Introduction to the Dec/Jan 2020 edition

Welcome to the fifth of our on-line editions of London Drinker. Let me immediately reaffirm our intention to return to paper editions as soon as we can but, sadly, that time now seems to be further away than ever. 

I had been hoping to make this edition a touch more cheerful than its recent predecessors but that soon went by the board.  Originally my subject here was going to be London’s move into Tier 2 but this was overtaken by a bigger event – the second national lockdown. It’s not my place to go into the whys and wherefores of the Government’s handling of the COVID crisis and I am sure that you are all more than capable of forming your own opinions. We can only hope, on all fronts, that the extended measures are effective. The regulations for the second lockdown are time limited and will expire on 3 December. They cannot just be extended without going before Parliament.  Let us hope that what follows at the end of the second lockdown does not need to be as restrictive as the previous Tier 2, let alone Tier 3.  In particular, please let us not see a return to either the 10pm curfew or the table service requirement because, as reported elsewhere, neither measure made any sense, nor was any justification ever offered.  Furthermore, I hope that the measures imposed in Wales when their ‘firebreak’ ended are not used as a template.  I won’t go into detail here (there are 26 clauses) but they are probably as restrictive as the previous English Tier 3. 

Not everything is quite the same as it was for the original lockdown, although, once again, a lot of pints of beer have gone down the drain, either literally or figuratively; some 7.5 million of them according to the Daily Telegraph. One significant difference, originally, was the prohibition of takeaway beer sales from pubs. The Prime Minister was quite certain that this was necessary when he spoke to the House of Commons on Monday 2 November. Given that supermarkets were not subjected to any controls and that most pubs had licences for off-sales, this was clearly grossly unfair.  I would not claim that it was just us but I think that CAMRA can pat itself on the back for its part in the campaign to reverse that decision, not least for the speed and efficiency of our getting members to lobby their MPs.

That said, it would be wrong not to acknowledge what I suspect was behind the Government’s thinking.

During the first lockdown, some pubs, and at least one brewery, were selling beer in open pint glasses which were then consumed in nearby public spaces. Many instances of anti-social behaviour followed and, on at least one occasion, the police had to close a public park. Given that the Government had shown their thinking, you would have hoped that people would have taken the warning but no.  Over the weekend of 7/8 November there were reports of beer being sold by the open pint and being consumed in the street.  It was only a very small minority, which it always is, but it was enough to reflect badly on us all.  All involved must learn from this.  If there is a further lockdown (and let us hope that there isn’t) it may not be so easy to change the Government’s mind.

Many pubs are closing permanently.  It is difficult not to believe that the COVID crisis is being used as cover for some calculated asset stripping.  Consequently, I’m sure that we will all be thinking of the very many people in the hospitality industry who are having to deal with redundancy or a reduction in their wages, especially at what should be the festive season.  Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer extended the furlough arrangements until 31 March after the second lockdown was introduced, in many cases the redundancy process was already complete or underway.

This situation brought to mind an article that Pete Brown, the prominent beer writer, contributed to the Morning Advertiser back in February.  This was written in response to the Government’s proposals for immigration post-Brexit but it now takes on a different aspect.  Jobs in the hospitality industry, chiefly bar staff and waiters, were to be classed as ‘unskilled labour’.  Mr Brown thought this to be ‘profoundly insulting’ and I share that view.  While we all know that some bar staff are better than others, this is his point, “We notice these failures because, common as they might be, they are less than we expect from a competent member of bar staff.  We expect a decent bar person to be able to pour a drink well into the correct glass, to do this with a variety of different drinks while serving a round, to take money and give the correct change (or use the card machine properly) and to do all this with a basic level of eye contact, personal acknowledgement and friendly demeanour.  If that sounds like a lot to expect, you’re right; this is not an unskilled job.”  Does the same attitude pervade the Government’s attitude to pubs?

Please note that, throughout this edition, whenever I say ‘pubs’, I am also including restaurants where appropriate.

Tony Hedger

London Drinker is published on behalf of the Greater London branches of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, and is edited by Tony Hedger.  CAMRA is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and registered in England; company no. 1270286.  Registered office: 230 Hatfield Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 4LW.

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