Published on February 4th, 2020 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Mixing pubs and politics
The lead-up to the 2019 General Election inspired David Wilkinson of The Grey Horse in Consett to invite the local candidates for a lounge-bar grilling
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I said to my wife Sandra as I ended the phone call to John Wolstenholme, the Brexit Party candidate for North West Durham. “Now I’m not so sure.”
The idea was simple enough. After weeks of hearing the regulars talk about the upcoming election and voting and Brexit and cuts to the NHS, one phrase came up time and time again in the pub: “No candidate ever knocked on my door”.
After hearing it for what felt like the hundredth time that afternoon. I spoke up. “If I could get all the candidates down here to talk to you….”. My voice tailed off. Already I was speaking before thinking. The looks in the eyes of my audience said it all. This was a great idea. Lets go with it.
I emailed party offices and candidates. I stalked them on social media. I messaged the wrong John Wolstenholme (who, by the way, is a lovely chap who lives in Wem, Shropshire). Then I sat back. Surely no candidate would walk into the lions’ den that is a pub to talk politics during the most divisive campaign of all time. What was that saying again? “Never discuss politics or religion with people whose views differ from yours?”.
We run a pub. Pub customers can rarely agree on anything, never mind politics. But I was trying to sign up five politicians – each with very different views – to come and talk to an audience that mostly cant agree with each other… What was I thinking?
This had potential to go horribly wrong. But in my mind it was OK, no-one was going to respond. Then I could go back to my regulars and say, “I did try, but….”
However, this was a December election in Consett, County Durham, where it snows in April and 10ºC is considered a heatwave. If I was a politician, a warm pub with an open fire, an interested audience (and ale) is always going to be preferable to cold weather and people who didn’t really want to chat.
It took less than four hours before I got a call from a lovely lass called Emma “on behalf of Laura Pidcock” our sitting Labour MP. Ms Pidcock it seems, would be “delighted to attend”.
David Sewell of the Greens was next, and then the next day, Richard Holden, the Conservative candidate popped in to introduce himself. Watts Stelling, the Independent candidate followed and then John Wolstenholme from the Brexit Party. We had five candidates from seven nominees (the Lib Dem declined our invitation although I later discovered I had been pestering an outdated email address – similarly for the other Independent).
So, here we are, going against that religion and politics adage. On top of that, I was going to throw alcohol into the mix. What could possibly go wrong?
The posters went up, the Facebook posts went live. Then it began – a lot of words of warning. A concerned Labour campaigner politely questioned the sanity of the whole thing. I got abuse from various people from all sides of the political spectrum, and even called a “scab” for daring to entertain a Tory candidate in a “union town”. Not a single word of encouragement.
But you know what? It all worked out fine. Laura Pidcock never had to use her emergency escape route (which had been planned by her team in the event it turned nasty). John Wolstenholme wasn’t the nasty racist Brexiteer that people told us he would be – in fact he was quite the contrary. And he could juggle five lemons! The Green candidate turned out to be opposed to wind farm expansion: “We need more efficient turbines, not more of what we had”. Most importantly, they all promised they’d get Consett Ale Works beer in the House of Commons bar.
When it was all over, I wondered who won. In hindsight we all did.
They spent a few hours getting their message out, to people who wanted to hear it, in front of an open fire, with a pint of ale. The customers got to put names to faces and above all, I never had to hear anyone say, “I’ve never met any of these people.”
NORTH WEST DURHAM 2019 ELECTION RESULT
Richard Holden, Conservative, 19,990
Lauar Pidcock, Labour, 18,846
John Wolsenholme, Brexit Party, 3,193
Michael Peacock, Lib Dem, 2,831
Wells Stelling, Independent, 1,216
David sewell, Green Party, 1,173
David Lindsay, Independent, 414