Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Time well spent?

In an intensive campaign during June, Gwent police breath-tested no less than 20,772 motorists, of whom a mere 124, or 0.6%, gave positive results. One hopes the 20,648 innocent motorists who had the finger of suspicion pointed at them felt that their time had not been wasted and they had not in any sense been subject to police harassment.

Surely statistics like this underline the point that drink-driving is something that requires a targeted response rather than the mass intimidation of the law-abiding.

And it is interesting that the report says “most of the 20,722 people who took the breath test in the force area did so on a voluntary basis” – in other words, the police had no legal powers to insist on a test, but of course to refuse a “voluntary” test might well have adverse consequences.

Because of course the innocent have nothing to fear, do they?

Cheshire plain

I recently came across this blog of pub reviews in Cheshire, which sadly does not appear to have been updated for over a year. The review of the Three Greyhounds at Allostock is a classic of its kind. But it struck me how “samey” so many of the pubs in Cheshire are – all those rather bland, formulaic, knocked-through, food-led establishments. Given its rich architectural heritage, there are surprisingly few pubs of real character. Yes, there are the famous ones such as the Harrington Arms at Gawsworth and the White Lion at Barthomley, but after that you start to struggle a bit. I’m sure that many other counties, even those with a strong tourist appeal, have a far more distinctive and varied pub stock.

Perhaps a lot of this is to do with the fact that historically both Robinson’s and especially Greenalls – two companies known for an enthusiastic and often insensitive attitude to pub refurbishments – had large holdings of tied houses in the county. The proximity of large centres of population gave pubowners an incentive to do up their pubs to cater for an urban-based dining trade. Many years ago I used to go from time to time to the Boot at Willington, near Kelsall, then a tiny two-roomer in the middle of a row of sandstone cottages up the cul-de-sac of Boothsdale, with a quarry-tiled floor in the tap room and serving Greenalls’ beer on gravity. Sadly now knocked through into the rest of the row and just another open-plan dining pub. So it goes, I suppose.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Wind them up and watch them go

You certainly have to hand it to the owners of BrewDog for having a knack for simultaneously getting publicity for themselves and winding up the humourless killjoys of the anti-drink lobby. Their latest effort is Tokyo, an imperial stout weighing in at a mammoth 18.2% ABV, but at the same time priced at an eye-watering £9.99 for a 330ml bottle.

Rather predictably, Jack Law of Alcohol Focus Scotland (sounds like a fakecharity to me), frothed:

“This company is completely deluded if they think that an 18.2% abv beer will help solve Scotland's alcohol problems. It is utterly irresponsible to bring out a beer which is so strong at a time when Scotland is facing unprecedented levels of alcohol-related health and social harm. Just one bottle of this beer contains six units of alcohol - twice the recommended daily limit.”
Umm, Jack, how many alcohol units are in a 70cl bottle of whisky retailing for £9.99? Or, for that matter, in a 75cl bottle of 15% ABV Buckfast? And surely he should be welcoming a drink sold in the off-trade at £1.67 a unit, way above any proposed minimum alcohol price. It’s hard to see Tokyo taking the place of Tennent’s Super in the hands of Rab C. Nesbitt lookalikes stumbling around the streets of the Gorbals.

James Watt of BrewDog responded with a very good point:
“Mass-market, industrially-brewed lagers are so bland and tasteless that you are seduced into drinking a lot of them. We’ve been challenging people to drink less alcohol, and educating the palates of drinkers with progressive craft-brewed beers which have an amazing depth of flavour, body and character. The beers we make at BrewDog, including Tokyo, are providing a cure to binge beer-drinking.”
And Jack Law shouldn’t worry too much, as they’re only making a limited edition of 3,000 bottles.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The soul of England

There’s an impassioned piece by Simon Heffer in today’s Sunday Telegraph entitled The soul of England lives in the public house. While I agree with the general sentiment, I can’t help feeling that Simon Heffer is someone who romanticises pubs as part of Olde England but doesn’t actually spend very much time drinking in them.

More supermarket nonsense

42-year-old RAF squadron leader Mark Giles has been prevented from buying red wine at his local Sainsbury’s because he had his 17-year-old son with him. Obviously someone with a commendably low tolerance for such nonsense, he left his shopping where it was and walked out. He also pointed out later that it would be perfectly legal for him to take the wine home and give his son a glass of it. We have seen this kind of thing before, but what is even more appalling in this case is that no apology or mumbling about an “overzealous cashier” was forthcoming from Sainsbury’s. I doubt whether he’ll be shopping there again in a hurry.

Many parents would reasonably expect their children to help them put their supermarket shopping on the conveyor at the checkout, but it’s running a risk if they happen to handle a bottle of beer and then the whole transaction has to be abandoned.

It would be tempting if you knew a supermarket that applied such a ludicrous policy to take your child with you, buy a couple of hundred pounds’ worth of frozen stuff, and a single bottle of weak beer, and leave it all on the checkout if refused service.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Keeping it quiet

It is likely that over the coming years a major battleground of the anti-alcohol campaign will be potential restrictions on alcohol advertising and promotion. However, there is no convincing evidence that alcohol advertising either increases consumption or encourages young people to start drinking, as this excellent article from Basham and Luik explains.

Based on the empirical evidence, it is clear that the public health establishment’s claims about the effects of alcohol advertising are incorrect. Indeed, the weight of the evidence substantially argues against its assertions about alcohol advertising initiating drinking and increasing consumption and alcohol-related harm. Consequently, there is no public policy justification for measures to restrict or completely ban alcohol advertising that is directed to legal consumers.
Drinking alcohol is so closely interweaved into Western European society that even a total ban would be unlikely to make much difference to consumption patterns. Indeed, as they suggest, by making it seem a forbidden fruit and discouraging brand identification, bans on advertising and promotion could even serve to increase consumption.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Never too fat to preach

President Obama has come in for a lot of criticism for appointing a visibly overweight woman, Dr Regina Benjamin, to the post of US Surgeon General. You know, the official whose name appears on health warnings on cigarette packs. Marcia Angell, a lecturer at Harvard University Medical School, told ABC News: “At a time when a lot of public health concern is about the national epidemic of obesity, having a surgeon general who is noticeably overweight raises questions in people's minds.” Another critic was Dr Sarah Reed, who made a point of saying she kept her own BMI at 19, which is technically underweight. I bet she’s a barrel of laughs at a dinner party.

You have to wonder whether Dr Benjamin would have been appointed had she been a white male rather than an African-American woman. But no doubt her weight won’t stop her preaching to her fellow countrymen and women on how they should live their lives. And has Obama managed to completely stop smoking yet?

And of course, being clinically obese doesn’t stop our own Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, lecturing us on every subject under the sun, although he does seem to lay off it a bit when it comes to snouts in the trough.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A super opportunity?

Interesting news that InBev are considering selling off the Tennent’s beer brands and the associated Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow. They want to concentrate on international brands and divest those that only have a regional appeal. Now, Tennent’s is hardly the first name on the beer lover’s lips, but Tennent’s Lager, first brewed as early as 1885, still accounts for over half the Scottish lager market, and the notorious Tennent’s Super remains the tramp’s preferred route to oblivion. But it could be a unique opportunity for an ambitious entrepreneur to grab a substantial share of the British beer market. On the other hand, with the Scottish Government doing their utmost to put brewers and distillers out of business with their anti-drink crusade, it could be a poisoned chalice.

A farewell to pubs

Depressing, although scarcely surprising, news today from the British Beer & Pub Association that the rate of pub closures has now reached 52 a week, or 2,700 a year. And that’s a net figure, after taking account of all the new trendy box bars that have opened. The real figure of losses of proper pubs is more like 70 a week. The number of pubs in Britain – 70,000 not so many years ago – is now down below the 54,000 mark. This is no more than I have hinted at in previous posts such as here and here. It’s wishful thinking, though, to expect the current government to do anything about it, as they have made it abundantly clear that they couldn’t care less about pubs and seem to view them almost as a kind of health hazard.

This blog posting by the ever-eloquent Raedwald is a poignant reminder of what we are rapidly losing forever. A whole way of life is disappearing, and pubgoing is becoming a niche activity that is irrelevant to vast swathes of the community.

But some people still don’t seem to get it, and complacently go on about how it’s just the crappy keg pubs that are closing. Broadly speaking, it is, but they aren’t closing because they are crappy keg pubs, they are closing because the overall demand for pubs has dramatically declined. Obviously, in such a situation, it is the less appealing pubs that will go to the wall first, but in the past the market was healthy enough for these pubs to make a decent living. All too often, people who really should know better fail to draw a distinction between the factors dictating the overall size of the market, and the factors determining how trade is distributed within a shrinking market.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Never enough

Forty-five major drinks companies are planning to spend £100 million on a major publicity drive called The Campaign for Smarter Drinking in an attempt to encourage responsible drinking amongst the young. Fairly obviously, this is a response to the tide of (generally exaggerated or groundless) anti-drink sentiment we have seen over the past couple of years.

I have my doubts, though, as to what effect it will have. If anything, campaigns of this nature tend to moderate the behaviour of those who are already acting responsibly while doing little to affect those who are overdoing it.

Attitudes to drinking are driven more by social change than official campaigns. Over the years, pubs and bars have gone in and out of fashion with the young, and it’s very likely that in ten years time we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about. I can see the malaise that is now affecting the mainstream pub trade eventually spreading to the weekend binge-drinking scene.

Predictably, though, anti-drink fakecharity Alcohol Concern have condemned the plan as not going far enough. Chief executive Don Shenker said: “This new initiative appears to be yet another example of the drinks industry trying desperately to avoid mandatory legislation to pass on health information to consumers.”

In reality, of course, these people, however reasonable they may sound, can never be appeased. They will never state an acceptable final position, and are really primarily concerned with the direction of travel. However much you give them, they will always want more. So long as the tide is flowing in an anti-drink direction, Shenker and his bansturbatory chums will be happy.

Voting with your feet

One argument often advanced in favour of the smoking ban was that the licensed trade dragged its feet in providing non-smoking areas. Now, I tend to believe that this is disingenuous, as nothing the licensed trade could have done short of imposing a 100% “voluntary” ban would in practice have dissuaded the antismoking lobby from going for the jugular. But I don’t think it’s true anyway – in fact, even pre-ban, the provision of non-smoking areas was far greater than the trade is usually given credit for. I’m not saying it covered a majority of pubs, but in most areas of the country there were a substantial number of places where you could go, if you so wished, and have a drink in a smoke-free environment.

Clearly it isn’t possible to get into a time machine to prove this point, but, for a start, every single Wetherspoon’s pub had a non-smoking area, so there was one in the centre of pretty much every substantial town. Some had even prematurely gone wholly non-smoking, although they stopped that policy as soon as they realised that trade in those pubs had fallen off a cliff. All of M&B’s Vintage Inns chain, including the March Hare in Cheadle Hulme, only allowed smoking in a small area near the bar. The Phoenix in Hazel Grove had gone wholly non-smoking (although it had no cask beer either). The Davenport Arms in Woodford had, following a consultation with customers, confined smoking to the tap room, while the Griffin in Heaton Mersey, an archetypal down-to-earth boozer and certainly no upmarket dining pub, had a non-smoking room of long standing. I could go on, but you get the point.

In the early days of CAMRA, there were large areas of the country where real ale was very hard to find and people had to, and did, travel a long way to drink it. If they were prepared to do that, then it was a lot easier, if you were sufficiently bothered, to find somewhere in the mid-2000s where you could drink in a non-smoking environment. The thing was, though, very few people were that bothered.

This was not the case with eating out, as there were enough people who actively preferred to eat in a non-smoking environment that, by 2005, the vast majority of food-oriented pubs were at least 50% non-smoking. There was a clear economic demand here, and without any legislation the market had evolved to cater for it. But when it came to just going out for a drink, the vast majority of people were either smokers, part of mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers, or not really too concerned about a smoky environment. Not that a lot of pubs were particularly smoky anyway. The antismokers, if they really did want to vote with their feet, could still enjoy a varied drinking experience by sticking to the pubs with non-smoking areas, which may have been predominantly food-oriented but, as I suggested before, included a fair smattering of traditional pubs as well. Perhaps if they had been able to do more to demonstrate a demand for non-smoking areas for drinkers, we might have some genuine choice now.

But instead we ended up getting a “solution” imposed by non-pubgoers on the pub trade for which there was no genuine demand within the trade, as the lack of non-smoking provision purely for drinkers showed. And the legacy in terms of the swathes of closed and deserted pubs is only too obvious. If you don’t like a particular state of affairs, and know that the market isn’t going to deliver your preferred solution as there is insufficient demand for it, it is all too easy to go crying to Nanny to remove choice and get it banned.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Game, boy?

In the local this lunchtime, and there was a kid of about five years old busy playing on a hand-held games machine, with all the associated beeping and warbling. Since when was this remotely acceptable in a pub? The old-school landlord would instantly have said "stop that now or you're out!"

Little wonder adult customers prefer the quiet and order of their own homes.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Jack the flapjack

You might have imagined that a flapjack was a fairly innocent item of oat-based confectionery, but apparently it is such a toxic substance that Dame Deirdre Hutton, retiring chairperson of the Food Standards Agency, believes it should be banned. It seems that it is so energy-dense in relation to its size that it is a positive invitation to obesity. She said, “I don’t think that supermarkets should be selling this very energy-driven food. We should be making low-calorie food the norm and anything that is high in fat should be niche.” Presumably she believes we should be more like cattle who have to spend all day chomping away because of the low level of nutrition contained in grass.

She goes on to say “stores should sell 90 per cent healthy food and 10 per cent unhealthy.” Setting aside how that is defined in the first place, surely supermarkets should be selling what their customers want to buy rather than what some Righteous health fascist thinks they should be eating. She probably thinks it would be a good thing too if pubs sold nine soft drinks for every alcoholic one, and is no doubt one of those who harks back to the days of rationing as a laudable public health initiative.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Another sort of smoke

I’ve recently been following an interesting debate on a web forum (unfortunately hidden behind a registration wall) on the subject of cannabis legalisation. Now, while this isn’t something of any personal interest to me, I’ve always thought a strong libertarian case could be made for it. However, the pro-cannabis lobby aren’t going to win many supporters amongst libertarian smokers and drinkers by constantly going about how dangerous tobacco and alcohol are in comparison with their drug of choice. I have often thought that, if cannabis was legalised and sold on a commercial basis, the very Guardianistas who currently express sympathy for liberalisation would be campaigning for it to be further taxed and restricted.

Realistically, given the current ban-everything climate, the chances of cannabis legalisation in my lifetime must be infinitesimal, and certainly much less than the chances of the smoking ban being amended. We’ll see the metrication of road signs and Britain joining the Euro first. And, given the current climate of legislative persecution and social opprobrium that tobacco smokers have to endure, despite tobacco being a legal product, maybe the cannabis legalisers should be careful what they wish for. Perhaps it is better for their favourite weed to be technically illegal, but widely tolerated and perceived as something a bit cool and alternative.

More papadums please!

“We should stick to what we do best: steak & chips and scampi & chips, carveries and home-cooked Sunday lunches. And we should leave the papadums to those who know how to make them,” says Mark Daniels on the Publican website. Now I have to say he couldn’t be more wrong. One of the biggest problems with pub food is that so many pubs have boxed themselves into a corner of being a kind of English ethnic restaurant, and there are vast swathes of international cuisine that they refuse to touch. This can only serve to perpetuate an old-fashioned, stodgy image of pubs to people who happily tuck in to all kinds of exotic cuisines at home and in restaurants.

Thirty years ago, many pubs were more imaginative and innovative with food than they are now, and there was more difference between their menu offers. As one of the comments says, why don’t pubs offer “Guest meals” alongside “Guest beers” – and that means something genuinely different, not just another variant on the same tired old theme on the specials board.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

If pubs didn't exist...

Would anyone bother inventing them? I’ve been going in pubs (legally) for over thirty years, and over the last twenty of those I’ve seen their trade steadily dwindle away. Pubgoing has become something of a way of life for me, but when I consider the number of near-empty, dying-on-their-feet establishments I come across nowadays, I can’t avoid thinking that it’s not something someone reaching the age at which they can legally drink would really want to bother with. I remember when you’d go in pubs and they were usually busy, with a convivial crowd of locals and regulars. Not any more. Back in the day, you’d worry whether you’d get a seat. Now, you worry if you’ll be sitting in splendid, embarrassing isolation.

A short walk through Stockport town centre at around 8 pm the other Thursday night revealed five pubs with their doors closed that as far as I knew were supposed to be still trading. Discussing it later, it seems that some were in fact opening at lunchtimes and weekend evenings, but for a town centre pub to be closed on a Thursday evening is a pretty desperate state of affairs. Now, none of these were exactly the cream of the crop, but even so there was always enough trade to sustain them in the past. This suggests that even the pessimists may be understating the plight of the pub trade.

Getting on for 4,000 pubs have closed in the past couple of years and, looking around Northern industrial towns, I can well believe that is an underestimate. There must be as many again, if not more, like those pubs in Stockport, clinging on for the time being but not really looking very viable in the longer term. Yes, some pubs aren't doing too badly, but I can only think of five or six in central Stockport that could really be described as busy. And, when a pub is near-empty, you can’t really blame people for not wanting to go there, thus creating a vicious circle of decline.

Yet this collapse in trade still doesn’t really seem to have hit home – we still hear many folks saying “I went in the Dog & Duck last Friday night and it was heaving, so I can’t see anything wrong with the pub trade that a bit of good management can’t fix”, conveniently ignoring the five other pubs in the vicinity that have either closed down or are dead zones most of the time. I know this sounds pessimistic, but are we now seeing the end of the pub trade as we once knew it?

Over the next twenty years, I can see anything remotely resembling a traditional pub as the term is commonly understood completely disappearing. We currently have maybe 55,000 licensed premises in Great Britain, and that will at least halve. We will be left with restaurants in the guise of pubs, weekend circuit venues, niche beer bars, and virtually nothing else apart from the ubiquitous Wetherspoons, which have become a kind of licensed cafeteria. The idea of a pub being part of a community, or people just going out for a social drink, will be a thing of the past.

And no, this won’t be entirely the fault of the smoking ban, but history may well show the ban to have been the “tipping point” that turned a slow, steady decline into a fall off the precipice.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Transports of delight

Something I‘ve noticed amongst many of the Guardianistas in CAMRA is a perverse prejudice against using taxis. Often public transport anoraks as well as beer geeks, for the sake of saving a bit of money that they could easily afford anyway, they are happy to research obscure bus services and hang around in the freezing cold at late-night bus stops. The working classes, in my experience, have no such compunctions, and when going out drinking are quite happy to use taxis. They value the extra convenience and understand that, especially if there are three or four of you, it can be no more expensive than taking the bus. They also factor it in to the overall cost of a night out rather than considering it in isolation. But, for hair-shirted middle-class liberals, taxis come across as something selfish and vulgar. This is also reflected in the opinion often expressed on transport forums that taxis don’t really qualify as “public transport” when, for vast numbers of ordinary people in our major cities, most famously Belfast, they undoubtedly are treated as such.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Buffet bafflement

Over the years I’ve enjoyed numerous buffets in pubs at various events. But a perennial problem is that plates of mixed sandwiches are put out without any indication of what the sandwiches are. Now, I don’t eat egg, and so am constantly worried I might pick up what I think is a cheese sandwich but turns out to be egg. But if you’re a vegetarian the problem is far worse. Especially in poor light it can be very hard to determine exactly what is on a sandwich, and you could even miss out on something appetising because you didn’t know what it was. So surely it would make sense to put out all the same type of sandwich on each plate, and if possible even to attach little signs saying what they are. The principle that “not everyone eats everything” could also usefully be adopted by those who put together pub menus.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Five myths about alcohol

  1. We are drinking more than ever and 1 in 4 people are drinking at hazardous levels
  2. Alcohol is cheaper than it was 20 years ago
  3. There is a worsening epidemic of underage drinking
  4. Alcohol-related hospital admissions have risen by 69%
  5. Lager is cheaper than water
All effectively dispatched here by the Filthy Smoker. He concludes:
It is doubtful that even the British Medical Association really believes that charging 50p a unit or banning Guinness adverts will make the slightest difference to rates of consumption, but that is not really the objective. The objective is to officially identify drinking as 'bad' in the same way that smoking is 'bad'. From that starting point, all else follows.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Further down the slippery slope

You still hear plenty of deluded Pollyannas claiming that we really have nothing to fear from the anti-drink lobby in this country, and those who say we do are just scaremongering. But then along comes Mike Craik, Chief Constable of Northumbria and Association of Chief Police Officers national spokesman on licensing, and thus someone whose views cannot be easily dismissed, arguing in favour of an 80p minimum price per alcohol unit and a complete ban on all alcohol advertising.

Now, some people have said that a minimum price of 40 or 50p a unit wouldn’t be anything to worry about, but once the principle has been established it opens the door for the level to be constantly ratcheted up. 80p a unit would effectively double the price of mainstream drinks in the off-trade, thus making a huge hole in the budgets of ordinary households, and would start to impact on the lower end of the on-trade, for example the Sam Smiths’ estate, notorious for scenes of alcohol-related disorder. Holts Bitter in one of my local pubs is £1.84 a pint, which at 4.0% ABV is almost exactly 80p per unit.

One assumes he’d have to ban home brewing and personal imports of alcohol at the same time, otherwise legitimate domestic off-sales would decline to virtually zero.

A total advertising ban would, as I said the other day, lead to the drinks market stagnating and keep the door firmly shut against any new entrants. What’s more, it would effectively turn CAMRA into a proscribed organisation, as all its activities either revolve around the promotion of beer drinking or are funded by alcohol advertising. You can’t run a beer festival if you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it. Though you have to wonder whether they would realise what was happening until it was already too late.

Maybe this is a good argument for having elected chief police officers, as then Craik would have to submit his authoritarian, élitist views to the voters.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Unhappy second birthday

Well, two years on, nearly four thousand pubs and hundreds of clubs closed, many more holding on by their fingertips with the heart and soul ripped out of them, the promised hordes of eager non-smokers having totally failed to appear. What a great success story! As usual, Pete Robinson pulls no punches in his analysis of the situation.

He debunks the misleading claims that many pubs are thriving despite the ban, the claim that a majority of the public actually support it, and the myth of the “reserve army”:

Those people who never used pubs before the ban don't give a rats ass what changes you've made. Pubs still hold no attraction for them whatsoever and never will. So if you're banking on the 'New Breed' you'll be waiting a helluva long time.
He concludes:
We must stop blaming the customers for deserting our pubs and start listening to their concerns - then ACT upon them. Ignore the drinking classes at your peril.

Today the State has replaced the traditional pub landlord, and we've left the door open for swathes of ever more intrusive regulation. Compulsory CCTV cameras, authority approved seating plans, state-regulated drink volumes, orderly queuing systems, plastic glasses, special licences to play the spoons or visit the lavatory.

People want their “old” pubs back, warts an’ all. If they’d wanted health clubs they'd have joined a gymnasium. They want proper landlords, not social workers. They want good old-fashioned boozers where State scrutiny stops at the door.

The defeatists within the trade insist pubs must ‘evolve’, we can’t turn the clock back.

Pray they are wrong.
On the same subject, I was struck by this poignant montage of closed pubs in the North-West I was recently sent by blog reader “Visigoth”.

Freedom in ties

Now this is not yet another post saying how we need the tie to defend John Willie Lees’ dishwater masquerading as beer against the depredations of stuff from Pictish and Thornbridge that actually has hops in it.

But, quite frankly, from the point of view of free market economics, I really see nothing wrong in principle with the tie. If someone owns a pub that they wish to lease out to someone else on the basis that the lessee will exclusively buy and resell some products from the lessor, then why shouldn’t the two of them freely enter into that arrangement? Obviously there need to be safeguards against the abuse of power by the lessor, and against the establishment of local and national monopolies, but apart from that I don’t see the problem, and don’t regard it as stifling competition. The fact that there are so many thriving micro-breweries suggests the tie doesn’t in practice operate as a barrier to entry in the brewing industry.

This kind of arrangement is common in many other retail and service businesses – for example many fast food chains such as Subway, McDonalds and Domino’s Pizza are largely run on a franchise basis. Petrol stations are much the same. Car dealerships have exclusive relationships with manufacturers, yet nobody moans that you can’t buy Fords at a Vauxhall dealer. And surely any business, whether a Tesco or a Wetherspoon’s, that is directly managed, is effectively tied as the owning company dictates what is sold there.

Even if the tie was abolished, then it is hard to see how pub owners could be prevented from switching pubs over from tenancy to management or using a franchise model. Indeed the former is exactly how Sam Smiths’ run their pub estate – put every pub under management and have all products supplied centrally with virtually no purchasing discretion allowed to the manager. Without the tie, other forms of collective running and supplying of pubs would arise, and to imagine that it would result in 50,000 independent freetraders is pie in the sky. And, even if this could be achieved, it is questionable whether the atomisation of the market it would produce would really be to the benefit of consumers.

The problems of the giant pub companies really have little to do with the tie – they essentially stem from a flawed business model that was not resilient to an economic downturn and did not offer any distinctive identity to lessees. They will crumble and fall because of their own internal contradictions.