The Bar Man - Rallying against duty
The Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) is not just about drinking beer and social meetings such as our excellent Christmas meal at the Old Bell at Saham Toney.
On a dark and foggy morning in December, I boarded the early train and headed off to take part in CAMRA’s mass lobby of Parliament.
The aim was to meet and persuade as many members of parliament as possible to work to overturn the beer duty escalator tax, which adds two per cent duty above the level of inflation every year.
The first port of call when reaching London was to report to the lobby base for the day, situated in an evangelical conference centre with its 1,000 seat auditorium just round the corner from Parliament.
Here we were registered and briefed about the arrangements for the day before heading across to join the queue to pass the airport style security guarding the entrance to Parliament.
After gazing in wonder at the magnificence of Westminster Hall, it was on to the central lobby, where local MP Henry Bellingham had arranged to meet me at the end of Prime Minister’s Questions.
This accomplished, I was led off through the labyrinthine corridors to one of the cafes where Henry was good enough to buy lunch and listen attentively to my points.
He seemed convinced that action must be taken, and in truth it is not a difficult argument to make. Beer duty increased by five per cent last year and brought in an extra 0.3 per cent of revenue.
Even the treasury’s own figures suggest that future increases in duty will not result in an increase in the money raised.
Set against this, the fact that pubs are being driven out of existence partly by the high tax, with the resulting loss of jobs and social amenities and it becomes clear that the escalator is nonsense.
That established there was time to agree on our opposition to the incinerator and the need for a half-hourly train service to Lynn before we went our separate ways, Henry for root canal work and me off for a quick look at the pre Raphaelite exhibition in the nearby Tate Gallery before returning for the final rally.
What a sight that was. There were over 1,000 CAMRA members who had made the trip and we were roused by a succession of short speeches from all parts of the industry.
Amongst the MPs who spoke were some who are well known for their support of pubs – such as Gregg Mulholland – and some famous in other ways, such as Hazel Blears.
We heard from a local London brewer and the landlady of the Rose Tavern in Norwich. CAMRA chairman Colin Valentine and spokesman Mike Benner took time off from their round of TV, press and radio interviews which had started at 6am, to round off the day.
There was just time to try a pint or two of the beer generously donated by, amongst others, Shepherd Neame and Wychwood before heading back to Kings Cross to play the game of how late can we put the platform number on the board before the train departs.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 6 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North