Tony Blair thought he could bring the Parisien ‘café culture’ to the UK by letting pubs have 24 hour licences. He thought letting pubs open longer would make people drink slower, stagger kicking-out times and reduce the number of pissheads dispersed onto the streets at the same time. But our city centres still look the last days of Rome around midnight. TV shows like Soho Blues still have plenty of material to embarrass the nation’s drinkers as they fight, vomit and vandalise the night away.
 
Giving people more freedom about where and when they drink hasn’t reduced the number of ‘problem drinkers’ in Britain. It hasn’t even worked for drinkers, since a lot of them (Booze-filled Substance hacks included) still complain about not being able to find a pub open much after midnight, especially on weeknights. 
 
Enter a Conservative government that believes more in discipline than personal freedom. We’ve had the carrot, now we should brace ourselves for the stick. 
 
A minimum price for a unit of alcohol is on its way, meaning an end to the £2 two-litre supermarket bottle of lighter fluid cider. David Cameron wants to bring ‘drunk tanks’—only familiar to most Brits from the first lines of Fairytale of New York, where Shane MacGowan finds himself in one—into our city centres. Boris Johnson wants to bring another American policy for penalising boozers (dangerous ones at least) to London: electronic tags for repeat drink-related offenders that monitor the perpetrator’s alcohol intake every 30 hours. If he has found to have had as much as a thimbleful of White Strike or whatever repeat drink-related offenders get their kicks from, he will be hauled before a magistrate.

These have about as much chance as reducing alcohol intake as Tony Blair’s head-up-arse idea that letting binge-drinkers get hammered for longer will actually reduce the amount of binging. Here’s why: 
 
Creating a minimum price for alcohol may never get off the ground because it contravenes EU competition laws. Even if it does, the minimum price being mooted in Scotland, about 45p a unit, will make as much difference as taking a piss in the Atlantic affects water purity. It will only limit the pint of a price of Stella (3 units) to £1.35. So a can of Stella, which is less than a pint, can still be sold for about a quid. Pubs already charge way more than 45p a unit, so they won’t be affected. Even if the minimum price was increased to £1 or even £1.50 a unit, the Whitehall goons who formulate policy have forgotten that the people who drink discount cans of lager aren’t doing it because they prefer Carlsberg to Dubonnet. They do it, mostly, because it’s the most economical way of getting slaughtered. Just as prohibition in America didn’t stop people from drinking—they went to Speak Easy clubs and drunk moonshine—neither will increasing the price. Counterfeit, black-market alcohol is becoming more readily available because, in the current economic cesspit, people are already figuring out they can’t afford to spend what’s being charged for a bottle of vodka. So they will get it from the black market or make their own moonshine, which is a lot stronger and more deadly. 
 
It’s strange, but predictable, that The Sun newspaper is a cheerleader for drunk tanks. Now, we know the people at The Sun aren’t idiots; they know exactly what their function is, and they do it remarkably well. Articles like this one, Drunk-Tank-plan-for-sozzled-yobs, brand a large percentage of The Sun’s readership ‘Sozzled Yobs’. It sounds counter-intuitive. But Murdoch’s organ has alw been operating a more subtle and devious editorial line than many of its critics realise. By placing itself as the voice of the people, The Sun is the organ most capable of spouting government propaganda, since its readers think they are getting the views of the man on the street, not the views of their masters in power. It’s a very difficult thing, to convince turkeys to vote for Christmas, the working class to vote Tory, and football hooligans to support drunk tanks, but that’s what the Sun does, and boy are they smooth operators. 
 
Of course, not all of the Sun’s readership are yobs, sozzled or otherwise, but you can bet a fair percentage of them are. The reason they continue to buy a paper that sticks two fingers up to them every morning is because you can bet they don’t think of themselves as louts or yobs or benefits scroungers. It’s always the other guy, until, that is, the door of the drunk tank is slammed and the realisation hits home that those headlines were talking about me and I’m one of them. 
 
The drunk tank is a short term solution. While it may stop a yob in his tracks on the one night he gets caught urinating in a pint glass and throwing it at people outside Wetherspoons at throwing-out time, there will be more nights where he doesn’t get caught, because with all the cuts to everything, the police simply can’t afford to up their presence in city centres above current levels, which, if you have ever walked down Broad Street in Birmingham on a Saturday night, are already at Battle-of-the-Somme levels. We already have hundreds of police in the drinking districts of city centres to prevent arseholes from beating each other to death when they are supposed to be having fun. They make hundreds, if not thousands of drink-related arrests every weekend, and will continue to do so. Having a ‘tank’ to put them in isn’t going to make much difference. It’s a PR stunt by a government trying to do something ‘positive’ and proactive, by introducing a ‘service’ rather than cutting it.

As for the electronic tags, which would make Politics-Of-The-Body philosophers like Michel Foucault turn in their graves: they will most likely be as effective as electronic tags, curfews, ASBOs and the like are at tackling anti-social behaviour and gang culture. i.e. not at all. At a risk of sounding too sneering, liberal-media-elistist, the calibre of individual who repeatedly commits drink-related offences is probably too stupid/addicted/socially deprived to amend their behaviour after like the tenth time of being arrested for punching people outside Wetherspoons whom he suspects to be homosexual just because if he knows that if he has another pint of Stella he will be in court on Monday. 
 
The really stupid/addicted ones will carry on drinking and end up in jail, perhaps not for the first time, where they will be lumped together with similarly poor and desperate souls keen to hook them on harder drugs or lure them into a life of habitual crime. The smarter ones, if you can call them smarter, will go straight to the harder drugs. 
 
Besides the practical flaws of these schemes, it is obviously, sickeningly wrong for the Bullingdon Club to be telling the plebs that they have to put a lid on their drinking. We’ve all heard the stories of David Cameron and Boris Johnson getting lashed on champagne and trashing restaurants while they were Oxford. Of course, when an Old Etonian goes on a champagne-fuelled rampage it’s ‘youthful exuberance’ to blame (and be forgiven). But when a chav has too many pints of premium lager, it’s criminal. 
 
The bottom line, though, is that with a double dip recession in the post, our one saving grace is the ability to drink ourselves into oblivion. 

Lewis G Parker

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