Thursday, 2 June 2016

Boycott Spoons?

Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of pub chain Wetherspoons who is campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union ahead of this month's referendum, has placed beer mats in his pubs urging customers to vote Leave.

Unlike other businesses which are campaigning for Britain to stop in the EU, Wetherspoons doesn't trade with continental Europe and is less reliant on migrant labour than those in agriculture and construction. His opposition to the EU is probably based, at least in part, on the rights it gives his workers to reasonable working hours, breaks, holidays and maternity leave which the right wing of the Tory party want to rip up, one of the main reasons why I'll be voting Remain on 23 June.

Having said that, I'm not going to boycott Wetherspoons as some have said they will, for a number of reasons.

1. They sell cheap food and cask beer which is generally well-kept. In a town you don't know, and at airports and railway stations, they can be a reliable fallback. Although many are large and impersonal, having been converted from former banks, shops, cinemas or snooker halls, some are neither, including the one I go to most often in South Manchester which was built as a pub in the 1930's and still feels like one.

2. I don't expect the owners of the businesses I frequent to share my politics. Tim Martin is somewhat unusual in speaking publicly about his, and there are no doubt many others who share his views without saying so. If we boycott all the businesses whose owners' politics we disagree with, we might find ourselves with a very short list of shopping and entertainment options. I also think the call for a boycott smacks of intolerance of others' opinions.

3. For a boycott to be effective, it would have to be on a very large scale. I don't think many of Wetherspoons customers are that bothered about it to make a real difference, and quite a few will agree with Martin. Equally, I doubt the beer mats will sway anyone who is still undecided.


  1. I agree with you entirely. He has taken a perfectly legitimate position in a lawful referendum. Too many people don't want (or perhaps aren't able) to engage with views they don't like, so they call for them to be boycotted or banned. The 'no platform' policy of the NUS is another example of this way of thinking.

    Defeating your opponents in debate tests your own views and brings your arguments into focus. Bans and boycotts give your opponents the opportunity to claim some kind of martyr status and say: "I'm the one they daren't listen to!"

    1. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not everyone enjoys patronising venues with overtly political messages on their merchandise. After all, we would only drink/eat in the Conservative/Labour/UKIP/LD members' clubs around the country. I'm sure you're more than happy to frequent Tim Martin's venues once you know his opinions coincide with yours on this issue.

  2. Claiming that outside the EU the British people couldn't be trusted to maintain workers' rights, environmental protection etc. always comes across as one of the less convincing arguments for Remain.

    And we had paid holidays, equal pay, redundancy pay, protection against unfair dismissal etc. well before joining the EU.

    It could equally be argued that the EU would prevent a left-wing government exercising control over private firms or taking them into public ownership.

    1. The problem is that it won't be "the British people" who will be deciding these things if we vote to leave the EU on 23 June, it will be right-wing Tories like Gove and Duncan Smith who have said they want to replace the rights we currently have with something "more flexible". The idea that EU would stop a future left-wing government bringing industries into public ownership is also I think largely a myth: if you look at Labour's pledge to bring the railways back into public ownership, it compares pretty closely to the model of State-run rail in France and Germany.

  3. Of course, another way of looking at this is that any beermats in Wetherspoons must be better than none ;-)

  4. I got my postal vote and voted leave but that's no reason to use Spoons more.

    Might nab a beer mat.

    Though most sensible consumer businesses steer clear of overt politics for this very point.

    Whether in or out, red or blue, you want customers from all beliefs to come and spend money.

    Timbo is an obvious believer in the cause, but I'm not sure it's good business to ram your politics at your punters.

  5. "I'm not sure it's good business to ram your politics at your punters."

    The same applies to people in the entertainment industry. I was profoundly disappointed years ago when Joan Armatrading and Jimmy Page came out as admirers of Thatcher. You expect that of old-style comedians like Jim Davidson.

    1. I always find the roll call of labour luvvies a proper laugh. Though slebs telling me the NHS is in mortal danger, as they have done in every election for the last 20 years, appears to diminish them more than enhance their preferred democratic choice.

  6. I wouldn’t normally get involved in a political debate on a beer-blog, but for me personally, there’s a lot at stake if Britain votes to leave the EU on June 23rd. There’s a lot of money behind the “Leave” campaign, and papers such as the Sun, Express and Daily Mail who have mounted anti-EU campaigns for years, are also very much to the fore here. However, despite their protestations to the contrary, the “Leave” campaign, either don’t know, or don’t care what will happen to our economy, should the vote go their way.

    Those of us working for companies which rely heavily on sales to Europe, have much to lose from cutting our ties with the EU. Our order book has already taken a substantial hit, as customers are put off buying due to the uncertainty caused by the referendum. Cameron’s decision to put our EU membership to a public vote was nothing more than a cynical ploy to steal support from UKIP and attempt to placate the anti- European wing of the Conservative Party.

    The first part worked, as “Call me Dave” got himself re-elected, but the second part obviously hasn’t, as whatever the outcome the Tories will continue to tear themselves apart over Europe.

    This is of little comfort to those of us working in manufacturing, as the economic fall-out from this ill-thought out idea will be long lasting.

    As you said at the beginning of your post Matt, Wetherspoon’s doesn't trade with continental Europe and is less reliant on migrant labour, so Tim Martin can afford to play at politics here. For my part, I wish politicians from all sides of the political divide would butt out, and let companies carry on doing business in the way they see fit and know best.

  7. To quote the late, great Tony Benn:

    "Some people genuinely believe that we will never get social justice from the British government, but that we will get it from Jacques Delors. They believe that a good king is better than a bad parliament. I have never taken that view."

  8. I don't use Spoons as they regard me as a social leper because I vape. I'm not bothered by their beer mats, but think its a bit rum being told how to vote as I'm being chucked out for vaping.

    I'm emotionally inclined to vote out but fear that after the Scots bunk off we'll be left in a rump UK with the sort of economics and social rights that you might expect to find in a Ferengi casino.