Further thoughts of chairman Tim
9 August, 2007
You have to hand it to Tim Martin: the Wetherspoon’s chairman has a knack for catching a mood.
His observations on the ill-effects of banning teenagers from pubs reflected what a lot of people have been thinking – and some have already been saying. What Martin managed was to give them a national airing.
His thoughts first published on the Wetherspoon website were picked up by TV and radio and then repeated in the national press.
His thrust is that measures designed to stem underage drinking may be having the opposite effect. Focusing on keeping 17-year-olds out of pubs was only sending them to parks and markets squares to drink shop bought alcohol unsupervised.
“The idea of trying to prevent 16 and 17-year-olds getting into pubs as your main objective is misplaced,” he argues. “It's more difficult for 16-year-olds to get in pubs, so what they are doing is getting bought alcohol - usually by their parents. Ninety-nine percent of parents of 16-year-olds allow them to drink. They are bought alcohol by their parents and the drinking is usually vodka and it takes place on the beaches and in the market squares.”
A pub man attacking the Government’s alcohol policy could be seen as a dangerous tactic. But Martin is listened to. What he says sounds common sense, particularly because he is articulate, measured and reasonable. He is not one of the ranting brigade too often heard as the voice of the pub trade.
He also has the advantage of speaking from a position of strength. Wetherspoon has been one of the leaders in demanding ID from anyone remotely looking under 18 and in showing no hesitation in declining them service or even entry to a JDW bar.
In fact, it is on this point that his argument started. He explains to a 30-year-old female customer via the company website why she was refused a drink at one of his pubs because she had no ID, and why even he was refused entry with his own 22-year-old daughter because she had no ID.
Bar and door staff risked heavy fines should an underage person have creep in under the radar, he wrote in his website column, a situation made worse by 15- or 16-year-olds being sent in to act as “agents provocateurs”.
The result, he concludes, is that alcohol consumption by teenagers is far less supervised than it ever used to be.
All good stuff, and yet again Tim Martin has proved himself a natural spokesman for the pub trade. He may not be liked by some in the industry for not getting involved in the industry’s recognised bodies, but he gets air time and column inches – and most in the industry would probably agree with him too.
With Gordon Brown’s Government seemingly taking delight in knocking back his predecessor’s more liberal policies, such as gambling and licensing reform, the drinks trade needs as many voices as it can muster.
What it needs is more industry leaders willing to put their heads above the parapet, like Tim Martin, and to start speaking up. It is no good moaning that the industry has no voice, unless you are willing to join the chorus.
This article first appeared in M&C Report in August 2007