlets. Pubs would have been faced with the dilemma that they could only serve food if they alienated the majority of their wet trade.
It would have raised all sorts of awkward questions and contradictions. Could we have started seeing pubs trying to build a wall down the middle and turn themselves into effectively two separate establishments, with different licensees, staff and accounts, so they could cater for all their customers? And would it have been illegal to allow pub customers to bring in food from the next-door sandwich bar, chippy or Indian, as often happens today? Might we also even have seen the rise of private members’ dining clubs where you could enjoy a smoke after your meal?
The only real solution, of course, is to let provision follow the market. If there is a genuine economic demand for non-smoking areas in pubs, or for wholly non-smoking pubs, then the market will meet it. As it was doing before 1 July 2007.