March 11, 2021 - 4:15pm

I remember once watching a documentary about Paul Heaton and the heavy drinking culture he came from, and his realisation that it wasn’t alcohol that he craved so much as pubs.

I have come to really appreciate that this last year; I even dreamed a couple of times about pubs.

At the same time I’ve come to realise that home drinking is quite depressing; Zoom drinks, after the novelty wore off, were dismal affairs. It has all the destructive downsides of alcohol without its strong power to act as a social lubricant.

Matthew Syed wrote about this a while back, specifically on how remote working would never succeed because so much innovation was the product of serendipitous meetings between individuals in proximity; I’d go further and say that serendipitous meetings with alcohol probably play a big part in innovation, and there is some correlation between alcohol-using (and in particular beer-drinking) cultures and high levels of trust.

We don’t just have the Catholic hierarchies and their ban on cousin marriage to thank for our outward-looking culture, but the monks who developed beer.

So I’m not surprised by a new paper which links pub closures with voting for populist Right-wing parties, in this case UKIP.

The most obvious link seems to be that support for these parties is linked to changing immigration levels in an area, and in particular increased numbers of Muslims; and pubs in Muslim areas tend to close down. However I think there is something in the author’s thesis that “the decline of local socio-cultural hubs, which increases the sense of social isolation and status anxiety among the affected community”.

In the US, support for Trump was correlated with low levels of churchgoing, a signal for more general social isolation; in the British Isles pubs have a huge effect on reducing isolation and loneliness, which was why drink-drive laws in Ireland were linked to rising rural suicide.

Unfortunately during lockdown we’ve seen what life is like without pubs, which like many things is merely an extreme version of a trend already happening — the move away from social drinking towards drinking at home.

Alcohol can be a deeply destructive substance which causes all sorts of misery, but on the other hand a world without pubs is one of profound sadness and melancholy. I wonder how much the strange politics of the last year has been, deep down, about sheer loneliness.

When the pubs open next month it won’t be just any re-opening; it will signal a huge improvement in our wellbeing and, with any luck, an improvement in our politics, too.

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable