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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
January 4, 2010



Forces gather against the evils of drink

I spent part of the Christmas/New Year interregnum browsing the Winter issue of Alcohol Alert, magazine of the influential Institute of Alcohol Studies.

The IAS, if you didn’t already know it, is largely funded by a charity called the Alliance House Foundation which is the surviving remnant of the UK Alliance, the leading 19th century political temperance organisation. The AHF is dominated by the Independent Order of Good Templars, an international temperance network. Its primary aim is “to spread the principles of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks”.

Last time I pointed this out in print the IAS protested that it was not a temperance organisation, so I’ll leave you to make your own minds up.

I notice, by the way, that it has a new chief, Aneurin Owen, who has come from CAIS, the Welsh drug and alcohol agency. Owen is also a trustee of the Bible Society which, among other things, wants to “help politicians develop and sustain a biblical worldview in their work”.

Anyway, the most striking thing about the latest issue of Alcohol Alert is the impression it gives of the forces gathering against the evils of drink being essentially a round-up of the various reports, surveys and conferences from the (broadly) anti-alcohol camp over the past quarter. There is a lot. And in the first quarter of 2010 we can expect no let-up.

Ones to watch are the Parliamentary select health committee’s report, due any day now, and new National Health NICE guidelines, to be published in March. Most of the fuss is likely to be made around minimum pricing (on which question I remain resolutely ambivalent) but I’m more worried about the pressure that’s building for a review of the 2003 Licensing Act.

The NICE guidance will hit in the build-up to a general election in which alcohol policy is bound to pay a part. And, as Alcohol Alert excitedly reports, both major parties have already been making noises about a review of so-called 24-hour licensing.

Now, as the British Beer & Pub Association pointed out to me before Christmas, local authorities already possess the kind of powers to restrict licences that are being suggested.

This is no cause for complacency, though. I’ve just been reading about the difference between instrumental and symbolic legislation (chapter 8 here) and it seems to me that while a move on the 2003 Act may not have an instrumental effect, symbolically it could give councils encouragement to reinterpret their licensing role and crack down.

Doctors on the offensive

It says something about the anti-alcohol lobby that it managed to get a report out on New Year’s Day.

The NHS Confederation January Briefing, which actually seems to have come from the hawkish Royal College of Physicians, has already been robustly critiqued by a quick-off-the-mark Pete Brown. I’ve not got much to add except on one scare stat that has utterly infuriated me.

It is: “58 per cent of rapists drink alcohol prior to rape”. This is a bit like some research published in Sweden some years ago that found that most suicides had taken a drink beforehand. What else are you supposed to do if you’re going to top yourself?

But this rape thing is much worse and incredibly offensive. Are they suggesting that men are more likely to rape just because they’ve had a drink? And if not, why is that stat in there?

I’m a big supporter of the NHS and disappointed that they let this get through. Even if it was on New Year’s Day.

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