Friday, 3 April 2009

A controlled drinking environment

CAMRA makes a big point of pubs providing a “controlled, responsible drinking environment” as opposed to the uncontrolled free-for-all of consuming alcohol bought in the off-trade. However, in real life it isn’t anywhere near as clear-cut as they suggest, and it looks dangerously like wishful thinking. The only pubs that consistently live up to this standard are some of the more genteel rural dining establishments. Even in the best-run “community local”, a species of pub championed by CAMRA, you will routinely see people drinking enough alcohol to qualify as a “binge” in the government’s description, some of whom will end up getting boisterous, or the worse for wear, to the extent that some might even say they were “drunk”.

And the circuit bars that on Friday and Saturday nights spill out drunken, brawling, puking young people on to city centre streets don’t really fit the description at all.

On the other hand, people quietly wasting their livers on The Claymore and Tennent’s Super in the comfort of their own homes aren’t causing trouble on the streets. And you can’t tell me all that wine sold by the supermarkets ends up with the empty bottles thrown at the neighbours. Most off-trade alcohol is consumed responsibly and overall is probably far less a source of disorder than on-sales.

It is important to distinguish between “problem drunks” and “problem drinkers”. There is an overlap between the two, but the former are people who cause a public nuisance when drunk, whereas the latter are those whose long-term drinking poses a major risk to their health. They are different problems which require different solutions, and the first category are primarily people who do the bulk of their drinking on licensed premises.

It is certainly a valid point to say that well-run pubs enhance communities and promote an attitude to drinking of keeping within your limits and knowing when you’ve had enough, but CAMRA must be careful about making too much of this as all too often the reality falls well short of the rose-tinted stereotype.


  1. I couldn't agree more. CAMRA is digging itself a deeper and deeper hole with the stance it is taking over supermarket and off-licence sales, and is definitely viewing things through rose coloured spectacles, so far as the pub trade is concerned.

    If they are not careful, they will end up playing into the hands of those who want draconian increases in the price of alcohol; one can't have one's cake and eat it as well!

  2. Absolutely, Paul. There are abuses in both on and off-trades, but setting up a false opposition between them just plays into the hands of the anti-drink lobby.

    You can't blame CAMRA for championing pubs, which after all are where real ale is sold, but there is a tendency to decry most (if not all) off-trade drinking as irresponsible, which is very wide of the mark and indeed somewhat offensive.

  3. I think you are right on this one and CAMRA must tread a very careful line here. (Not that I am a good champion of treading careful lines these days!)

    The difficulty of championing pubs could be overcome by clearly linking it to the drinking of real ale, which is, after all, what they are there for. Getting mired in home drinking issues when CAMRA are happy to take advert money for bottled take home beers makes it look a bit woolly. Our kind of home drinking is OK, but other people's aren't etc.

    There is indeed plenty of binge drinking in community locals and again given the government's ludicrously low "safe limits", CAMRA is in a cleft stick of supporting "irresponsible" drinking through what most (pub going) people would regard as a normal pub session.

    It all seems hopeless in a way. When you see a full pub it should be a cause for celebration, but we are now being conditioned to think it is actually full of binge drinkers.

    I used to be a bit sceptical about a war on drinking, but no longer. The evidence is all around us that there is one and it is not being won by drinkers.

  4. Very well said, Tandleman. I find that whenever CAMRA strays on to wider social issues it tends to shoot itself in the foot.

    Maybe it would be better just sticking to the last of championing real ale and good pubs and keeping schtumm on general issues of alcohol policy.

    Nobody expects the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to pronounce on such issues, do they?

  5. If the view taken is that the 2am fight by the cab rank is a result of pre loading on super market booze, and price controls are the answer, the danger is that when price controls are introduced and the 2am fights by the cab ranks continue, the price controls will find there way into the on trade. Conceding the argument on price, and ignoring cultural factors will see widespread price controls that affect every drinker.


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