Tuesday, January 19, 2010

All Aboard The Election Booze Cruise

A general election 'booze war' has broken out as ministers announce a blitz on boozed-up Britain with a belated crackdown. But only a commitment to rip up New Labour's 24-hour licensing laws and ban cheap supermarket booze will stop the alcohol fuelled, out-of-control mayhem.

There's nothing like a general election to force New Labour to get off its high horse and tackle the problem of boozed-up, binge-drinking Britain.

With the Tories and the Mail on their backs, ministers should get the message. Instead politicians are pussyfooting around with half-baked policies.

Booze is one of Huxley's "chemical crutches" which people always turn to in times of desolation and despair. From the gin lane of Hogarth (pictured above) to the current sad and destructive spectacle seen on the streets night after night.

The Orange Party puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of a failed government booze strategy at the heart of the country's out of control alcohol problem.

And, as noted here earlier this year, that's the view of leading experts, who lined up to roundly condemn round-the-clock drinking and availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets, brought in as part of the shiny New Labour brand.

The message to MPs was stark and simple: Over the last ten years, government policy has led to an increase in the consumption of alcohol.

At the centre is bleary-eyed Blears' misguided notion that a cold, wind swept island in northern Europe, where beer and spirits are the staple diet, can be magically transformed into a wine-sipping "continental cafe-bar culture". How very New Labour.

Big tax increases on strong alcohol, a 'levy' on late-opening pubs and a ban on supermarket discount deals are all unveiled by the Tories to take back town centres from violent drunks, reports the Mail.

But that's just pissing in the wind. Central to any change would be a reversal of the disastrous relaxed 24 hour drinking laws. It's time to get back to the opening hours when pubs closed at 11 pm.

Tightening up licensing laws and penalties will stand the best chance of reversing the damage. Anything less is cosmetic drivel. Taxing the problem is likely to have little or no effect.

But that requires a change of culture. It is the duty of a responsible government to bring in controls which reflect the prevailing mood of public opinion.

It's easy to blame drinkers as they plunge into depths of despair and sink into the oblivion. But like the failed New Labour booze project, they're just viewing the rosy world through the bottom of a beer glass and the eyes of a drunk.

Meanwhile decent folk are too scared to go out on the streets, policed and ambulance crews struggle with the carnage and hospital staff are at their wits end trying to cope.

Doctors and academics have been desperate to tell MPs just how it is. Costly and useless education initiatives have been a miserable failure because no-one has the guts to speak up and tackle the root cause.

Now both parties are bending over backwards with booze the new election battleground. And the Mail is producing a handy guide to how the parties compare.

President of the royal college of physicians, 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.

The alcohol problem got out of hand because no one had the guts to challenge the false assumptions of relaxed licensing laws or cheap alcohol pricing and the devastating effects which were starting to shows themselves.

Few were willing to raise their heads above the parapet in case they were branded as part of a reactionary backlash to the wonderful 'modernising' policies. For the government, to admit failure would be to admit the failure of a central plank of policy.

Instead the country is being dragged down a slippery slope with wasteful public relations education campaigns. As if a message on a bottle to 'drink responsibly' would make a blind bit of difference to someone blind drunk.

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

Ministers had been too lenient with the drinks industry, MPs were warned. But for a government in the pockets of the drinks and supermarket industries and powerful lobbies and using the price of alcohol as a tool for stealth taxes, biting the hand that feeds them would be hard to swallow.

Alcohol sales should be restricted to stand alone licensed premises for the over 18s quite separate from the supermarkets which simply use cheap booze as loss leaders to entice shoppers into the store.

A return to the traditional "off-licence" and public house as the only alcohol outlets coupled with licenced restaurants where age could be relaxed is the solution.

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. They have been told for several years that what they are doing is completely irresponsible. Cheap alcohol kills people."

The blame lies with those at Westminster who hoodwinked the country and brought in the ludicrously lax licensing laws as part of a shiny New Labour dawn of all style and no substance. The country is paying the price. New Labour will pay the price at the ballot box.

1 comment:

Thinks for Himself said...

That's why ALL OF US are binge drinkers then. Oh, hang on, the mrs & me still manage to drink in moderation. It's called PERSONAL RESPONSIBILTY. Do you want a Nanny State then? We could all be given weekly diet sheets, what to eat, what to drink...