Davenport direct

04 April, 2008

In these spin-driven times it sounds surprising to say you can learn a lot about this country's politics from Number 10's official website. Forget back-slapping about the current Anglo-French love-in, the real insight lies in the Be Heard section, a virtual soapbox where Joe Public can upload a petition in the hope of gaining critical mass and political influence.

When 48,273 of the population have signed up to say Jeremy Clarkson should be prime minister, pub landlord Kert Mathew must feel deflated that only 30 people support his petition which asserts: "Fines for shop keepers selling alcohol to kids are far too low. Those convicted of selling to under-age twice should be imprisoned."

He should also feel ashamed. The drinks industry spends a considerable amount of time complaining it is misunderstood by government and the media. Stunts like this prove how little it understands itself.

While the on and off-trades clearly have their nuances, some of the commercial realities are not actually that different. Rising rents, shrinking margins, dealing with under-age kids and authorities who want to trick you into selling to them. Both also serve the same customers, yet we still struggle to find any common ground.

A divided trade tells government one thing: we can't get our act together, so you might as well do it for us.

Back in 2001, the on-trade did a spectacular job of showing us what an industry at war looks like when licensing reform was nearly plunged into chaos as operators split into factions, each intent on telling the Home Office to ditch its proposals in favour of theirs.

After last month's Budget, JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin even blamed pubs for the duty hikes because they persistently complained alcohol was too cheap. Now we all have to live with the repercussions.

Which brings us neatly to the thorny issue of price. The fact is, where consumers choose to drink, and how much, is motivated by much more than price. Which is why good pubs, like good drinks retailers, will not just survive - they'll thrive.

The burgeoning independent wine merchants, where choice, customer service and individualism reign, are proof of this, as

are quality pubs.

All this mudslinging has got to stop, because every ill-informed

low blow is undermining the huge efforts

going on in communities working collaboratively to improve their areas and stave off unwelcome political intervention.

Government, consumers, the dreaded British Medical Association - they all call us THE drinks industry. We have to start acting like one.

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