Home   Contact Phil   

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
May 28, 2010



The Ragged Trousered Piss-Artists?

You could see it coming, of course. Earlier this week the New York Times columnist Nichloas D Kristof wrote from Africa: “if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed”.

He was swiftly put down, for instance by the website Aidwatch:  “Is it really such a big surprise that the poor also want recreation? That the poor have a life? Including some of the same vices that the rich have?” asked William Easterly and Laura Freschi.

Yet Kristof’s obnoxious attitude is one with a long history and, in subtler forms, underlies much of the anti-drink rhetoric in the developed as well as the developing world.

Nineteenth century temperance also tended to blame poverty on alcohol, and even the early labour movement (though not its Marxist wing) thought that working people spent too much time drinking in the pub when they could be improving themselves.

Robert Tressell’s chapters on the Cricketers Arms – licensee: A Harpy - in the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists are a good example.

These days the temperance position is argued in the language of health and policing. When someone takes a drink over the recommended limit, when the young hit the streets on a Saturday night, as the young have always done, they’re behaving irrationally – not exercising the right to enjoy themselves.

Meanwhile, the latest stats show that alcohol consumption in England is down, but that alcohol-related disease and death is up, which much play being made of the increased amount of drugs prescribed to treat alcohol dependency.

Rising unemployment and the cuts planned by the new government will mean this trend of falling consumption and rising problems will continue.

On the positive side, we are beginning to better understand how we can help the minority of people who are being damaged by drink. Also this week Drug & Alcohol Findings released a report that shows how effective brief alcohol interventions can be in helping problem drinkers cut back.

A brief alcohol intervention is, for instance, when your doctor tells you to cut down a little. People tend to follow that advice.

So the evidence is mounting for alcohol policy to be targeted at the level of individual rather than strategies that try to reduce total consumption. At the moment, though, we’re heading in exactly the opposite direction.

Back to diary archive



Writing... Journalism... Research... Awards Judging... Pub Business Advice... Pub Crawls
Contact Phil