The Prime Minister has uttered two cheers for 24-hour drinking. Yes, there will be a crackdown on premises flogging booze to underage drinkers, and yes, there will be a campaign to persuade us not to damage our health and looks, but overall the Government feels the more liberal drinking regime is by no means a disaster.
Not so, claims the Local Government Association. Its head, Sir Simon Milton of Westminster Council, believes the liberalisation has been a disaster, with town centres becoming no-go areas, full of berserker teens, their chests daubed with lager: violent crime has increased by 25 per cent between 3am and 6am in the morning. The statistic the Government prefers is that there has been a three per cent reduction in crime since the citizenry were able to spread out their imbibing.
For myself I think, first, that there will always be underage drinking: some of it is perfectly acceptable and some isn’t. Contrary to what some health hardliners preach, there’s nothing wrong with teens being offered drink in the home, as long as it’s part of a constructive education in intoxication as a social ritual.
This is more than learning to “hold your liquor”; it’s a question of knowing when to drink, what to drink and when, emphatically, not to drink at all. If young people learn to drink responsibly – just as they learn to take public transport responsibly under adult supervision – then once they are out on their own, by and large, they’ll continue to do so. Retailers of alcohol can only bear a very partial responsibility for maladaptive underage drinking.
Secondly, a culture that allows regional town centres to become arid precincts stalked only by CCTV cameras cannot expect its youth to regard them with any great respect. Frankly, the high streets of most clone towns make me feel like getting completely mullered.
Lastly, as someone who initially recoiled from the prospect of 24-hour drinking, and then drank liquidised humble pie when it turned out not to be going too badly, I think the concentration on statistics as an engine for legislation to alter social behaviour is as much part of the problem as drinking itself. The Government says three per cent down, the LGA says 25 per cent up. The chief medical officer says you should drink 16 units a week – while some other authority states, just as emphatically, that your cup runneth over with more than 14.
All of this bean-counting has very little to do with the realities of grape and grain, and older people – quite as much as teens – who find their subjective experience differing from the state-sanctioned norm are quite likely to ignore all the advice on offer and retreat into denial.
Notoriously, genuine alcoholics are most susceptible to this refusal to accept that they have a problem at all: for them there is only the slap of the pavement against their cheek. By bombarding us all with such prescriptive drinking rules, the Government undermines the responsibility of individuals and families to manage what we drink.
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