Pub pro­pa­ganda is leav­ing a bit­ter taste

The New European - - Agenda -

Which UK pub­li­ca­tion, which claims a read­er­ship of two mil­lion, boasts: “Un­like the Fi­nan­cial Times or the busi­ness sec­tion of The Times we try to present both sides of the ar­gu­ment in re­spect of the EU”? The an­swer, some­what sur­pris­ingly, is Wether­spoon News, the free mag­a­zine of the pub chain owned by arch Brex­i­teer Tim Martin.

‘Spoons is no­to­ri­ous for its psy­che­delic car­pets and Martin, the ruddy-faced pa­tron saint of morn­ing drinkers, is equally adept at car­pet­ing his es­tab­lish­ments with pro-brexit pro­pa­ganda. There have been beer mats, posters and most re­cently a leaflet called ‘What don’t you like about free trade, Mrs May?’

One high­light of the lat­ter is a page head­lined ‘Stop try­ing to con the pub­lic, says Tim Martin’. In the space where an au­thor’s photo would nor­mally ap­pear, there is a pic­ture of Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger to­wards the end of The Ter­mi­na­tor, with half of his robotic face un­cov­ered. This gives the im­pres­sion that the chair­man of Wether­spoons is a re­lent­less ma­chine with a lim­ited vo­cab­u­lary who can’t be bar­gained with, can’t be rea­soned with, who doesn’t feel pity, or re­morse or fear. And who ab­so­lutely will not stop, ever, un­til all hopes of Re­main are dead.

Of course, noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth and as ev­i­dence we have the Win­ter edi­tion of Wether­spoon News – the one which, re­mem­ber, presents “both sides of the ar­gu­ment in re­spect of the EU”.

Pass­ing quickly over the cover, which shows Theresa May beg­ging the EU, “just give us any deal, please”, we ar­rive at an open­ing spread car­ry­ing ‘Tim’s view­point’. Spoil­ers: He doesn’t like the EU very much.

Tucked away in a box is a plea from the mag­a­zine’s edi­tor, one Ed­die Ger­shon: “Hav­ing worked with Tim for 28 years, I feel sure that he tells the truth and would never know­ingly mis­rep­re­sent the facts to win an ar­gu­ment. How­ever, not ev­ery­one shares his opin­ions. For dif­fer­ent opin­ions, Wether­spoon News quotes in full ar­ti­cles by Carolyn Fair­bairn of the CBI (page 81), Philip Stephens and Martin

Wolf (pages 83 and 85) of the Fi­nan­cial Times – or­gan­i­sa­tions of which Tim has been deeply crit­i­cal.”

So far, so fair. Ex­cept for the fact that the ar­ti­cles by Fair­bairn, Stephens and Wolf are pref­aced by Martin’s com­ments. Here is how he in­tro­duces Fair­bairn: “The equal worst fi­nan­cial judge­ment in the last 40 years em­anates from the CBI. The lat­est di­rec­tor-gen­eral is Carolyn Fair­bairn, who has an aw­ful record in mak­ing pre­dic­tions about things con­cern­ing Brexit. Here she is, one year ago, pre­dict­ing Ar­maged­don be­cause of ‘the spec­tre of no deal’. Wrong again, Carolyn.”

In con­trast, the mag­a­zine’s pro-brexit colum­nists are lauded by Martin (“the bril­liant Cam­bridge Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Robert Tombs... the very in­tel­li­gent Tony Ab­bott... another il­lu­mi­nat­ing ar­ti­cle from Alexan­der Downer”).

The bal­ance is pre­dictably skewed. Brexit ac­counts for roughly 10,000 words in the is­sue, with around 7,500 of them sup­port­ing Leave. Even Martin’s re­ply to a let­ter from a Cana­dian fan turns on a six­pence from boy­hood mem­o­ries (“When I was 17, my school rugby team toured Bri­tish Columbia – we had a fab­u­lous time in a great coun­try with over­whelm­ingly kind hos­pi­tal­ity”) to anti-eu rants (“the con­ti­nent of Europe, led by ‘intellectuals’, has been sleep­walk­ing into a sit­u­a­tion where demo­cratic power has been ceded con­sis­tently to un­elected bu­reau­crats over sev­eral decades”).

The over­all ef­fect is as about pleas­ant as the re­cent dis­cov­ery that ice served at two Wether­spoons branches was con­tam­i­nated with fae­cal co­l­iforms, usu­ally re­lated to fail­ing to wash your hands af­ter a trip to the toi­let. Martin’s spokesman has promised the com­pany will act on this, but the pro-brexit tox­i­c­ity will go on: the chair­man has promised to visit 100 of his hostel­ries across the UK in the next two months to preach the ben­e­fits of no-deal. Wether­spoon branches may lack a few of the things which make proper booz­ers so great – at­mos­phere, char­ac­ter, that sort of thing – but at least now they’ll have a pub bore.

As Martin sets off on his road­show, though, there are signs that some of his staff may be gig­gling at him be­hind his back. On pages 12 and 13 of the Win­ter Wether­spoon News is a fea­ture head­lined ‘Uni­corns For All In This Won­drous Realm’. The only sur­prise is that it is about the name of a new gin brand, not the ben­e­fits of Brexit.

Photo: Getty Im­ages

MAG RANTS: Wether­spoons chair­man Tim Martin

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