pub on the Left. Part one: the burden of government
this month the people of Brighton & Hove, where I live, voted in a
Green Party minority council. We are already represented by the nation's
first Green MP, Caroline Lucas. This is, in most ways, a good thing. But
the Greens have funny ideas about licensing. They want a blanket closing
time of 11.30pm on pubs outside the city centre.
This might change. I have every hope that it will. The policy is based
on two massive misconceptions: that there is no nightlife in Brighton's
local neighbourhoods, and that - a common one this - people who use pubs
have different interests to people in general. Which is nonsense since
they are pretty much the same people.
It's perhaps not something you expect from a party to the left of Labour
(which isn't that difficult these days, but you know what I mean), and
it's another example of how difficult it is to read off attitudes to
drink from general political perspectives.
There have been moments in history when there was a clear divide. For
instance when the Tory House of Lords, then cosy with the brewing
industry, saved the pub trade from the Liberal government's 1908
Licensing Bill. The labour movement at the time was right behind the
temperance-inspired legislation. But jump forward a century and you find
the Labour Party introducing long-awaited licensing liberalisation and
adopting a progressive harm reduction approach to alcohol problems - at
least in the title of of the
Today the Tories are threatening to roll
back these gains, have increased VAT and continue to ride Labour's
escalator. At the same time they have riled medical temperance by
announcing a responsibility
deal with the drinks industry, and make warm syrupy noises about our
wonderful pubs while doing nothing to save them.
None of this is new. Whatever the colour of the government it is stuck
with running a state that has to negotiate a path between sustaining a
healthy drinks industry, and the revenue it brings, and protecting the
economy as a whole from the perceived threat of drunkenness, disorder
and dissolution – while jinking this way and that according to
political expediency and the obsessions of the Daily Mail.
But what about those too far to the political left to have to carry the
burden of running a state? What do they have to say about drink? Find
out in the next installment. (A two-parter! How thrilling!)
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