Press release – Monday 22 March
Article from Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin
Like kings of old, Boris and the “quad” are bypassing Parliament, with tacit approval from the evanescent opposition, and are foisting “oven-ready” idiocies on the public.
Wetherspoon was contacted on Friday by a national newspaper reporter, seeking comments on yet another Downing St initiative for pubs.
“The government is going to announce tomorrow...that when pubs reopen...they will be able to put up marquees .... without planning permission until September (and) tables and chairs... on pavements.... The government is keen to strip power from town hall busybodies to stop them blocking moves which could help pubs recover”.
The proposal, bearing the fingerprints of the Downing St PR department, which is slightly bigger than the British Army of the Rhine, is entirely barking.
Wetherspoon, for example, has a five-acre beer garden in Exeter, probably with more indoor space than all central Exeter pubs combined, if covered by a giant marquee.
About 20 years ago, as a one-off aberration, during a beer festival, the great Wurzles played in the garden at this venue - and the neighbours were up in arms at the racket from the crowd. We avoided a repeat, and relations have been good ever since.
One crazy aspect of the proposals is that the government itself has banned indoor drinking in pubs. Now it’s permitting indoor drinking outside pubs - in marquees.
Less than half the UK’s pubs will be open in April. If the weather’s good, up to 100% of UK customers, deprived of a pint for yonks, may head towards those which are open - except that 80% of the space at the “open” pubs, that which is indoors, will be shut. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, the normal pub safety features and controls, those which are indoors, built up by increments over decades and centuries, will be lost under these arrangements - including visibility of customers from the bar, cctv, proximity to lavatories, comfortable seating and so on.
Politicians, the press and the public should note the tribalism and division implicit in the message from Downing St - the government wants to “strip power from town hall busybodies and stop them blocking moves, which could help pubs recover”.
There is no doubt that some town halls can be bureaucratic, from time to time, but they’ve generally been helpful to pubs, and have been cooperative in granting permission for outside seating over the years.
In demonising town halls and bigging up the government, Downing St is indulging in autocratic and divisive politicking - which always results in stupid decisions.
Some publicans and politicians will likely be seduced by these crumbs from the Downing St table, but they should beware - the government has veered from “eat out to help”, to curfews, to “substantial meals only”, to baffling tiers, and then to lockdowns.
Marquees are expensive and will be jettisoned in a jiffy by Downing St, if selfish political expediency deems it advantageous.
The hospitality industry needs to remember that transmission of the virus, counterintuitive though it may be, has been extraordinarily low in pubs since reopening last July.
The medical evidence has been unambiguous, although it has been manipulated and distorted by the government and SAGE - transmission has overwhelmingly occurred in care homes, hospitals and households.
Pubs are pawns in the game and kowtowing to the latest headline-grabbing initiative doesn’t pay.
The truth is that the madcap Downing St dodgem car is out of control. It’s using emergency powers to spend more money than any government in history, unsupervised by parliament, and unchecked by a supine opposition.
As the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, has said, the market, unlike the Lord, does not forgive those who know not what they do - as then Prime Minister, John Major, discovered, in the debacle of the UK’s ejection from the exchange rate mechanism (ERM) in September 1992.
As to the marquee proposal, Downing St should remember that the real micromanagers and busybodies in the last year haven’t been in town halls - they’ve been in 10 Downing St.
The pub trade and the country need less weekly, barmy ideas from Boris in the future- and more review by parliament, consultation with industry and common sense.
MPs and the public should relay to Boris the advice from Eddie Grant’s famous song: “Sometimes, I think it’s insanity, the way you go”.