Monday 16 June 2008

Here comes Prohibition

Potentially the greatest restriction of the freedoms of drinkers we have seen so far in this country is the proposal by the Scottish government to restrict off-sales to over-21s. As alcohol is a legal product, and 18 is regarded as the age of majority for pretty much all practical purposes, this move is utterly abhorrent in terms of civil liberties. You will be able to marry, drive a car, vote, become an MP and fight for your country, but not to buy a bottle of beer or wine.

Even on a practical level, it is unlikely that it will solve the problems it is claimed to address. Rather it will simply drive them underground and transfer the trade from legitimate outlets to black marketeers. Partial prohibition has never worked in the past and will not work here.

Such a ban is likely to be a major disincentive to studying at Scottish universities. And, unless possession of alcoholic drinks is also made illegal, how are the authorities to know if stocks in student flats have been obtained legally or not? Are they going to be carrying out raids demanding receipts? You can imagine any English students returning back from weekends at home with cars laden down with drink. Or are they going to set up Customs checkpoints too and ban the importation of alcohol for personal use? The ban will make obtaining alcohol for consumption at home appear a far more fun and glamorous activity.

I also foresee that very many over-21s will see this law as wholly unreasonable and have no compunction about buying alcohol on behalf of their younger friends.

The worry, of course, is that if this happens in Scotland it is likely to spread south of the border…

Saturday 14 June 2008

Breeding intolerance

There seems to be something about the smoking ban that encourages intolerance between pub users. Perhaps it is because it panders to the regrettable British tradition of kicking a man when he’s down. I have mentioned before the ludicrous complaint that smokers, having already been excluded from the pub, should be prevented from using the beer garden. However, this is thoroughly trumped by this tale of rank bigotry.

Friday 13 June 2008

The locust years

More depressing news, that over 60 pubs are now closed and boarded in five East Lancashire boroughs with a high proportion of small, wet-led street-corner locals. This underlines the devastation of the pub trade that those who don’t venture beyond town centres and leafy suburbs fail to see.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Smoke ban hits pub trade shock!

According to a survey by Deloitte, 20% of adults now visit pubs less often following the smoking ban. I suspect any licensee could have told you that for free, but even so - when some smoke ban apologists remain in a state of denial - it’s useful to have confirmation of the bleeding obvious from a reputable source.

Standing up at last

The recent CAMRA National Conference decided to set up a Task Group with the remit to “research and build extensive evidence on the importance of community pubs and real ale to the promotion of responsible drinking with the underlying principle of reinforcing the rights of adults to enjoy alcohol responsibly” (my bold). This is potentially one of the most important developments in the history of the Campaign. I have argued in the past that CAMRA has dragged its feet on this issue, seeing the big brewers as the main enemy and indeed occasionally even misguidedly making common cause with anti-drink campaigners in fighting them. However, it has become increasingly clear that the major enemies of pubs and drinkers are now the government and neo-prohibitionist lobby groups.

There is a pressing need for a body not associated with the alcohol industry to stand up for the rights of people to drink alcohol responsibly, and to counter the exaggerated health scares that have been bandied about. Hopefully in the coming years this will become a major plank of CAMRA’s campaigning and take priority over all this irrelevant left-wing nonsense about public transport and beer miles.