Monday, August 31, 2009

Another Useless Booze Cruise Gimmick

'Booze Asbos' join a long list of useless gimmicks as a government drunk with power fails to get to grips with a problem of its own making. The New Labour booze cruise is viewing a rosy world through the bottom of a beer glass with the eyes of a drunk.

One top copper told the Guardian he and other colleagues were becoming increasingly fed up with government initiatives: "There's a never-ending series of announcements, and not one thing has changed."

Magistrates too have rubbished the Asbos. The orders duplicate existing laws and are unlikely to help solve problems caused by drunkenness.

Courts can now ban anyone from drinking in certain pubs and bars. Drunken troublemakers can be fined up to £2,500 under the 'booze Asbos'. Anyone slapped with an order will be sent on a useless "positive behaviour intervention course" (sic) costing offenders up to £250 a pop.

It's easy to blame boozers as they plunge into depths of despair and sink into oblivion. Throwing money at more "courses" and passing the buck back on magistrates is not the answer.

A failed New Labour booze project is at the heart of the country's out of control alcohol problem brought on by lax licensing laws coupled with easy access to cheap booze — all part of the shiny new New Labour brand.

Back in April, leading experts lined up to roundly condemn round-the-clock drinking and availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets.

Royal College of Physicians president, Professor Ian Gilmore, told MPs he firmly blamed the government for the deteriorating situation, saying health department strategies on the one hand were useless when, with the other hand, the home office brought in 24-hour drinking laws.

Doctors and academics were desperate to tell MPs just how bad it is. The scary spectacle is all too familiar. Decent folk too scared to go out on the streets, police and ambulance crews struggling with the carnage and hospital staff at their wits end trying to cope.

Costly and useless 'education' initiatives have been miserable failures because no-one had the guts to speak out and the problem got out of hand. No-one was brave enough to challenge the false assumptions of relaxed licensing laws or cheap alcohol pricing and the devastating effects which were starting to show themselves.

To attack those policies was to attack the very heart of a misguided New Labour project. The devastating effects were brushed under the carpet as warning voices were branded part of a reactionary backlash to the wild and wonderful 'modernising' policies.

For the government, to admit failure would be to admit the failure of a central plank of policy. Instead the country was dragged down a slippery slope with hugely wasteful PR education campaigns.

A message on a bottle to 'drink responsibly' does not make a blind bit of difference to someone blind drunk. Only an outright ban of advertising, marketing and sponsorship would have results.

MPs were told cut-price supermarket booze is at the heart of the problem leading to the surge in binge drinking, sparking a trend for young people to drink cheap alcohol at home before heading to bars and pubs.

Crime and disorder linked to alcohol cost the UK billions of pounds every year. Not surprisingly, the new 'Asbos' are backed by the booze industry with ministers happy to pay lip service as they rake in fat profits out of people's misery.

For a government using the price of alcohol as a tool for stealth taxes and firmly in the pockets of the drinks and supermarket industries and powerful lobbies, realistic solutions are hard to stomach.

Alcohol sales should be restricted to stand-alone licensed premises for the over 18s, quite separate from the supermarkets with a return to the "off-licence" and public house as the only alcohol outlets.

Central to any cultural change would be a reversal of the relaxed 24 hour drinking laws brought in to try to copy a Mediterranean wine drinking culture on a cold, wind swept island in northern Europe.

Martin Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the west of England, didn't pull any punches when he told MPs: "Supermarkets at the moment are displaying the morality of the crack dealer. What they are doing is completely irresponsible. Cheap alcohol kills people."

Wishy-washy measures won't tackle the booze culture. It is the duty of a responsible government to bring in controls which reflect the prevailing mood of public opinion. But realistic and responsible solutions have been roundly condemned as retrograde.

The disgusting spectacle of binge drinking affects everyone. Booze is one of Huxley's "chemical crutches" which people turn to in times of desolation and despair. From the gin places of Hogarth to the current sad and destructive spectacle seen on the streets night after night.

Civil liberties group, Liberty, has dismissed the booze Asbos as a 'gimmick' that fail to get to the root cause of the problem. Policy director, Isabella Sankey, said: "How many times can you spin a new 'crackdown' without tackling the causes of offending behaviour?

"It will be jelly bean Asbos for sugared-up kids next. Surely its time to call last orders on endless new legislation."

Over the last decade, government policy has led to an increase in binge drinking and the booze culture. The Orange Party doesn't blame the boozers. It blames those at Westminster who hoodwinked the public and sailed off into the sunset on their barmy booze cruise.

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