Sunday, 26 July 2015

Old soaks

It’s now the silly season for news, as shown by the widespread coverage of the increasingly surreal Labour leadership contest. Last Friday, on what was obviously a very slow news day, a story cropped up in many of the papers about an alleged Middle Class Drink Epidemic.

The whole thing is, as we have come to expect, comprehensively debunked by Christopher Snowdon. The fundamental point he makes is that, while there may in a sense be a disproportionate level of middle-class drinking (although they are still drinking less than they used to), there’s no similar epidemic of middle-class alcohol-related health problems.

Indeed, what the story does is to demonstrate the exact opposite – that while middle-class, middle-aged people may drink more than the lower orders, they stubbornly refuse to demonstrate the related health issues.

Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger,
If there was any truth in it, then surely the problem would be demonstrated by the outcomes. And he makes the important point that there isn’t necessarily a direct relationship between average group behaviour and individual circumstances.
You cannot assume that an arbitrarily defined group of people is going to produce more death and disease than another group merely because their group average exceeds an arbitrary guideline. Why? Because averages tell you nothing about individuals. Yes, people on low incomes drink less than middle class people on average. They don’t have much money and alcohol is a heavily-taxed luxury, but within this group are some people who not only drink very heavily but also have a propensity for other risk-taking behaviours. It should therefore not be surprising that a disproportionate number of alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths arise in the group that drinks the least. The fact that lots of other poor people bring the group average down by drinking moderately or abstaining is neither here nor there to the low income alcoholic.
The conclusion is that, while middle-class people may on average drink more than working-class ones, in general they still only drink moderately and remain in control of their lives. There is no health epidemic or timebomb, and the government “limits” are largely meaningless.

As the novelist Kingsley Amis, a famously dedicated drinker (who, to be honest, died at the relatively young age of 73), said “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare.”

It has to be said that this report met with amused scepticism in several of the newspapers, such as here and here, which must be a positive sign.


  1. As their ever more dire warnings are mostly ignored, they become more extreme. They'll probably go for drinking makes you into a fundamentalist terrorist next.

  2. Nothing surreal about the labour leadership contest. They might actually wind up with a leader who represents core labour voters for the first time since John Smith.

  3. I agree with you, Leonard.

    However, the surreal element is that everyone in the Labour Party was happy for a 'deluded old Leftie' to stand when they thought he had no chance - just to show how Broad Church and inclusive they were. Now they're in a panic in case democracy throws up a result they don't like. Quite funny really, watching them employ increasingly convoluted arguments to justify their desire for control freakery.

  4. I never intended this to turn into a discussion on the Labour Party leadership contest! But it has to be admitted that Jeremy Corbyn says what he believes in, even if he's wrong on everything.

    Ernie Bevin must be turning in his ample grave.

  5. Stanley Blenkinsop27 July 2015 at 09:08

    It's surreal because many in the Labour party actually believe they lost the last election because they weren't left wing enough.
    Anyway that's still time to pay your three quid and vote for the beardy old Trot.
    What a wheeze.

  6. "Jeremy Corbyn says what he believes in, even if he's wrong on everything." I agree with half this sentence completely, and disagree with the other half completely. Guess which is which!

  7. I'm old enough to remember the 1983 election and I recall Tony Benn being on Question Time shortly afterwards, arguing that the reason Labour had a nightmare result was that they hadn't been left wing enough (under Michael Foot!) Apparently, if Labour had promised unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from NATO and the nationalisation of pretty much everything, they would have romped home. Instead the electorate voted for a party that wanted to keep nuclear weapons, stay in NATO and privatise pretty much everything. Funny, that.

  8. On old soaks, yup you are Mudge but it don't bother you and it don't bother us. The article may be bollocks but it feeds into the drip drip of alcohol is harmful stories that will result in eventual prohibition. No doubt cheered on by some beardies who don't like people drinking wine or lager.

    As for the politics. I like Corbyn. Seems like a nice guy. Mad as a box of frogs and dangerous if put in charge of anything more than a beard club outing but heh ho. That's most of the Labour lot since Blair took the money and ran. But that's the nature and appeal of such types of which Salmond and Farage are cut from the same cloth. Plain speaking, speak their mind, straight forward and simple and sincere in their belief.

    Far more appealing than the nuanced reality required to actually do the job. Such people get a fair number of supporters but in the end, when it's your kids school, your job etc, people vote for sanity.

    I'd consider Labour with Liz Kendell. She seems to get that it's not evil to want a bigger house, salary and car and be prepared to work for it and want to keep the money you earn. That people shouldn't get more on the old king cole than from a job. That taxes are something we put up with for a civil society, not something we want more of.

    That and the fact that she reminds me of a school mates mother I knew many years ago that I used to wish would seduce me but didn't seem interested in my 15 year old self beyond asking me if I was stopping for my tea. I'd rattle Liz, pardon the crudity, and stop for tea.

  9. Click the link to the Grauniad website and you will see, under “Related Comment”, six anti-drink articles, plus two pro-drinking. I realise this is down to search engine optimisation, rather than under the control of the newspaper, but it does show a significant anti-alcohol bias within the journalistic profession. Strange really, when you consider Fleet Street’s former reputation – “Lunchtime o’ Booze” and all that!

    Like you said at the beginning of your post Mudge, definitely the silly season as far as the press are concerned.

    ps. Cookie’s teenage crush reminds me of that song “Stacey’s Mum”. Can’t for the life of me remember who sang it, and I’m too lazy to look it up on Youtube, but I’m sure some other correspondent will recall it.

  10. Fountains of Wayne. Brilliant video featuring Rachel Hunter :-)

  11. So Cooking Lager's got the hots for Liz Kendall. Gosh!

  12. These and similar articles condemn what some consider to be 'strong drink' but what about smoking 21st century cannabis?

    Britain is not the only navel-gazer on this topic. France is doing likewise. The debate goes on: alcohol versus today's (potentially mind-altering) dope, the latter being eminently preferable. Left-wing French media advocate legalisation of cannabis and, possibly, other drugs.

    What is the end game here in Europe and elsewhere in the West? It's a seeming attack on the middle class with regard to alcohol but, in reality, a plea for something else entirely and, in some cases, unexpected consequences.

    Beware those who say they neither drink nor smoke (tobacco, that is).



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