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Local pubs and beer

I wrote an email to my local MP the other day, which is a first for me. I am a bit of a cynic where politics are concerned, so although I have views, I don't tend to vote in elections any more, mainly because it seems that there is little real choice nowadays, with all the major parties trying to take the " middle ground ".

Anyway, thats enough about politics. I am talking about something much more important - I am talking about beer. Specifically I am talking about real beer, traditional British beer, the stuff that is made by small local breweries across the land, in casks, looked after by knowledgeable publicans and served via hand pumps. Also known as ale, it is part of our heritage, our culture and is found nowhere else in the world.

There was a time, back in the dark days of the 1970's when the giant conglomerates ruled and pubs sold such dreadful things as Tavern Keg and Watneys Red, under the label of beer.But it was a poor imitation of the real thing, made in factories, pasteurised, pumped full of carbon dioxide to make it fizzy and sold chilled. Then along came CAMRA and the real ale revolution was born.

Now we can see the fruits of that revolution. All across the country are small independant breweries, making real beer which is sold almost exclusively in its local area. A modern success story. A success story which has been shared by the traditional pubs and enjoyed by millions like me, who enjoy a good pint.

Which brings me to why I wrote to my MP. There is a tax on beer which, uniquely, is increased each year automatically, by 2% above inflation. This has happened each year since 2008 and is why your pint now costs much more than it should. One of the consequences of this elevated tax is that people are drinking less beer in the pubs and pubs themselves are closing at an ever increasing rate. Sadly, when a pub closes, it almos never reopens, which is why many of our villages are now without what used to be the hub of the community.

To try and do something about this, there has been an e-petition running which I signed. As part of the campaign, each signatory was asked to send an email to their local MP, asking for their support. As one would expect, that email was responded to by a standard email from the office of the MP, quoting the party line - " Government recognise the concerns of the people but have no plans to alter any of their policies etc etc ". Disappointing from a local MP, especially one whose constituency conatins quite a number of very good local breweries.

So I wrote back, acknowledging that both my first email and his response were standard copy and paste formats and inviting a dialogue. I made the following points about various aspects of the economics and social consequences of the ongoing policy. 

 

" 1. Economically there comes a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks In. The more heavily the beer is taxed, the more pubs close, the fewer pints are drunk and the lower the net revenue. Regardless of any minimum pricing regulations, the supermarkets will always be able to undercut the pubs and if drinkers are priced out of pubs they will buy from the supermarkets. Of course, most of the cheap booze sold in supermarkets is not produced in the UK, so contributes little or nothing to the UK economy. Then add in the costs to the economy of the lost jobs, both in the pubs and the breweries and it actually becomes very clear that punitive taxes on real, local ales are counter productive and a forward thinking approach would be to consider tax breaks for local brewers and local pubs.

 

2. Socially, pubs, in particular traditional pubs, actually encourage responsible drinking. If young people start their drinking in the pub environment, with their fathers and uncles, as well as their peers, they are influenced by the more responsible behaviour of the older generation. They will be introduced to the beers that pub goers drink, rather than the high strength cheap lagers and ciders sold in the supermarkets, or the alcopops sold in the clubs. Binge drinking is rare in traditional, local, beer orientated pubs. A serious attempt therefore to curb binge drinking and its inevitable consequences would focus on encouraging the resurgence of the traditional pub with its traditional values.

 

3. Health. The traditionally brewed British ale has very little capacity to harm peoples health. It is brewed for flavour and enjoyment rather than just to have a high alcohol content. Most of the damage done by heavy drinking seems to be caused by cheap booze, or spirits. Much if not all of the very strong lager type beers sold in the supermarkets are made just to be highly alcoholic and addictive ( which is why they actually taste horrible unless they are almost frozen ). So encouraging responsible drinking of traditionally brewed ale would actually improve peoples health.

 

4 Culturally, pubs have been at the heart of our towns and villages. They are unique to our country and despite many attempts across the world, can never be replicated. They are a part of our national identity and heritage, They are a tourist attraction and bring in revenue from overseas. Our brewers sell their wares overseas, which helps the UK economy. Do you know, I can buy bottled British beers in Spain for around £1.50 per pint? How can it be that I have to pay £3.50 for a pint in my local?

 

How is it that it takes a Frenchman to so wonderfully capture what the pub means to our society.

 

Hilaire Belloc wrote - " From the towns all Inns have been driven: from the villages most.... Change your hearts or you will lose your Inns and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England ".

 

There has, in the last 20 years or so, been a renaissance of small, independent local breweries across the country. We are the beneficiaries of few on our doorstep here in West Berkshire. It would be tragic if, by the continuance of this damaging policy, there were no pubs left to sell their beer to. Already we can see the impact, with pubs everywhere closing and those that are still open, with fewer customers. I know that most people are spending less and going out less. There is only one way to stop this decline and that is to stop hammering the beer drinker with such swingeing taxes."

 

Do you know what response I received? A one line email " Thank you for your further useful points". Not even the courtesy of a considered response!

So is my innate cynicism justified? What is the point of local MPs when they ignore the concerns of local people and just toe the party line? It would be good if the MP in question read this article and maybe had a tiny twinge of conscience, but I won't hold my breath.