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No more booze panics, please

Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley, thinks we have enough alcohol laws...and what about cocaine?

Published on June 19th 2008.

No more booze panics, please

“Who licenses the sale of alcohol at the annual summer cricket match that takes place on the sandbar at low tide in the Solent between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight?”

The Minister who was asked this question unsurprisingly didn’t know the answer, nor was he concerned. He recognised that the Conservative MP who asked the question, was in the time honoured tradition of all oppositions using the only weapon available to him, time wasting.

These sensible changes have been moderately successful, however the media, led by the Daily Mail have run a campaign against 24 hour drinking which has led ministers to descend into a state of moral and political panic.

The bill being discussed which now forms the basis of our 24 hour licensing laws was so uncontroversial that the opposition had to be at their most creative in order to take up the allocated time they had requested.

Of course then, as now, it was recognised that loutish and violent behaviour was often the result of binge drinking. Nobody had ever doubted that drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis was detrimental to health.

24 hour licensing was seen as a partial solution to the conflicts that occur when every person in every pub finds themselves on the streets at closing time. It was also a response to a more sophisticated leisure industry where publican and drinker agreed that they should be allowed to sell and drink alcohol when it was convenient to them and not according to First World War laws bought in to protect munitions workers.

These sensible changes have been moderately successful, however the media, led by the Daily Mail, have run a campaign against 24 hour drinking which has led ministers to descend into a state of moral and political panic.

We get a new initiative at least once a week from the patronising and unworkable to the downright offensive. I simply could not believe it when I heard the Schools Minister saying that parents all over the country were asking for advice and regulations as to how to introduce their children to alcohol.

In more than 30 years of doing advice bureaux, attending public meetings, answering constituents’ correspondence and knocking on people's doors, nobody has ever asked for such advice. This feels like a confection to give the appearance of activity.

Responsible parents will introduce their children to alcohol in a careful and gradual way, using their own knowledge of alcohol and their offspring. Irresponsible parents will, of course, have no knowledge and take no notice of any government advice. If their penchant was for handing out extra-strong lager to their 12-year-olds they would carry on regardless and the only rational response is to report them to the child protection agencies.

The blue ribbon for an absurd initiative goes to the Scots who will allow 19-year-olds to purchase alcohol in pubs but not off-licences.

The new government advertisements telling us how many units of alcohol we can drink safely is a waste of money. Most of us have a built-in biological monitor for excess drinking. We get hangovers. Incidentally, my estimate is that the government's guidelines mean that 80 per cent of MPs are defined as problem drinkers (no surprise there then).

Socialists used to sing songs about nasty capitalists watering down the workers’ beer. The government has come up with the twenty-first century equivalent of the ‘capitalist caper’ which, if brought in, will force retailers to increase their prices by banning ‘two for one’ offers and ‘happy hours’ et al.

Whisky was taxed in the nineteenth century as a source of funding for universal education. This is obviously a good thing, but it seems perverse at a time of high inflation, to force up the price of everybody’s alcohol when there is no clear spending objective.

Binge drinking in town and city centres and in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods still leads to too much yobbish and violent behaviour.

Given the scale of the problem, it is remarkable how few supermarkets and off-licences have their licences challenged. It was only January this year when Sainsbury’s had its first licence removed. I cannot believe that this was their first transgression. It seems to me that a more vigorous enforcement of the current laws, closing pubs and off licences which are selling alcohol to underage people and drunks would be more effective, than restricting all our freedoms.

Privately, many police officers who are responsible for the city centre believe that the violence associated with alcohol is actually driven by cocaine. They have noticed that when they appear on the streets with dogs in the early evening violence drops. The speculation is that dealers and users dump their coke before it is sniffed by the dogs. These are complex problems that do not respond well to ill-thought-out ministerial initiatives or Daily Mail platitudes, but it does seem that in every area early intervention and effective enforcement would improve the situation.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

MarcieJune 19th 2008.

Anoymous, you don't have to be over 25 to buy alcohol in shops, but if you look aged under 25 you will be asked to prove you are over 18. Presumably because with a trowelful of foundation underaged girls can pass as 18.

secret squirrelJune 19th 2008.

The coke/alcohol issue is definitely real...suddenly everyone thinks they're Mike Tyson..seen some nasty fights as a result.

anonJune 19th 2008.

In Milan, happy hour consists of serving free food alongside drinks at normal or v slightly reduced prices. A much more civilised offer. How about importing that in place of the incentive to binge on 2 for 1?

CharmaineJune 19th 2008.

i was proper wasted at the weekend, it was mint, i was sick right outside hogshead, it was well funny, becky nearly pissed herself.

DaveJune 19th 2008.

Graham Stringer for PM, this man talks sense.

AnonymousJune 19th 2008.

Actually don't we in England have an absurd initiative ourselves which allows you buy alcohol in the pub at 18 but have to be over 25 to buy it from the supermarket.

blondeandbrownJune 19th 2008.

I think that it is a little to easy to blame a lot of the problems in a city centre at weekend on so called 'binge drinking'. The result of this blame is knee jerk reactions, rule changes and panic so it looks as though something is being done.I personally believe that a large % of people involved in anti social behavior as it is now known are the kinds of people that could have a fight in an empty room. The problems in our society are far deeper rooted in peoples current attitudes and lack of respect for laws, authority and society as a whole. I can go out have as many drinks as I want and I never ever feel the need to fight anyone, vandalise or similar however I've seen people start fights etc at all hours and stone cold sober. In days gone by I'm sure there were much less schemes and no one was told how many units they could drink etc, however i'm sure our city/town centres etc were far safer. Is it not just that these people have no fear that they will be caught and believe that it is their god given right to act as they feel and to hell with everyone else. If they knew that stepping out of line would result in them being caught and punished I'm sure they'd think twice about commiting an offence.

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