Labour wants to address the demise of the British pub - hypocrites!
Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 10:00
Simon Clark

I was in Brussels this week when I heard that Labour's leaked manifesto included a section about smoking:

Labour will implement a Tobacco Control Plan, focussing on issues of mental health and children smokers, along with groups in society, such as BAME and LGBT communities, with high prevalence of the use of tobacco products.

More interesting perhaps was the commitment to set up a National Review of Local Pubs "to examine the causes for the large-scale demise of pubs."

Seriously, you could have heard me laughing back in London as I scribbled a quick statement and sent it to the usual suspects plus the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade journal:

"We support the idea of a review but it's a bit late for the thousands of pubs that closed as a direct result of the smoking ban that was introduced by the last Labour government in 2007.

"The party ignored warnings that the ban would have a devastating impact so it's stunning hypocrisy to make the plight of pubs an election issue ten years later.

"The smoking ban isn't the only reason for the demise of Britain's pubs but it is a significant factor.

"In recent years polls have consistently shown majority support for allowing well-ventilated designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

"If a review is to be more than a PR exercise it must take public opinion into account and consider an amendment to the ban that would meet the demands of all customers, smokers and non-smokers alike."

The Morning Advertiser reported the manifesto policy but ignored our response. Instead they quoted several pub trade spokesman including the saintly Bridget Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association.

Typically they all banged on about business rates as if this is the sole cause of thousands of pubs closing over the last ten years.

I'm sure it is a factor - together with cheap supermarket beer and changing social trends - but to ignore the impact of the smoking ban is downright perverse.

As I've pointed out before, the data is clear. In the 12 months after the introduction of smoking bans in Ireland (2004), Scotland (2006), England, Wales and Northern Ireland (2007) there was a significant increase in pub closures that cannot be attributed to anything else.

The recession struck in the second quarter of 2008, making a bad situation even worse, but the damage had already been done (see Smoking gun: is the smoking ban a major cause of the decline of the British pub?).

Subsequent research in 2010 (The British smoking bans: stubbing out the urban pubs) demonstrated that the pubs that suffered most were landlocked inner city pubs, most of them in Labour constituencies.

The irony wasn't lost on us nor is the hypocrisy of a party that pledges to investigate the damage they accelerated when they enforced the smoking ban - against public opinion - in 2007.

Anyway, it's completely academic. Labour have absolutely no chance of winning the election so they can promise whatever they like and it will make no difference to the result on June 8.

Instead we must try and persuade Theresa May's government to commission its own review of the decline of the British pub, examining every factor and what can be done to resuscitate this endangered institution.

Sadly I fear the smoking ban has done to Britain's pubs what the Beeching cuts did to the railways. Hundreds of stations were closed and thousands of miles of track were torn up. Fifty years later people still question whether that was the right decision.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in England it's not too late to save the traditional pub (by which I don't mean the gastro, child-friendly establishments that have become so ubiquitous) but the patient is in intensive care and needs urgent life-saving measures - including the option of comfortable smoking rooms indoors and out - if it's to survive.

Update: As part of their policy to legalise cannabis the Lib Dems have announced they would allow small "cannabis social clubs".

That seems reasonable to me.

What's odd is that the Lib Dems support the smoking ban and there's no mention in their manifesto of amending the legislation to allow, for example, small social clubs where people can smoke tobacco.

Doesn't seem very logical to me but that's the Lib Dems for you.

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