Pub propaganda is leaving a bitter taste
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.
MAG RANTS: Wetherspoons chairman Tim Martin