With the pub trade under so much pressure nowadays, you could be forgiven for thinking that pubs would welcome any friend they could get. So step forward Don Shenker, chief executive of anti-drink pressure group and fake charity Alcohol Concern. He says he wants to work alongside CAMRA to look at ways of helping well-run pubs to survive. Unbelievably, he says Alcohol Concern is “not an anti-pub organisation. What we are in favour of is responsible drinking, retailing and selling of alcohol.”
He went on to say “We share the concern around the high degree of pub closures in the country and want to see protection for pubs that are well run. I really want to support the community pubs. It’s important to support a pub where alcohol is being regulated; the problem with drinking at home is it isn’t regulated.”
This is all a bit rich coming from an organisation that has opposed every liberalisation of licensing laws over the past three decades, championed every piece of anti-drink and anti-pub legislation going and consistently campaigned for higher alcohol taxes and prices and a drastic reduction in overall alcohol consumption. You have to wonder whether he choked on his sarsaparilla as he said this.
Even in the best-run community pub, you will routinely see people drinking enough alcohol to qualify as a “binge” in the government’s description, some of whom will end up getting boisterous, or even a bit “worse for wear”. It is hard to see how this conforms to Shenker’s view of “responsible retailing”. And if every customer stuck to Alcohol Concern’s recommended maximum of a pint and a half per sitting it is difficult to imagine many pubs staying in business.
Of course, the real nature of his agenda was exposed when he went on urge pubs to offer smaller servings of drinks, and to lower the alcohol content of drinks so people can consume the same volume but take less alcohol. I'm sure people will be flocking down to the Dog & Duck to drink thimblefuls of watered-down beer.
In reality, Shenker loathes pubs and all they stand for with every fabric of his being. He would like to see as many as possible closed down and the few that remained turned into anodyne, emasculated eating houses. Anyone seriously concerned about the future of pubs should avoid at all costs being seduced by his weasel words.
And it’s disappointing to see Julian Grocock of SIBA thinking that some “common ground” can be found with Alcohol Concern. Ultimately, there is no appeasing these people, no accommodation that can be reached. If you sit down to dine with the wolf, however nice his smile might be, you will eventually find yourself on the menu.