There is much to admire in Wetherspoons. They have played a major role in promoting the cause of real ale in the UK, their pubs open early and serve food all day and some of their developments have revitalised dead or decaying buildings into vibrant venues. That of course is not quite the full story.
As Class War has covered in various issues (and issue 2 of the Touch of Class magazine) Wetherspoons is at best a curates egg. Its dominance of the pub trade allows it to act like any dominant player in the marketplace, with all the unpleasant realities this entails. Of all the pub chains, they are perhaps the worst for petty rules (no tracksuit bottoms being the most ludicrous) CCTV surveillance of customers and for ramming the views of their Chairman, Tim Martin, down customers throats. When you buy a pint, the last thing you need to know is the Chairman's views on the European Union!
Of all the issues with Wetherspoons however, the most worrying is its relationship with CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. Representing Britain's real ale drinkers since 1971, CAMRA has a vital role to play if the cause of good beer is to be promoted in our pubs and clubs. It is probably no surprise that CAMRA has chosen to work closely with Wetherspoons, (given Wetherspoons work in this field) but it is crystal clear that the relationship clouds both CAMRA's independence and judgement.
CAMRA's Chief Executive, Mike Benner, has a page to himself in the Wetherspoons programme 'Festival News', promoting their International Real Ale Festival. Again, nothing wrong with that, except that it clearly comes at a price. Check these comments out:
"With nearly 60 pubs closing permanently every month, I am delighted to see that J D Wetherspoons is organising yet another real-ale festival which expects to sell over 3 million pints in just 18 days. Many British pubs are struggling, owing to the UK's ridiculously high rates of beer tax (the highest in the EU), the fall-out of the smoking ban and the difficulties of competing with ludicrously low supermarket prices for beer and other drinks."
I can think of at least one other problem many small landlords face. How about the problem of a large corporate competitor that aggressively opens up new pubs, often in areas well staffed with establishments selling real ale, and uses its economic power to undercut the prices of its smaller competitors?
That sounds rather like Wetherspoons. The question is do CAMRA not realise this, or do they know it full well, but dare not say so because they are in bed with the very company forcing many of Britain's small landlords out of business?