Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cart and horses

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.

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.
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.

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.


  1. Interesting he should mention the term 'social glue'.

    I don't know how to break this but ... you'll be seeing a whole load of anti-alcohol stuff coming out from the BBC on Monday as Panorama of that evening is going to be a hatchet job against alcohol. One of the advance quotes talks about a brewer setting out "to position its leading brand of beer as ‘social glue’." This, remember, from one of the biggest proponents of minimum alcohol pricing.

    It's only going to get worse until CAMRA wake up and get militant against these people. They've let enough slide meekly past already, and look set to ignore (or pretend didn't happen) even the obvious precedents in front of them.

  2. "It's only going to get worse until CAMRA wake up and get militant against these people"

    Haha, "and now we mourn the closure of the last pub in England".

    As said before, CAMRA will only wake up when it's way too late. "Shit, this means us!"

    Your link doesn't work, btw.

  3. My fault, I think. Try this:

  4. A second elephant in the room that is often overlooked is Government who cripple so many industries whilst sitting on their collective behinds by imposing taxes on pleasures (justified as sin taxes).
    It seems the harder you try the more the Government 'earns' by doing nothing and ultimately makes businesses untenable!

  5. One could go as far as to say modernity itself is destroying pubs. Its easy enough to get a beer at innumerable strip malls and the like, and people simply do not go for the experience. One does not go to a pub for the drink, but for the cameradie and the experience itself.

  6. Another variation on this narrative is the oft-heard assertion that a central reason for the overall decline in the pub trade is that "pubs are badly run".

  7. As said before, CAMRA will only wake up when it's way too late. "Shit, this means us!"

    Possibly about time we put as much effort into this subject as we do in production of the GBG.

    Having just finished off a tweak to a description of a GBG nomination, I realised how constrained I felt and worried to even mention they might serve beers other than real ale.

    So the other elephant in the room is that real ale is the only drink that makes a good pub.

  8. "It is always going to be better to celebrate good pubs......rather than painting a negative picture of closure and decline"

    Indeed - so what about it then Mudgie?

  9. Just how many elephants can you get in a room?

  10. Tyson said...
    Just how many elephants can you get in a room?

    Loads 'cos there's no customers.

  11. @John - I do not speak for CAMRA, but the point I was making was that CAMRA will achieve little by constantly banging on about evil pub companies and rapacious developers, and in the long run the best way to "save pubs" is to address the wider issues, which is exactly what I AM doing.

  12. I agree with Mr Clarke. Lets have some upbeat stuff. It's all fags and misery, this. Ask JC to guest blog something a little more uplifting.

    Maybe a story about a pub not going bust because the locals still drink there having decided to give up the tabs and put the money into a fund to buy incubators to save babies lives.

  13. It#s difficult to know what came first, but people are staying in more. The fantastic variety of British bottled beers available in my local Morrisons for around £1.70 a 500ml bottle gives even less reason for going out.


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