3 January 2024

Three cheers for Sir Tim Martin


News of pub tycoon Tim Martin’s inclusion in the New Year’s Honour’s list has engendered the sort of the online bile reserved for anyone on the right who the government dares to recognise for years of public service. According to one enraged doomsayer, Martin’s knighthood is proof that the UK has become a ‘dank, rancid perineum’. Punchy stuff.

For the uninitiated, Martin is the founder of JD Wetherspoon – a chain of pubs across the UK and Ireland boasting cheap booze and grub. Since opening his first pub in Muswell Hill in 1979, the Spoons empire has grown to over 800 branches which have become vital ingredients to the beginning of any decent night out and staples of any discerning drinkers’ routine.

Now, if you’re anything like me, all of this ought to be met with slurred gratitude and two thumbs up – so why has this man’s gong given rise to such fury?

Perhaps it’s down to his politics. A proud Brexiteer, Martin’s honour was never going to go down well with the keyboard Corbynistas and twee centrists that populate social media. Many loathed his launch of half a million Brexit beer mats in his pubs, so it’s not surprising they bemoan his knighthood.

Maybe it’s just plain snobbery. There have always been those who mistakenly associate Spoons with sticky floors and football hooligans, rather than the tens of millions who visit these pubs each year to escape £7 Peronis and the James O’Brien parroting drones who drink them.

Whatever the reasoning, the Neverspoons brigade are, as they are on most issues, wrong. Tim Martin is exactly the sort of person we should be celebrating.

The man’s business acumen is patently extraordinary. Last year, Wetherspoons turned over £1.92bn (an increase of 11% on 2022) and increased its profit margin. All of this was achieved in the face of high inflation and despite the heavy costs pressures this exerted, Martin managed to keep the prices of Wetherspoons beer at its famously low levels. Only yesterday further price slashes were announced at almost all of his pubs to welcome in the new year. A prince among men. 

But it has not always been smooth sailing for the ale impresario. As his detractors love to point out, Martin has closed a number of pubs over the years and has recently called last orders on 34 more

But this is the process of creative destruction that must take place in order for any business to be successful – if branches are not performing, they are shut. What these critics fail to mention is that his business still continues to employ in excess of 40,000 people and he’s planning to open more pubs soon. But if enough people indulge this wilful misunderstanding, it could have serious implications. 

Rather than denigrating a man who has masterfully navigated the tribulations of the business world, we should encourage more to take that leap. Not doing so perpetuates the cycle of risk aversion that underpins our pathetic economic growth. Creating an environment which allows entrepreneurialism to thrive is not just about implementing the right policies (a topic worthy of an article in itself), but also championing those who have made successes of themselves. As research from the Centre for Policy Studies has shown, there is a general sense among potential investors that Britain does not celebrate enterprise in the same way our international competitors do.

If the pro-business argument doesn’t convince you, then maybe sentimentality will. From the seasoned lush to the lime and soda sipping teetotaler, pubs are still at the centre of communities across the land. But their numbers are dwindling – the total number of pubs in England and Wales dropped below 40,000 in 2022, a fall of more than 7000 compared to a decade ago. Without the likes of Wetherspoons, Samuel Smiths and others, singletons and groups of friends alike will increasingly find themselves at a loss when they fancy a brief reprieve from life’s hardships.

Let’s keep the sentimentality going – the Wetherspoons name itself is a testament to the sort of defiant attitude we should be recognising. As the legend goes, his business is named after a teacher who told the young entrepreneur that he wouldn’t amount to anything. The more people there are who are willing to defy the naysayers and start profitable businesses, the stronger our economy will be. So, the next time you’re faced with some anonymous troll decrying your achievements, ask yourself, ‘what would Sir Tim Martin do?’

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Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.