LIKE MANY PEOPLE, I have often wondered what politicians, civil servants and lobbyists really do. By all accounts, former British prime minister Tony Blair seemed to spend most of his time talking to and lobbying newspaper editors to get them to write nice things about him and his government.
Remember tax strips? The Wine & Spirits Trade Association and the Scotch Whisky Association were supposed to have seen off the idea. After all, it had not worked in Greece. The next thing we knew prime minister Gordon Brown had introduced them, at significant expense to the industry.
So WSTA chief executive Miles Beale is going to have to be really on his game for the negotiations that will lead to the UK exiting the European Union.
Fortunately armed with a British self-deprecating sense of humour the 42-year-old describes himself as a ‘Bernard’ from BBC sitcom Yes Minister, a parody of British government featuring a naive prime minister and a calculating, manipulative civil servant (Bernard).
In all seriousness, Beale says: “We have to work hard to achieve nothing,” which is worrying. But what he means is that the UK drinks industry is nicely balanced, in that we are a huge importer of wine, so the likes of French, Italian and Spanish wine producers are not going to want to lose the UK market. On the other hand, we are major exporters of spirits, namely scotch whisky and some gin.
He sees the big danger as the government lumping the food and drink industry together. If we get in the mix with meat, particularly beef, fisheries and the general Common Agricultural Policy, we could be in a real stew.
According to Beale, 90% of the WSTA was in favour of staying in the EU. There was one company that wanted out. Ever the diplomat, Beale would not name names. He describes himself as: “Pro-European but not necessarily pro-EU.
“The UK has been extremely effective within the EU but I think the EU will be less effective without the UK,” he says.
So where did it all start? Beale was not long out of Bristol university and intending to enjoy a ski season in Chamonix, France. He was offered an internship in Brussels at the EU, hung up his skis and headed north. He worked for six months under former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who was ensconced in matters European and Beale got a taste for politics.
He got a job in the British civil service, working in various departments for high-profile Labour politicians such as Mo Mowlam and deputy prime minister John Prescott. He also had dealings with the now prime minister, Theresa May, when she was at the Home Office.
He worked across areas from urban policy to agricultural – a man for all seasons, as they say. He says, wistfully, he worked on the controversial Common Agricultural Policy. Not a joyous experience if Beale’s body language is anything to go by.