A few days ago, Wetherspoons’ bid to open a new branch in London Road was slapped down by planning officers at Brighton and Hove City Council.
We all know that Wetherspoons is bad. We’ve been taught to believe that the chain, with its formulaic pub names and identikit boozer interiors, spells ‘game over’ for any self-respecting high street in Britain.
It was therefore unsurprising that the council’s decision was widely seen as a victory. But what kind of victory? A victory of good over evil? Or a victory of the middle class over the working class?
It’s no secret that London Road has been designated as an area for improvement. As someone who used to live there, I can say I am wholly behind that noble aim. From waking up in the middle of the night to find the office below my flat being burgled, to finding multiple syringes outside my door, it’s fair to say that I’ve seen some shit.
But we shouldn’t be too quick to label gentrification as the answer to everything. The Argus newspaper reported at the end of last year that London Road was becoming more refined: “Whilst drinking has been the cause of many problems in the area in the past, it seems that a more refined drinking culture of the “yummy mummies” and creative middle classes is having a beneficial effect.”
This smacks of classism. Why is it that a large drinking establishment such as the Alcampo Lounge was last year given the green light to open, whereas Wetherspoons was not? The difference is that the Alcampo Lounge caters to ‘yummy mummies’, young professionals and students, whereas a Wetherspoons is aimed at the working class.
Is the drinking culture of the ‘creative middle classes’ more refined? I would beg to differ. I’ve seen respectable white-collar workers getting smashed, and it’s not a pretty sight. And I’m sure that the ‘yummy mummies’ who down a glass or two of wine every day are doing just as much harm to their own bodies as the old gaffers who enjoy a mid-morning pint at the nearest ‘Moon under Water’.
There is no legitimate financial argument against having a new Wetherspoons in London Road – indeed, if it opened, it would bring jobs and tax revenues to the area. So, the only argument against it is a moral one, and this is what makes me uneasy: I would like to think that in 21st-century Britain we could see past the paternalistic Victorian view of the working class as overgrown children that need to be protected against themselves.
If we want to ban Wetherspoons from London Road, then so be it. But let’s just be clear about the reasons why.