The Division Bell

Never discuss politics in pubs.

This is a general rule of thumb for the barstool chinwaggers, and with good reason as these are the subjects that are the worst mixers for a boozy environment; everybody has an opinion and the alcohol often amplifies one’s rhetoric, but how can we possibly keep away from these in today’s climate of such divisive issues?


The Brexit referendum split the country more or less down the middle. Families, workplaces and schools were all divided into two almost equal parts, and the local boozer was no exception. Suddenly everyone was an expert in economics, tariffs and quotas. Blokes who would normally pass the time of day by casually assessing the merits of Rachel Riley’s arse were, all of a sudden, keenly interested in trade deals and the single market. Out went Eastenders and The Bake Off and in came Article 50. It was a tricky time for publicans as rarely has opinion been so vehemently divided amongst people so seemingly similar, and as much as we should probably sit on the fence, it was impossible for us not to have an opinion.


Pubs are, by way of being a luxury, one of the first businesses to suffer in times of financial insecurity and many publicans have their livelihoods on the line at every dip in the economy so of course we’re going to want to have our say, but we are also the clergy for those seeking sanctuary from what they consider to be a politically correct straightjacket of a society. As landlords and landladies we are not here to judge, at least not publicly as it’s not our job to define society – it’s our job to make society more bearable and get it drunk at weekends, which is why I was so disappointed to hear Tim Martin be so outspokenly in favour of leaving the EU.


Now Mr Martin is as entitled as anybody to his views and I’m sure that the publicity his company gained and the increase in revenue of his bargain drink showrooms had nothing to do with him pandering to the brexiteers. And, heaven forbid, I’m not suggesting that his company would benefit from people having less money and looking to drink in cheaper venues even though his company was already showing an increase in trade by March 2009 after the financial crash of 2008 led to the doom of many local pubs, but operators of small businesses that have been affected by the big companies should always be wary of exactly who they are really campaigning for. In my experience it’s rarely us.


But just as everything remarkable eventually becomes the norm, British drinkers are now getting back to the good old ways: all politicians are egotistical, crooked bastards; the weather is crap; the local council can’t even manage to keep public toilets open and Ian Beale is up to his old tricks again.


You can’t keep the local boozer politically charged for long because nobody goes to the pub to talk about politics and most drinkers are annoyed that they were forced into talking about it for so long. They’re pissed off with falling out with their friends and family when all they want to do is have a beer and forget the important stuff for an hour or two.


So the pubs settle down and tick to the usual rhythm of alcoholic geniality. The conversation gradually recedes to its gloriously banal best. Laughter and piss taking replace the arguments and the only question that really matters is ‘Messi or Ronaldo?’


There were times when I feared for the drinking classes and what the Brexit vote would do to us, but in the end we were forced to test out that rule about talking politics in pubs and it turns out we were right all along.