Snobs and Proles: Waterstones and Wetherspoon’s

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.   

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11 Comments on Snobs and Proles: Waterstones and Wetherspoon’s

  1. Amazon has been amazing for me, but I have one caveat. There is a section that offers various charities to whom you can pass on a benefit, but it includes an Islamic charity that has some questionable connections with fundamentalist issues. I complained about this but got no reply.. Somehow O’Brien and Kevin Maguire keep coming up on my Twitter feed – not that I post but am interested in some that I follow.- like the hilarious Godfrey Bloom. I’ve never been into Weatherspoon’s but I like the cut of Martin’s jib.

  2. Whilst I don’t accept the epithet “gammon” as having any relevance, it simply being a way in which lefties can shut down a discussion without the hassle of listening to a reasonable argument, it is one that James O’Brien chucks around like a scatter gun. He also employs arm-waving interruption.

    I just wonder whether there is any connection between gammons and ignorant pigs, which is the order of porcine lefty drivel that O’Brien compares most closely with? What they see (and ignore) in themselves and then proceed to project on to their opponents.

    As for Amazon, it’s main feature is that it provides a good service, there is no politics, although Bezos has a record of saying ignorant things about which he knows nothing. I do not subscribe to the ideal of the “High Street”, which was a convenience in its own right anyway… The local merchants always had their property and outlets established at the highest street (above the river or sea) in the town/village.

    Where my son lives, there isn’t a bookshop within 50 miles, how user friendly is that?

    Mind you, there isn’t a Wetherspoons either.

    • Amazon is not entirely apolitical. Books are withdrawn as soon as Hope not Hate, Buzzfeed or other leftist puritans complain.

      • I’d be interested if you could supply an example. I’ve not found any problem with amazon – but my local city library seems to be operating a filleting policy.

        • You can still buy Helen Bannerman’s masterpiece on Amazon. I don’t think I be over keen on going into my friendly local bookshop and asking for “Little Black Sambo!”

          • Certainly not. Words have acquired meanings not intended and it is good manners to respect that and not to expect your ordinary Jack and Jill to know about that book’s history.
            More disturbing is censorship in the media that we do not have much choice over – the BBC for instance which according to Rod Liddle in tomorrow’s Speccie is up to its tricks again.

      • Books objected to by leftist puritans must be rare indeed Mr McCrae. I just browsed Amazon and found book after book written by right-wingers including some who would make easy targets for denunciation as extremists, white supremicists, islamophobes etc. For the time being Amazon seems to be a place where free speech prevails – even their reviews (vetted though they be) do not seem to be politically censored.

        If you have an example or two to back up your comment please let us know. It would be interesting to challenge Amazon to justify what they have been pressured to withdraw and what they have left on sale.

        • Tommy Robinson’s book on Islam was withdrawn after
          Tell Mama complained, although seems to be restored now.plenty of other examples – search ‘Amazonnr removea books’

          • I have searched ‘Amazonnr removea books’ (is that spelling intentional?). I can only find results for “Amazon removes books”. These mainly list books promoting dubious cures for autism and “cures” for homosexuality.

            The Tommy Robinson book you mention must be “Mohammed’s Koran” by Peter McLoughlin and Tommy Robinson. Amazon still does not sell it, so you are correct, Amazon is prepared to withdraw a book from sale under political pressure.

            You say there are “plenty of other examples” but I have not been able to find anything more than those I list above.

  3. My local Wetherspoons is a watering hole for the hard drinking thug and (probably) dealer in controlled substances. 15 years ago it was a pleasant pleace to have a pint or two on a Friday or Saturday evening. Now there are security guards on the doors at the weekends. Cheep and cheerful? More like not very cheep and just plain rowdy. Yob culture has changed everything. These days I prefer a quiet drink at home.

    My local Waterstones, a short distance away, has become noisy and family-friendly. Middle class people (mostlly women) wander in to use the quiet space to yap into their mobile phones or yap to each other while their kids use the shop as just another playground. The middle class culture of crass familiarity has changed everything. I prefer to browse and buy on Amazon.

    • Funnily enough my local library has three security guards and the same filtered stock as the writer mentions in his bookshop. They’ll happily get what I want on inter-library loan – costing six squid. (But I’m sick already. boom. boom.)