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Artillery Row

Averting the pubocalypse

We could lose the soul of Britain

Would you walk by on the other side When someone called for aid? Would you walk by on the other side or would you be afraid?

Would you walk by on the other side When starving children cried? Would you walk by on the other side And would you not provide?

These are words from a famous hymn, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. We have as a people and nation faced many hard times. The truth finds itself in the Scriptures more often than modern folk are comfortable with, but these truths are universal throughout the human, civilised experience.

It is ungodly and outright wicked to walk by on the other side. This is etched in our national psyche, the idea that it is insufferable to leave suffering uncomforted. Those who watch the suffering of others in silent indifference are wicked people by virtue of negligence because negligence is abuse.

This is no different for those holding high office. We have seen for months, not weeks, the price of gas, power, petrol, cooking oil and wheat skyrocket. There is no civilization in memory that has seen the cost of the basic essentials of life triple and escaped unharmed. 

This is not 1972 or 1979. Then, we faced the prospect of not driving very far when oil prices boomed. This is more existential. Maslow published a famous hierarchy of needs, the idea that one needed warmth, shelter, food, safety before one could ascend higher to a fulfilling life. This bottom rung of the ladder marks the transition of man from primate. We are falling below that rung, which defines Britain as a failing state. The last time this splendid indifference took hold, we lost Ireland. For unionists, that should be a wake up call.

When a democracy is unable to ensure the public is protected from privation and poverty and the indignity of lacking a safe warm home, our democracy has failed — and badly so.

Let us talk about our charming pubs, the centre of decent British life. They are where normal people go and meet and socialise, eat and drink and enjoy something that bit beyond a warm home. They are the epitome of small business woes and working class spirit. As the senior research fellow for the Bow Group, the UK’s oldest conservative think tank, I happen to also be a registered doctor and a publican. I opened my doors in Scotland just one month ago. It has been, one could say, an interesting time.

I’m not proposing fully automated luxury war communism

What Tories think of pubs is what they think of working people, small business and personal freedom. Is it possible that they do not think of these things at all? 

Pubs are old — good ones anyway. That means they’re expensive to heat, and they are built to hold many people close and snug. They are fuelled more by disposable income than by fossil fuels. That makes them the perfect bellwether of disposable income. How well is the economy doing? Go to a pub on a Thursday night. There’s your answer. 

More than anything pubs need people. We need customers. The pound can do this, and the yen can do that, and bills can go up by x pence or pounds a day, but if a pub is full, all will be well. If not, then not. 

We need to ask what the government can do for pubs. I can say they should do a whole lot less. Pubs pay a fortune in taxes to be community centres yet the government spends fortunes trying to replicate them with “community centres” that eat up money, and they now propose seriously to heat museums and libraries to keep people warm.

Libraries are meant to be quiet, and museums are there to be big and promote fast movement through exhibits. They are designed not to be crowded so why even suggest heating them when pubs could be heated instead? That would save pubs, and keep people warm. That no one in government thinks of heating pubs, rather than libraries, shows how out of touch they are.

Then we come to the idea, trotted out by many lobbyists and would-be Conservative MPs, that there isn’t anything they should do right now, before we have a new Prime Minister. The problem is, of course, that they know full well how bad things are which is why they have insulated themselves. 

MPs do not live in our world. They expense the bills of their second homes to families who do not even own one and will never own one. The only plan for the cost of energy crisis, so far, is to bill people for energy they use. That is what wicked people do. There is nothing stopping any Tory MP, this week on, from simply not doing that. 

In the 1930s Senator Huey Long said it right:

Whoever went to a barbecue and saw one man take from the table that was left for nine tenths of the people? They can’t eat it all, and for their homes, well they can’t live in them all. It’s time we tapped that man on the shoulder and said bring back some of that grub so everyone can have some.

I’m not proposing fully automated luxury war communism. I’m suggesting, politely, that it is wicked for people with two homes to send their bills to those who have none. That it is wicked to say these bills are so high that only the poor can afford them. 

What pubs, bars, restaurants need is retail spending. They need consumer confidence. We need to take the fear out of the marketplace and that means tapping on the shoulder of MPs with second homes, landowners with wind turbines making price gouging returns, and CEOs of energy companies and saying bring some of that grub back so everyone can have some. 

That means a price cap on energy through the winter. That is our survival plan, because any doctor will tell you that to survive surgery you need to survive getting to surgery. So first the cap, and that is on all energy. Small business has been through enough in recent years. It is fatuous to suggest they can get through this energy crisis.

Stop unnecessarily increasing demand for electricity

Then we need to get real. Any shift to electric vehicles before we decarbonise the grid is the work of a madman on a laptop in his mother’s basement. We need to stop all subsidies on electric vehicles now. Just stop, as in, don’t give them any of our money. Stop unnecessarily increasing demand for electricity. 

We need a public information campaign to explain which devices use most power and when not to use them. Something as simple as not using the washing machine and dryer between 7am and 8pm Monday to Friday, because that is when demand is high. Then not to use dishwashers (which are for businesses and lazy people) between 9am and 6pm because demand is really high then. In all honesty, how many homes really need a dishwasher? 

We have to decouple the electric and gas markets and levy a huge windfall on windfarms on their excess profits this year. They have done nothing to deserve them.

Then we need a plan to decarbonise gradually. That means big investments in nuclear power, in tidal power and in heat storage. Lots of electricity is still wasted at night instead of heating homes.

Ironically, to decarbonise we need coal. We need that extra capacity for about four months of the year in winter, to keep prices low enough for renewables to grow sustainably. If coal gave us 15 per cent of our winter demand, that’s still about 6 per cent of our power demands year round. That’s tiny and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so. 

On top of energy, we need to talk about food. We need to develop more capacity at home, but we must remind ourselves we have spent over 50 years on price floors for farmers to make farming pay. With heat prices through the roof, we have to tap the wheat farmers on the shoulder once more and say, bring back some of that grub for everyone else. We cannot say it is right to floor food prices to keep farming viable, and then not say we have to cap wheat prices to keep consumers fed. 

A huge amount of wheat is distilled into alcohol. May I suggest whilst prices are high we divert that wheat for now? Likewise, with sunflower oil now at £2 a litre, is it not right to bring that price down to even £1.50 a litre and tap the shoulder and say, at £1.50 a litre you are still doing well out of this?

Yes, then we can target the pubs directly. Here are some ideas:

  1. A one-off £2000 grant to cut fuel bills. Right now, every licensed premises. Give them £2000 towards either bills, energy efficiency or even a new stove. 
  2. Free TV licensing. Pubs must pay for a licence and then a second licence to show films and broadcast programmes. Another £250 please, to help get punters through the doors.
  3. Free licensing. I will be paying £280 a year for a pub licence. The government could just waive it. This is so easily targeted to pubs. The local authority would simply bill central government in this case, and the job is done. 
  4. Visit a local pub. Better still, visit a local freehouse that isn’t tied to a large debt ridden conglomerate so you’ll be investing in the long term development of local welcoming pubs. If you haven’t visited a friendly local in the last month, well, you can fill in the blanks. 

In the end, the pubs of Britain need you because the Tory government doesn’t care. MPs drink in trendy wine bars in and around Westminster and — let’s face it — half of them don’t really even live in their constituencies. 

When your local pub or indeed any local business closes, be sure to send that news to your MP and the local newspaper editor. MPs can feign support for pubs and bars but don’t let them feign ignorance. The Tory energy crisis — and this is very much a Tory failure of policy — is doing to local pubs what Beeching did to railways and what every government since the 70s did to coal mines.

It is deliberate because for the ship of state, negligence is a conscious choice. They know what to do, and if your pub closes, hopefully, so you do. Don’t give MPs an inch nor a slither of doubt. Let them read every piece of bad news they bring to your community. 

For as long as they are billing you to heat their homes, they know and they deserve to know.

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