My enemy’s enemy is now my Wetherspoons | David Mitchell

On the news that pub chain Wetherspoon’s was to close down its social media accounts, I was surprised to find myself rooting for it

Are pubs rightwing or leftwing? Let’s decide. We live in a very divisive age, so I reckon it’s as well to get some practice in.  You’ve got to be on one side or the other. In everything. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as they say. (And we say. A bit of consensus there.) And, of course, anyone who says anything remotely disobliging about my friend is my enemy, as you’ll know if you follow Momentum on Twitter.

When I say that, I don’t mean to be slagging off Jeremy Corbyn. In case you thought I was. If I did that, I’d never hear the end of it. For the more rabid Corbyn fans, suddenly that’s all I’d be: one of the accursed slaggers-off. (To be clear, I’m not saying Corbyn has rabies. Hardly anyone has rabies. In fact, it’s a compliment: I’m saying Corbyn has so many fans that the group includes people who have rabies. Which is a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Which makes his fan group enormous. Go Jeremy!)

Some of the most fervent Corbyn supporters seem unable to perceive any human interaction, anything written, broadcast or expressed, unless it’s either supportive or critical of their political hero. Nothing else shows up in their brain. Like ideological Tyrannosauruses, their vision is based on the movement.

(To be clear, I’m not saying Jeremy Corbyn is a dinosaur. I was just referring to some of his supporters’ selective perception of the world around them, via a comparison to something in Jurassic Park and a pun on “movement”. He is, to reiterate, just absolutely peachy and I would totally say that even if I didn’t want a quiet life.)

So, in that binary spirit, I want to know if pubs are rightwing or leftwing. I know it’s a weird question, but I’m just talking about a feeling you get. For example, I’ve always instinctively felt that cats are female and dogs are male, but apparently it’s more complicated than that. What sort of a vibe do you get off pubs?

Some would say that all businesses are a bit rightwing, being creatures of capitalism. But then there are all those shops in the West Country that sell crystals – they’re businesses, in theory, but if they’re rightwing then next thing it’s going to turn out that bears don’t like honey and hippos have really squeaky high-pitched voices and nothing makes any sense at all.

There’s no doubt that small businesses, and particularly failing businesses, feel a bit more leftwing than big profitable ones. And I hope both sides of the political spectrum can take that as a compliment. A pub that’s gone bust definitely feels to the left of one that hasn’t yet, but might – which itself is well left of a thriving City wine bar.

I suppose I’ve always felt that a proper pub is a little bit rightwing – a bit to the right of me, anyway. And sometimes a lot to the right of me. More rightwing than a toy shop or a dry cleaner’s or a church. There’s a whiff of Clarkson, of enforced meat-eating, of individualism, of cash. A pub would go for liberty over equality. If a pub could talk, it’s going to sound more like a taxi driver than a drama teacher. Rightwing is a simplistic way of describing it, but it’s a lot more accurate than leftwing.

This is why I find the JD Wetherspoon chain interesting. I don’t like Wetherspoon pubs – I think they bring the ambience of an airport right into the centre of town. They’re not really pubs, it’s just a chain of bars. But, unlike other bar chains, it has the temerity to affect reverence for the very institution it is helping to undermine, the individual local pub. Wetherspoon has even named several of its outlets the Moon Under Water, the name George Orwell gave to the ideal pub of his imagination. That’s like Center Parcs calling itself Narnia.

Yet within the firm’s dark heart of inauthenticity, there glimmers the light of something real: it’s genuinely a bit rightwing. Again, the term is insufficiently precise. I don’t mean the corporate right-leaning of almost any plc – this isn’t about corporation tax rates or the trading environment. I mean Little Englander rightwing, irritable old man rightwing, “it’s political correctness gone mad” rightwing, proper pub rightwing. Because, despite its stock market listing, Wetherspoon’s major shareholder, chairman and founder, Tim Martin, is still in charge. Effectively, it has a landlord.

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin in one of his London pubs.
JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin in one of his London pubs. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

So, when the news broke last week that Wetherspoon was closing all of its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts – for both the company as a whole and all of its individual pubs – I was very surprised to find myself rooting for it. The last thing I was aware of Tim Martin doing was putting hundreds of thousands of pro-Brexit beermats in his pubs. I wasn’t keen on that. I also wasn’t lost in admiration for his decision to open the country’s first pub at a motorway service station. He didn’t seem all that nice.

And then he takes his whole huge company off social media, saying “I find most people I know waste their time on it. A lot of them say they know they waste their time on it, but they struggle to get off it.” It’s unsettling when someone you’ve decided to dislike does something you approve of. It’s how an acolyte of Jeremy Corbyn would feel if one of his detractors suddenly attempted to assassinate Boris Johnson.

I’m not on Facebook (just one of many things I have in common with Wetherspoon) but, if I were, I understand I’d regularly be called upon to say whether or not I “Like” things. “Liking” things is a bit like liking things, but with an emphasis on people seeing you Liking them, rather than actually liking them. Anyway, historically I wouldn’t “Like” Wetherspoon. I dislike it. Is there a Dislike button? Or is that just taken as read about everything you haven’t actively Liked?

However, it’s all relative. Now that I see Wetherspoon lining up against social media, I know immediately which of the two I prefer. Say what you like about Tim Martin, at least he’s only Stalin to Mark Zuckerberg’s Hitler. And he’s welcome to put that on a beermat.


David Mitchell

The GuardianTramp

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