Wednesday 4 March 2009

The King Canute effect

Canute the Great, also known as Cnut, or Knut is of course famous for the legendary story about him trying to hold back the tide, and failing. The act was of course to demonstrate to his subjects just how powerless he was to stop some inevitable forces.

We all know that pubs are closing and this is of course a terrible problem we are facing. It does distress me though that What’s Brewing, and many other CAMRA publications are banging out mantras like “Stop 1 in 8 pubs closing”. How do they intend to do this? They intend to do this by metaphorically lying down in front of the demolition bulldozer.

The reason 1 in 8 pubs are going to close is that they need to. The industry is not viable as it stands. There is over capacity and under demand. Please CAMRA let the poor ones close and you’ll end up with a better industry.

I want CAMRA to succeed in achieving something. It would be better if the organisation worked with the industry for once. We’re all in this together and it’s tough, resisting a change that is inevitable will only alienate the industry that you want to thrive.

There might be things we can do to help but I do not believe the current CAMRA approach is one of them.


Alistair Reece said...

Being a heartless capitalist here, but wouldn't pubs closing be something of an opportunity? Less pubs, same number of potential customers, therefore good pubs will increase their market share?

I guess though that is the rub, what is a good pub?

Tandleman said...

I agree that poor pubs need to be shaken out of the industry, but it isn't just poor pubs that are closing and it isn't just CAMRA that is worried, though by reading your post, you would think it was.

The viability of pubs is affected by many things and I do agree that CAMRA should apply a more cerebral look at the problem, but of course CAMRA is a campaigning organisation and it is easier to sloganise and geneneralise when you are trying to get a basic message across. The fact that ministers are taking notice and say the PubCo tie must be looked at shows though that this approach has its merits.

Jeff Pickthall said...

I Interviewed a micro owner recently who said words to the effect of "it's great, it's forcing people into the better pubs, and better pubs are the ones that sell cask ale."

This will be quoted correctly in a blog post once I've studied the SIBA Annual Report.

Curmudgeon said...

There's a lot of truth in what you say, Dave. As I posted here, over the past 30 years the amount of beer sold in the on-trade in the UK has more than halved. Most of this is due to wider social changes that CAMRA is powerless to do anything about. In this climate, the current shake-out of pubs is pretty inevitable, really. CAMRA's wider campaigns have never really prevented anything from happening – has it ever, for example, despite numerous protests, ever stopped a brewery from closing?

Arguably the best thing for CAMRA to do is to actively promote good beer and good pubs rather than bewailing the general state of the industry.

Unknown said...

I've been without electricity all day and so we closed and went to an important Tourist Board meeting, which was good and worth a post by itself. I expected to get back to hostile comments. So thanks, balance as usual from all.

Velky Al, "what is a good pub?" - I'm long overdue a post on the subject, coming soon I think.

Tandleman, yes I agree, it's not always the ones that are bad that close. Although I still think some rural pubs are always going to be a financial problem, despite them being good from a customer perspective. Also, you are right as ever, it's not just CAMRA that is worried. I just don't think much of their viability test and their insistence to object to every change of use. From a business point of view it sucks, sorry.

Jeff P - cask ale, yes, that is the biggest success I think and really, really is the way forward for many.

Curmudgeon, yes, the best thing CAMRA does is promote good pubs and good beer. When they get that right they are fantastic.

Stonch said...

Well said. CAMRA does more harm than good on this issue.

Anonymous said...

The recession is going to be the biggest cause for pubs closing and the recession doesn't discriminate - funding as well as a cash strapped locals community being only two ways the this manifests itself. Then if it's a crap pub it will probably suffer.

CAMRA most certainly need to be more positive, I'm not sure they need to work more closely with the industry as I often think they are too close as it is.

Unknown said...


I can sympathise with you view of CAMRA cuddling up too much sometimes. They do it all the time with the bigger companies. For me I feel quite alienated sometimes.