Creating a more ‘responsible’ drinker

November 10, 2008 at 5:05 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | 4 Comments

I was thinking recently that our approach to regulating the sale of alcohol has an uncanny resemblence to that whack-a-mole game my brother & I used to play in amusement arcades; one second you think you’ve smashed the problem of alcohol abuse, and the next it rears its head somewhere else.

Back in the day, the argument behind liberalising the licensing laws was that in order to ‘large it up’ or whatever, people were trying to cram their drinking into a pretty short period of time, and that was causing the apparent rash of mass leglessness you’d find in towns centres across the country. So, the theory went, extend the amount of time they’re allowed to drink and you might see some reduction in the ‘down it!’ culture that induces half the country into synchronised vomiting every Saturday night.

With hindsight, I don’t think it was a bad theory, but the government mistakenly dreamt that this policy alone was going to be the silver bullet to make to make us more responsible drinkers. They didn’t take into account, for example, the power the major drinks manufacturers and corporate bar/pub chains have to influence our behaviour with cut-price offers and buy-in-bulk promotions. They didn’t consider the rise of supermarkets as the nation’s favourite (and cheapest) booze vendor. And they didn’t consider what effect this, in conjunction with the smoking ban & constant tax hikes, would have on your humble local, which at the last count was vanishing at the rate of about 36 a week. Lastly, they didn’t consider what should’ve been blindingly obvious: we have a an age-old culture of drinking, and whilst a government might be able to regulate how expensive our drinks are or where & when we can buy them, it can’t ever force people into being more ‘responsible’.

Anyway, the crusading Keith “why am I not a peer yet?” Vaz has come to the rescue with plans to ban “happy hour” promotions & loss-making supermarket offers, which the government will consider alongside a compulsory code of practice and cigarette-style labels warning that government drinking is seriously bad for your health. Since I don’t ply my trade as a publican, I can’t say whether it’d work or not, but it does seem draconian enough to price some of us out of getting another round in. I still think, however, that if the government was smart about promoting a more positive drinking culture, it could’ve done a lot more to protect those smaller local pubs in the heart of our communities which were first stiffed by the big breweries, then by the spread of the corporate pub chain, and then by tax hikes & the smoking ban. It’s in these vanishing places where you’ll find the ‘responsible drinkers’, and the government doesn’t want anything to do with them.

Image by Flickr user Mel B (Creative Commons)



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  1. I completely agree, what this government has done through their policies and legislation has destroyed and once proud and principled area of the leisure industry. The local pub was as British as the red post box, London bus etc. To destroy part of our cultural history was unforgiveable, but to then demolish what was left of it with the smoking ban was and is bordering on the criminal. And, behind every pub failure is a family that tried to make a living; it is tragic in its human form. If this government had any self-respect, they would hang their heads in shame, accept their responsibility and stop pointing the finger at everyone else.

  2. I think you hit on one of the most important points about this topic. Sure, your Brewers Fayre and your Toby Carvery – those soulless pub/restaurants tacked onto the side of dual carriageways – might not have been effected *too badly* by the government’s actions, but – like you said – the humble, family-run pub that once served a community where people all knew each others’ names, has been very badly hit. I can’t see any excuse for that.

  3. […] the plight of the humble British pub was in a bad shape at the time of writing this post, I think its safe to say that Alistair Darling’s decision to stick an extra 8% on alcohol […]

  4. […] as I’ve noted twice before, today’s Britain is not a good place to try to make a living from serving alcohol. Thanks to […]

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