Monday, 19 October 2020

Tiers for beers

In the 1980s TV political drama A Very British Coup, based on a novel by the Labour MP Chris Mullin, there's a scene where Harry Perkins, the left-wing Sheffield steelworker who has just been unexpectedly elected Prime Minister, is travelling to London by train. A journalist on board asks him if he intends to abolish first class, to which he replies that he's going to get rid of second class, adding "I think all people are first class, don't you?".

In the North at the moment, it feels as if the government thinks of us as second class at best, with Liverpool and Lancashire under the tightest Covid-19 restrictions, and those of us in Greater Manchester seemingly about to join them in Tier 3, while, outside London, the South carries on pretty much as normal. As with the ten o'clock curfew, shutting pubs that don't serve food - a distinction that people have inevitably had a bit of fun with, despite the actual legislation being pretty clear what it means - is less to do with the science or sources of transmission for the virus than being seen to do something, while keeping major centres of infection, notably schools and universities, open.

At Westminster, the Speaker of the House of Commons has banned the sale of alcohol in its bars and dining rooms in solidarity with areas of the country where pubs and restaurants are shut, a bit of tokenistic populism which, like the decision to bring in the ten o'clock curfew there on a voluntary basis - being a royal palace places Westminster outside normal licensing laws - doesn't actually help the hospitality industry at all, but is seen as good PR (unsurprisingly, the House of Lords has declined to follow the lower chamber's example).

Last week's announcement by Wetherspoons that it had made a loss for the first time was also the occasion of some misplaced rejoicing. I'm not a huge fan of the pub chain, and even less of its pro-Brexit chairman Tim Martin, but the company contracting, or even failing, would no doubt see those sites sold off for alternative use, and the mostly young people who work there joining what is likely to be an already long dole queue.