Friday, 22 September 2017

Speaking up for drinkers

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that it’s always easier to drum up support for banning or restricting something than leaving it alone. One side can conjure up a righteous froth of indignation, whereas its opponents have to resort to arguments like “it’s not that bad really”, “people have been doing it for years”, “some people quite enjoy it” or “it provides jobs”. The defence of liberty, by its nature, often involves the defence of the mundane or even the somewhat distasteful. Added to this, people often lazily assume that government or industry will do the job of opposing curbs, so they don’t need to do anything themselves.

This is amplified by the often-heard assumption that anyone opposing restrictions is by definition a corporate shill, or pursuing a particular ideological agenda. How can any right-thinking person really be against this? This is especially prevalent in the sphere of lifestyle regulation. Regardless of the truth of the message, any industry association immediately leads to it being dismissed out of hand. Just try Googling Enstrom and Kabat.

So it’s welcome news that a new pressure group called Drinkers’ Voice has been set up to counter the exaggerated and often hysterical messages about the dangers of alcohol emanating from the public health lobby, and to urge a sense of proportion. Most notably, there is a huge weight of evidence that moderate drinking produces better health outcomes than total abstention, which you really wouldn’t get any sense of from following alcohol-related media stories.

Drinkers’ Voice as a matter of policy does not accept any industry funding, to ensure both the reality and the perception of independence. It speaks for the consumers of alcoholic drinks, not the producers. What it does have is a certain amount of involvement from CAMRA, which has led some to conclude that it is effectively a CAMRA front organisation. My understanding is that CAMRA is providing some seedcorn funding and start-up assistance, but the intention is very much that it should take flight as a fully independent body.

In recent years, there have been several motions passed at CAMRA AGMs urging the organisation to take a stronger line against the anti-drink lobby. However, CAMRA by definition does not represent all drinkers, and can all too easily be accused of glossing over the negative effects of alcohol in seeking to promote beer and pubs. There also remains a somewhat delusional tendency within its ranks who believe that the type of drinking that CAMRA supports can in some way be presented as less harmful. So the decision was taken that the objective could be better achieving by helping with the creation of an independent campaigning body.

The public health lobby are often portrayed as plucky Davids standing up against the self-interested Goliaths of the drinks industry in the interests of ordinary people. However, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the view that ordinary people are weak, gullible saps who need to be protected from their own base instincts is hardly an entirely benevolent one. It is well summed up by this quotation from C. S Lewis:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
It is true that alcoholic drinks have not suffered anything like the legal and fiscal assault that has been experienced by tobacco. However, the duty escalator which was in effect for several years should not be forgotten and, while it now seems to have run out of steam, a few years back there was concerted government encouragement to reduce the strength of many popular beers and ciders. And one of the most effective attacks on the drinks trade has proved to be something that ostensibly targeted something else entirely, namely the smoking ban.

The past couple of decades have also seen an increasing trend to undermine the social acceptability of the regular, moderate drinking of alcohol, especially in out-of-home locations. This has been reflected in a marked decline in average consumption even without the assistance of punitive legislation, which has particularly affected younger age groups. This may well create the climate for more tangible restrictions in the future.

So, to sum up, Drinkers’ Voice is a much needed and extremely worthwhile endeavour. I urge you to give it your support and, if you can, bung them a donation too, as I have done.

18 comments:

  1. Fantastic!! Dryanuary/Stoptober etc etc are all very good causes but why constantly hit the drinks industry?? SOcial drinking is acceptable and I reckon I could find a counter-argument to any study...it would be interesting to see who funds all of these studies?

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    1. YOU fund them, through your taxes...

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  2. Thanks 'mudge. That is a much needed organisation. I to have bunged them the price of a bottle of Scotch.

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  3. I for one applaude the beards for punting cash into this. Much more important than stamps. Well done to them. I'll keep me own money in my own pocket though. Unless they wanna give out spoons tokens?

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  4. well its going to get accused of not being independent from CAMRA because they first registered the company at CAMRA HQs address, albeit its since been changed, but both the CAMRA Chairman and the CAMRA CEO, who is still using CAMRA HQ for his correspondence address, are registered as two of the companies directors.

    so whilst we can applaud and agree something like this is needed to counter the anti-alcohol propaganda, we know next to nothing about how this Drinkers Voice organisation was setup, who approved what funding from CAMRA to set it up or how long that funding will continue, the MSM have already reported its a CAMRA setup body, so that horse has already bolted and left the stable, infact the MSM largely went with it was a campaign spearheaded by women to correct the governments drinking guidelines on units for women, so Im not quite sure its getting the message they thought across yet.

    all against a backdrop of CAMRA HQ sending out correspondence to branches cutting back on CAMRAS campaigning, and chasing in some cases spurious debt settlements, because of a lack of free cashflow.

    I think my criticism would be if CAMRA are spending money on its members behalf, they need to inform us all better about it first and not read about it first in the papers

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  5. Its a pity there isn't a smokers voice. We might still have a few pubs we could smoke in and still have a social life !

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  6. Yes, it could have been done in a more transparent way, but that doesn't mean it shoudn't have been done at all.

    And economising sohuld be a matter of setting priorities, not just stopping spending on anything new.

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  7. What accountability is there in regard to any dosh contributed?

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  8. Beer & Whine hasn't allowed comments nor revealed the name of his bar so I guess he's still happy to take the beardy quid & continue to despise them.

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  9. Whilst I agree in principle with the requirement for “Drinkers Voice,” and would go along with its aims, like Stono I too am concerned at the lack of transparency behind CAMRA’s involvement with another pressure group.

    This comes at a time of financial constraints for CAMRA, which apparently leaves the Campaign unable to afford the cost of posting its prime campaigning publications out to members. These are members who have paid their subscriptions, and who might think they would be entitled to receive news of what’s going on in the world of CAMRA.

    I strongly suspect that things are far worse than the Campaign is letting on. For example I know that CAMRA has cancelled training courses for staff who work at its festivals. This includes training in the handling of “Key-Kegs.”

    Many see this type of beer as the way forward, and at a time when CAMRA ought to be embracing new technology, it finds itself strapped for cash and unable to familiarise its staff with this new way of handling cask-conditioned ale.

    I realise I have veered off topic, so apologies. I will stop there.

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    1. Shall we campaign against the anti-drink lobby? Or shall we train people in the handling of "key-kegs"? Sounds like a no-brainer to me...

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    2. Why not do both, seeing as "key-kegs" are the way forward.

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  10. I will be joining and sending a donation at the end of this week. I am sick and tired of excessive regulation and the freedom of choice of individuals being threatened. Not to mention this ludicrous price fixing idea regarding the unit of 8 grammes of alcohol when a unit in Japan is 19.75 grammes of alcohol. These prohibitionists are not only scum, but ignorant scum too.

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  11. matter of policy does not accept any industry funding, to ensure both the reality and the perception of independence.

    Good. That was the 'mistake' that FOREST made- not really a mistake, it being a question of take Industry cash or go under because smokers weren't prepared to donate in sufficient volume. One only has to look at some of the other, purely funded by donation, smoker's rights groups to see what FOREST would have become. FOREST took the Industry £ and forever after , in the warped minds of the Tobacco Control Industry, became the Voice not of the smoker but of Big Tobacco.

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    1. There is a significant difference between tobacco and alcohol in this respect - there just isn't the network of independent consumer groups for tobacco that there is for alcohol.

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  12. Obviously I loosely support the aims of Drinkers Voice, just as I support the aims of FOREST, the Countryside Alliance and indeed and indeed would support practically any campaign that increases freedom and choice, whether it's something I have a personal interest in or not.

    The issue for me is that with the CAMRA connection - not an organisation known for maintaining a consistently Libertarian stance - there will be a distinct whiff of self-interest and hypocrisy from the start, however unwarranted.

    What we really need isn't just groups of drinkers sticking up for drinkers rights, or smokers sticking up for smokers rights, or fox-hunters sticking up for fox-hunters rights. We need to make the argument for Freedom *regardless of the specifics* at the highest possible level.

    At the moment we're all too happy to claim victories for freedom and 'common sense' when we happen to get a quick win that neatly ties in with our own proclivities, and largely ignore it the rest of the time (or worse - I guarantee there will be those involved in 'Drinkers Voice' who themselves are strongly in favour of banning some other shit).

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    1. But most people will be much more easily enthused about a campaign to defend the particular thing they like doing, than to defend liberty as an abstract principle.

      And even the hard-core self-proclaimed libertarian will encounter issues that cause him to be conflicted. Does he support cruelty to animals? Does he support the killing of unborn children?

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  13. "Drinkers Voice" is without doubt a "CAMRA front organisation". And they're all Stalinists aren't they dear?

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