The ‘classless society’ espoused by Tony Blair is a meritocratic fallacy. In my local high street two national chains stand facing each other: Waterstone and Wetherspoon. One sells books and the other sells beer, but there is also a stark contrast in clientele. Wetherspoon provides a cheap and cheerful drinking and dining venue for thrifty commoners; Waterstone aims at readers who must be educated and ergo of middle-class, liberal values.
The book display in Waterstone clearly appeals to the progressive side of our contemporary cultural schism. The window has a stack of LBC presenter James O’Brien’s How to be Right, a title that says it all about metropolitan attitudes to the provincial dullards who voted for Brexit. Prominent in the recently published cabinet are anti-Trump diatribes, Michele Obama’s Becoming (when will they give it a rest?) and numerous alerts to political and ecological Armageddon. At the till are opportunistic piles of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thurnberg’s wisdom on saving the planet, and a satirical Ladybird Story of Brexit that puts Leave voters back in their 1950s place.
In the politics section is the entire back catalogue of Owen Jones. Roger Scruton, meanwhile, must be hiding in the storeroom. Look carefully and you might find a single copy of Douglas Murray’s Europe: Identity, Immigration and Islam, but anything by Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be fanciful. Courageous conservative authors are conveniently ignored. ‘Our best politics books’ on the Waterstone website gives top billing to Truth to Power by Labour MP Jess Phillips. Next is Climate Justice: a Man Made Problem with a Feminist Solution, followed by Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain, and Guardian writer Fintan O’Toole’s Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. You get the message.
I tend to leave Waterstone empty-handed, unless I’ve collected a personally ordered item. Use it or lose it: I’d rather relinquish saving a few quid on Amazon to keep the only bookshop in town going. Typically, on my initial enquiry for a book (often discovered in the back pages of the Salisbury Review), I’m told ‘We don’t normally stock books like that’. Not necessarily obscure texts, but the likes of Ben Shapiro or the BBC exposé by Robin Aitken. However, staff members are always friendly and helpful, and the politically biased marketing is not their fault.
Time for a late afternoon pint, so I cross the precinct and enter another social world. Glancing around the ‘The Moon on the Hill’, I see silver-haired stout-suppers, babes in arms, tattooed blokes quenching their thirst after the gym, office workers celebrating a colleague’s birthday, perfumed damsels bonding over a bottle of prosecco, a punter studying form in the Racing Post.
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin is a Marmite figure. He draws ire from the bearded legions of the Campaign for Real Ale for pricing traditional pubs out of existence, yet many members acknowledge the contribution that he’s made to the revival of hand-pumped beer. An array of cask ales from independent brewers at £1.99 per pint is not to be sniffed at.
Frith’s Edwardian scenes adorn the walls of Wetherspoons, alongside portraits and biographies of famous or forgotten local figures. I learned of a nineteenth-century painter of Snowdonia, for example. And shelves with more interesting books than at Waterstone’s. Daniel Johnson, founding editor of Standpoint magazine, on his belated Wetherspoon baptism in Shepherds Bush, wrote:
‘I am seated very comfortably next to a bookcase full of proper books, some of them even in German: Goethe, Heine, Shakespeare in the Schlegel-Tieck translation’.
The house magazine regularly features a balanced selection of newspaper articles on Brexit, with Martin’s anodyne annotations. A passionate Brexiteer, Martin recently toured his pubs around the country, making the case for leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms. In his West Country drawl, he’s punchier at the stump than many a seasoned politician. Maybe that’s because he knows the public is his boss, and his menu must be more truthful than a manifesto.
In its marketing decisions, Waterstone serves the progressive mind: a segment of society with moral rectitude and broad horizons (David Goodhart’s ‘Anywheres’). Wetherspoon is the home of ‘Somewheres’: people who link the present to the past, and who regard London as a strange and foreign place. Unlike so many companies nowadays, there is no virtue-signalling of ideological ‘values’ in Martin’s pubs. Having been told by snobbish Remain campaigners to ‘F*** off back to Wetherspoons’, I shall gladly take their advice.
Liked this Blog ? Why not post it to a friend ?