Tonight I have been to a well attended meeting at the Bohemia pub. This has been reopened as a community space by activists from the Occupy movement, who are looking to reopen the Bohemia as a community pub. But before I discuss the meeting, I'd like to take you on a little deviation, because I am sure we all need a little deviation in out lives.
Do you remember the last Tory Prime minister, John Major. John Major harked back to a time when England was a land of green fields, of men drinking warm pints of bitter, whilst watching cricket on the village green. Little sleepy hamlets, where little green steam engines, pulled bright red carriages down the branch line, bringing the excited children on days out to "the country". Letters were delivered by postman pat types on their pushbikes, cheerily waving to all and sundry. They would make sure that poor old Mrs Beans was OK, as she lived on her own and they would share the latest gossip in the country pub, over a game of darts and in front of a warm coal fire.
Where did it all go wrong? How could we have thrown away such and idyllic country. How did Jerusalems green and pleasant fields become Milton Keynes? We all have our views. I think that the blame lies fairly and squarely with the last three generations of Conservative politicians. They have mounted an assualt on our community, systematically destroying every vestige of community for the simple reason that there is no cash in helping each other. To a free marketeer, nothing has worth, only cost. The first big assault on the idyllic life we had came in the early 1960's when the Tories commissioned Dr Beeching to save some cash on the railways. This man was the high priest of beancounters. He came in and took an axe to the regional rail network, from which our transport infrastructure has never recovered. We wouldn't need HS2 to free up capacity on the West Coast mainline if he hadn't shut the Great Central Railway route. Other vital hubs like the Oxford to Cambridge line were closed and whole swathes of rural Britain lost its service. In many cases the books were cooked to justify closures and no account was taken of the cost to rural life. When the train service went, many villages died.
Then under the second great wave of post war Tory misrule, Thatcher used anti monopoly legislation to attack the pub industry. Pubs tied to breweries were deemed "old fashioned" and "anto competetive" and so brewers were forced to sell them. All of a sudden, we had "pubco's" who had no interest in selling beer, just in maximising profits. This was best done by running down the pub and selling it for development. Big cash gain with no work at all. As the pub dies, so does the village. At present 26 pubs a week are shutting in the UK. This is all down to this horrible legislation. Brewers needed pubs, because it was an outlet to sell their beer. The pubs have gone and the brewers have struggled.
The third big assault hasn't come to pass yet, but it will. Privatising the post office will destroy the last key pillar of our rural society. "non performing" offiices will shut. The Tory assault on our rural lifestyle will be complete.
Which takes us to tonight. Now North Finchley isn't rural. It hasn't lost its branch line. It has however seen a massive assault from the forces of Tory Greed. The parking regime has nearly destroyed the High St. Small business has been hammered. Just over a year ago, a small beacon of light opened. The Bohemia pub, on the site of the old Bohemia cinema, tea room and Dance hall (and latterly O'Neills) opened. In the space of just under a year, it became a hub of the community. Knitting circles, community meetings, music and quiz nights proliferated. In a small part of Finchley, it seemed as if the clock was being wound back.
Sadly this was an illusion. The building landlords and the organisation running the pub fell out and the pub shut. A small campaign to reopen the pub was started. Then last week, the Occupy movement moved in. They announced that the pub was reopening as a "community space" and a public meeting of friends would be held tonight. I went along out of curiosity.
What I saw gave me great hope. People talked about staging music, poetry, offering IT facilities and building a community based hub, where we can start to rebuild our community. All age groups were represented and their was a great rainbow mix of people. All shared one vision. To reopen the pub as a community pub where we can start to rebuild our shattered sense of civi pride. Now sadly some people on the right have reacted badly, making hollow threats and spouting obnoxious and innaccurate views about the people interested in participating. Lets just correct a few misconceptions. The building was shut, so noone is loosing anything due to the occupation. If a new pub operator wants to reopen the business, they will be welcomed. No damage has been done. Any new operator would have to refit the pub anyway. When Occupy were asked to vacate Friern Barnet Library for the community, they did so and we now have a great community asset.
I have no idea what will happen, but I do know that if the Pubco Landlord, Mitchells and Butlers are serious about their mission, "to run pubs" then they should work with the community. No one is asking for hadnouts or favours. All people want is a pubco to run a popular pub. Why on earth would anyone object to that proposition?