Friday, 6 October 2017

Putting the message across

Following the launch of Drinkers’ Voice last month, I’ve been having a few thoughts about the best way to put the message across, and the following points occurred to me.

1. Choose your battleground

There’s certainly an overwhelming body of evidence that moderate drinking produces better health outcomes than total abstention, and this needs shouting from the rooftops. There’s no case for telling moderate or light drinkers to give up entirely for the sake of their health. But the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood, and may have as much to do with psychological as physical factors. It doesn’t mean we should be telling unwilling people to force down a couple of glasses a week for the sake of their health.

Therefore caution is needed over presenting alcohol as a “healthy substance”. It’s fine to say that moderate drinking isn’t incompatible with a generally healthy lifestyle, but going too far to suggest it’s a necessary component of one. And what about all the people, including me and probably you, who knowingly drink a bit more than the minimum point on the J-curve of risk? They deserve representation too. If you fight the public health lobby specifically on the health issue, you are on shaky ground.

Far better to take the line that:

  1. Any health risks are often greatly exaggerated, especially those of exceeding the recommended guidelines even by quite a substantial margin
  2. Intelligent, informed adults are entitled to make their own decisions as to what risks they run in pursuit of enjoyment
  3. There are plenty of other activities that are generally accepted, but are known to carry enhanced risk, such as rugby, horse-riding, mountaineering and (whisper it softly) promiscuous unprotected sex. So long as people’s eyes are open, then why shouldn’t they?
At its core, the defence of people’s right to drink alcohol is an issue of individual liberty, not one of health.

2. Don’t make needless enemies

Defending drinkers’ rights is a different issue from that of defending smokers. Drinkers’ Voice isn’t an anti-smoking ban campaign. But it can’t be denied that the anti-tobacco campaign is widely seen as a template for that against alcohol, and in the eyes of the public health lobby the tobacco and alcohol industries are lumped together as “toxic trades”.

So special pleading that “alcohol is different from tobacco” isn’t really going to get you anywhere, and is going to alienate many people who you really need to get on side. In principle, I have considerable sympathy for the argument that cannabis should be legalised. But campaigners do themselves no favours in enlisting my support by constantly banging on about how it’s actually safer than alcohol.

3. Stand together or hang separately

There have also been the inevitable rumblings of discontent against this within CAMRA. Surely CAMRA’s role should be fighting the big brewers, pubcos and supermarkets rather than lining up alongside them? In the 1970s, when the current anti-alcohol campaign was hardly even a cloud as big as a man’s hand, that was maybe a reasonable attitude to take, but today, when the danger is all too clear, it’s a fatal division. As Churchill is supposed to have said “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”. The public health lobby are completely uninterested in drawing a distinction between pub and home drinking, or between craft beer and alcopops. Either drinkers stand together, or they hang separately.

I’ve written before about how some elements within CAMRA seemed willing to be useful idiots for the anti-drink lobby. Maybe, going forward, whether or not people are happy to go along with a wider campaign on the issue will be a key indicator of how serious they really are about wanting to defend what they hold dear, or whether they prefer playing divisive games.


  1. A few years ago when I started to read up on all this alongside wind people up about the joy of cheap booze the bit that surprised me was the origins of the government funded quangos. That the 19th century temperance societies had been given an inheritance to provide them with an income in perpetuity and they had simply switched from religion to public health as the tool to convince people.

    It should be pointed out that Alcohol Concern is the rebadged temperance society of old.

    1. Yes and it should be pointed out that the Pope is of the Roman catholic faith:-)

    2. "they had simply switched from religion to public health as the tool to convince people"

      Correct. They still execute with religious zeal and zealots are utterly unappeasable. One advantage for drinkers is that they are still in the majority, the zeal really takes hold when the situation is reversed as we see with indoor smoking bans (soon to be extended to open air).

  2. the most important point though I think youve left out, its to have a simple,clear and concise message and stick to it religiously. Theyve been publicly at least going for a month now, Im still no clearer on who they are, who they really represent, what their aims are and how they intend to go about it. Maybe the front page spread in Whats Brewing would be illuminating if only CAMRA hadnt e-booked it so hardly anyone will read it anymore.

    and whats with the apostrophe (Drinkers' Voice) anyway ?

    1. This is not intended to be snarky but one rule of English grammar is to add the apostrophe after the "s" to show plural possession. See rule #2 in the link below:


  3. I dont worry about English grammar or what the anti drinking lot think,both me and my wife do what we want when we want and stuff anybody who does not like what we do.
    I went in 25 pubs yesterday doing 24 i have never been in before and a couple of pints of home brew when i got home,i hope the anti drinking lot read your blog,if so they will have a fit at reading what i had to drink yesterday.
    My motto is do what you want when you want,we all only live once so live how you like,not how others want you to.

    1. Quite right, Alan. It's your life, and it's up to you how you decide to live it.

  4. I know that this observation is often trotted out, but its an axiom that bears repeating:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would 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.”

    C. S. Lewis, from his 1948 book God in the Dock: Essays on Theology.

    1. I actually used that quote in my original post about Drinkers' Voice. Another relevant one is from the economist Friedrich Hayek:

      "There could hardly be a more unbearable - and more irrational - world than one in which the most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed unchecked with the realisation of their ideals."

  5. "My motto is do what you want when you want,we all only live once so live how you like,not how others want you to."

    Good man! I have relatives on my wife's side arriving in an hour (here for the day to celebrate our Canadian Thanksgiving). I think I shall pour a beer. :)


  6. Let's have "On it October" & "O Be Joyful" Janruary rather than the dreary Stoptober/Dry Janruary.


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