It’s common to read CAMRA publications inveighing against the bad business practices of pubcos, and running campaigns to “Save the Pig & Whistle” which is under threat from redevelopment as flats or a Tesco Express. There may be some validity in these lines of argument, but all too often it turns into a narrative that the decline of the pub trade can largely be laid at the door of rapacious owners and greedy developers.
In reality, of course, cutting off the supply of pubs has very little to do with it. To say otherwise is putting the cart before the horse. No doubt there are some entirely viable pubs that have over the years been lost to development, but in most areas there is now an abundance of closed and boarded pubs, and former pub premises, so if you want to run a pub it’s not exactly difficult to get your hands on one. The fact that, in the past thirty years, beer sales in pubs have declined by nearly two-thirds, and a third of the pubs in the country have closed, is the result of a fall in demand, not a restriction in supply.
Pubcos may be poor custodians of their estates, but that was never really a problem when business was good. However, as the saying goes, a falling tide reveals who’s swimming naked.
In the piece referred to here, former CAMRA chairman Chris Holmes says:
Four decades ago the threatened product was real ale. Now, the threatened institution is the pub... It is the social glue without which we are all diminished.He has a good point, but on their own, purely technical measures to change planning regulations and business practices will make little or no difference. The success of pubs depends on wider social attitudes. A society in which the regular, moderate consumption of alcohol is viewed in a relaxed, tolerant way as a normal part of everyday life will have successful pubs. On the other hand, pubs will struggle when alcohol is widely regarded in a censorious and disapproving manner. I have posted in the past how, outside of the usual weekend busy times, just going to the pub for a drink has somehow become less socially acceptable than it once was.
One of the great USPs of pubs is that they are the only places where you can get real ale. The problem is that if we lose our pubs, apart from losing a great British (can I say that anymore?) institution we lose real ale as well.
Real ale’s future is intrinsically tied up with the success of the pub so please make sure that CAMRA’s efforts are dedicated towards supporting it.
It is always going to be better to celebrate good pubs (which, to be fair, CAMRA does a lot of) rather than painting a negative picture of closure and decline. In a wider sense, the future success of pubs will only be secured by the defeat and marginalisation of the anti-drink lobby.
And, of course, while we’re at it, the elephant in the room needs shooting. With a smoking gun, of course.