What debate or informed discussion there is always seems to have something missing - real hard facts about the day-to-day implicaions about what should be the most fundamental change to the licensed retail industry in England and Wales since the Beer Orders
We can read the latest pronouncements from Tim Martin and his anti-lobby, about resignations from ALMR, about that same organisation falling out with the rival British Beer & Pubs Association over the terms it has apparently agreed on behalf of the industry, but where’s the real facts about what’s actually being discussed and proposed in the committees set up by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport to draw up the draft legislation?
The truth is that few outside that t circle have any idea of what’s happening, or what’s being decided in their name. Few even seem to know of the committees’ existence.
It’s a bit like the Euro debate. We know there’s a pro argument, but its backers are nowhere to be found.
Much of the blame must lie with the big trade organisations. They appear to have become caught up with the process itself rather than with clearly communicating with their members about what is actually happening. Certainly their members aren’t communicating down the line to their own troops.
There may be good political reasons for this, but this lack of open communication is leaving a huge vacuum for the likes of Tim Martin and his new sidekick Stuart Neame to fill. Neame is able to attack the supposed charging structure of the new regime in the press, even though those in the negotiation process know that it hasn’t even been considered yet.
The trade bodies seem perpetually on the back foot. When will they take a proactive step?
The other vacuum is the apparent lack of voice or leadership of the country’s pub tenants and freetraders. Tim Martin’s Wetherspoon’s is normally cast as the arch enemy of tenants, but he nevertheless has been able to take up the fight supposedly on their behalf. There is little Mr Martin can learn about PR.
The truth is that the bulk of the industry isn’t necessarily against change or the inevitable switch to local authority control. Most of the country’s biggest players and certainly the leaders of the late-night market would welcome real reform – despite what Tim Martin might hope.
But hearts and minds are never won over by keeping quiet. What the debate needs is a big dose of openness, fact and a little more confidence from the pro campaigners.
The only hope is that next month’s Queen’s Speech will contain the commitment to introduce legislation – then this phoney war may at last come to an end.