Saturday, 4 January 2014

A wail of intolerance

The Daily Mail* is often derided for its liking for hysterical scare stories about the dangers of alcohol (although these are occasionally leavened with pieces about the health benefits of the odd glass of red wine). However, it has exceeded even its own standards with this article.

It purports to be a review of a book entitled Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston. Now, the author admits to being a former alcoholic, so that doesn’t augur well. But the reviewer – Roger Lewis – falls into the same category, and ends up regurgitating pretty much every anti-drink cliché ever invented.

For a start, we are told that “drink is 44 per cent more affordable in real terms than it was in 1980”, which is basically completely untrue unless you use a perverse interpretation of statistics that isn’t applied in any other sphere.

He then goes on to say:

I also concur with her that ‘alcohol is where tobacco was 40 years ago’ and that when at last we fully accept the links between booze and breast, oesophageal and colorectal cancers, we can start applying to the drinks industry the lessons learned on tobacco control, concerning price, advertising and access.
Smoking-ban supporting beer lovers, have you read that?

Even worse, he then bizarrely quotes himself to say:

In the long run, it will be to everyone’s benefit if Prohibition comes back - says Roger Lewis, now teetotal but hitherto a proud drinker in the W. C. Fields class.
His blanket statement that “It is particularly abhorrent that women are encouraged to drink” demonstrates a remarkably sexist and patronising attitude. And there is a general implication that we are seeing an out-of-control tide of alcohol consumption, whereas in reality it has been consistently falling for the past decade. A worse piece of journalism is hard to imagine.

* People are always eager to demonise the Daily Mail, but it’s by no means unique in its negative attitude to alcohol. Over the years, I’ve linked to several nasty, dishonest articles in the Independent and the Guardian, and only recently the Times had a particularly intolerant piece from Alice Thomson praising lifestyle fascism, fortunately hidden behind the Murdoch paywall. As far as I can see, the only newspapers that seem willing to regularly publish pieces taking a positive attitude to alcohol and pubs are the Daily Telegraph and the Sun. Draw from that whatever conclusion you wish.


  1. How can anyone believe that the return of prohibition would be to the benefit of anyone except the criminals who would produce and sell bootleg booze?

    Comparing alcohol with tobacco is, for too many reasons to list here, very facile .

  2. As far as the cost of alcohol is concerned, when I started drinking in pubs around about 1978, a pint of bitter cost 35p. According to this should now be £1.70, adjusted for the rate of inflation. I wish I could get a pint for £1.70.
    Also in the same edition of the DM there was a report about the horrendous alcohol-fuelled trouble in London on New Year's Eve. Seemingly, there were 100 arrests, 80 of which were alcohol related. However the same piece went on to say that there were 250.000 people present. So 0.00032% of these people were arrested (presumably) for drunk and disorderly. Not too bad you might think.
    Furthermore, the same DM runs a weekly piece called the Knackered Mothers' Wine Club which advises on the best wine bargains to be had on the high street or online. Encouraging women to drink? Shurely shome mishtake?
    Alistair Campbell was on the Danny Baker Show on Five Live this morning plugging his new anti-booze book. He said the UK had an alcohol crisis. (No, he had an alcohol crisis) Danny very elegantly agreed to disagree. However, I'm not sure that such elegance is going to be enough.

  3. Trying to think of a sensible comment here, but all I can really do is laugh like the Joker.

    I'm already out of the tax loop for tobacco and have begun leaving the tax loop for booze. Okay, unfair-advantage here as a microbiologist specialising in fermentation but even so, it's not all that hard. I could teach anyone, even a dole monkey, to 'train'a yeast strain into evil levels of alcohol tolerance, even starting from a bread yeast. Antismoking Puritans, fear not, I'm not going to do that. I'm a smoker. The drones don't want to hear whatI say. I'm subhuman and cannot be intelligent because I like a smoke, so carry on believing what you want to believe.

    Being a smoker has turned out great. We saw the rest of it coming and are now well ahead of the game.

    We tried to tell everyone. Nobody listened. They still don't think it will apply to them. Hoo - ha ha ha. Stay in denial, it'll be fun to weatch.

    Now? Now the smokers aren't listening. We have our own 'pubs' and our own way of life, utterly despised by all those we no longer care about - including Big Tobacco and Big Booze. Yes, they hate us too since we give them no money any more. Did you know tobacco grows outdoors in Scotland? I didn't believe it, but it does.

    I say, let it all happen. Let it continue until all those who think 'the tobacco-hate will never blow back at me' have, every one, experienced the blowback of the hate they supported. Let them feel as the smokers feel. Let them experience the hate they have hammered into other people. Maybe then they will see what they have done, or maybe-probably-not.

    Doesn't matter to me. I am old enough now that it is unlikely I will see a return to real sense in my lifetime. All I will do is sit back and enjoy the show.

    Maybe provoke it, once in a while, when it looks like getting dull.

    With a homemade smoke in one hand and a homemade beer in the other.

    The 'Neimoller' thing is of no interest to me. I was in the first wave and nobody spoke up for me. So the rest of it is for other people to worry about.

  4. But, Bill, if you compare the price of beer with average incomes then your 35p becomes £2.62 and there is plenty of beer available at that price.

    And if you take the starting year of 1964 when I bought my first pint for 1s 10d you get £3.19.

    And spirits and particularly wine have risen by much less so my conclusion is that alcohol is no less affordable than it was fifty years ago.

  5. @David C Brown; fair point well made. Just goes to show what you can do with stats. What it doesn't show is that drink is massively more affordable now, as claimed by the prohibitionistas.

  6. “People are always eager to demonise the Daily Mail”, and for good reasons! It really is the most god-awful, scare-mongering, excuse for a newspaper imaginable. If it’s not harping on about the apocalyptic effects of “24 hour drinking” (a totally fictitious phrase if ever there was one, as nowhere in the UK, apart from perhaps airside at airports, is it possible to drink right round the clock!), the equally apocalyptic, end-of-the-world weather we’ve been experiencing of late, then it’s banging the drum about how the country is in imminent danger of being swamped by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Bulgarian and Rumanian immigrants!

    I really wouldn’t give credence to anything written within its pages, and the same goes for most other newspapers. After all, papers only exist to make money for their proprietors, and who is to say anyway what constitutes “news” and what doesn’t?

    I see one of your other correspondents’ mentioned the obnoxious Alistair Campbell; well there’s someone else who’s every other word is complete b*ll*cks. What’s even worse is the amount of air time this political fantasist is given. Oh sorry, I’m forgetting he’s a man who still has plenty of friends (cronies), within the worlds of journalism and broadcasting. He’s also a recovering alcoholic, with a book to sell on the subject. Funny that?

  7. There seems to be a fad at the moment for articles written by reformed alcoholics advising people on how to manage their drink. Of all the people who should be giving advice, I imagine an ex-alcoholic would be about bottom of the list, its like Fred Goodwin writing an article about responsible financial management.

  8. As living standards have risen over the years, pretty much everything has become more "affordable", and many things - particularly durable goods - have increased in affordability a lot more than alcohol.

    We don't measure the relative price of anything else in comparison to wages, so why do it with alcohol? While not untrue as such, it's a highly misleading use of statistics.

    Also, it's easy today to have a twenty-year drinking career as a pensioner, during which time your income will only increase in line with inflation, if that. If the price of alcohol was manipulated to keep it in line with average wages, it would become steadily LESS affordable for pensioners.

  9. Interesting article about the Daily Mail here.


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