Editor-At-Large: Don't pour me another, send me home

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The Independent Online

In his first major speech on the subject, the PM asks the brewers and publicans of Britain to curb binge drinking by shunning ads which portray boozing as sexy and glamorous, cutting back on "happy hours" and cheap offers. Yes, it's the very same leader who is busy changing our licensing laws so that from July we can swig vats of the stuff all day, as local authorities will be allowed to extend licensing hours whenever they wish. Tony obviously got that idea after a long lunch on one of his Tuscan holidays, and apparently hopes that we will adopt a more Mediterranean approach in the future, drinking moderately, and with food, instead of gulping down gallons as closing time approaches.

In his first major speech on the subject, the PM asks the brewers and publicans of Britain to curb binge drinking by shunning ads which portray boozing as sexy and glamorous, cutting back on "happy hours" and cheap offers. Yes, it's the very same leader who is busy changing our licensing laws so that from July we can swig vats of the stuff all day, as local authorities will be allowed to extend licensing hours whenever they wish. Tony obviously got that idea after a long lunch on one of his Tuscan holidays, and apparently hopes that we will adopt a more Mediterranean approach in the future, drinking moderately, and with food, instead of gulping down gallons as closing time approaches.

Mr Blair's alcohol harm strategy, announced a couple of months ago, has the same lack of joined-up thinking we've already seen in his approach to obesity. When it comes to social policy this Government always stops short of taking the obvious, rational approach that is staring the voters of Britain in the face, and goes for some convoluted touchy-feely initiative that is doomed to failure. I'm only surprised that Georgie Best hasn't been appointed the new booze tsar. Alcohol abuse is serious, as is the violent crime which results. We cannot continue to allow our nurses and doctors to spend their time patching up people when a third of those entering casualty departments have injuries inflicted as a result of drinking. With alcohol killing thousands annually and costing the NHS a fortune, it's time to get tough.

The police have already said that they will not be able to deal with the violence and disorder that will result from longer drinking time. In Scotland, where the laws were last revised in 1976 to allow greater freedom to consume, 44 per cent of all homicides are now linked to booze, and half the men and a quarter of women questioned in a recent survey said they exceeded the health guidelines on drinking each week. Not exactly a great example of the Mediterranean model so favoured by our PM. The Government is two-faced when it comes to drink, cigarettes and food. They love the millions they get from taxing us on these things that are going to kill us if consumed to excess. They dish out honours to people in these industries and put them (Lord Sainsbury for example) in the highest positions in government. They talk about personal responsibility, and then relax the law so that local authorities can grant licensing applications for every surplus bank in our high street to reopen as a bar. Many village pubs may be dying on their feet, but every town in Britain is over-supplied with premises where you can get completely rat-arsed for under a tenner. The Government believes in the spirit of free competition, and up to now has treated alcohol as just another business. As a result, the drinks industry has maximised profits by targeting women, the young, and the pliable with impunity.

A landmark court ruling last week means that publicans who run tied premises can sell beer at prices which they, not the brewers, set. As a result beer prices are bound to fall even further. Self-regulation is an alien concept to an industry fighting for profit, not the personal health of its customers. If pubs and bars cared about our welfare they would have signs warning about the damage we're doing to our livers, they'd stop serving me after that second bottle of wine, they'd refuse to sell to anyone without an ID card, and they'd call licensed taxis to get women home safely.

Yates and J D Wetherspoon say that cheap prices don't produce bad behaviour, and that they are businesses first and foremost. The chief executive of Luminar, Britain's largest nightclub operator which has offers where you can drink all you like for £5, has said "you have to get the punters in".

What the Government should be doing, is charging people who enter casualty departments with alcohol-related injuries, just as they fine motorists for speeding and parking offences. They can order local authorities to restrict the number of licensed premises in any one area. The area of Clerkenwell where I live has wall-to-wall bars, with more opening every week. Boards offering cheap booze line every street. The alleyways are swilling with vomit and urine every night.

We elect politicians to take tough decisions for us - that gives us a terrific set of reasons to loathe them. Expecting brewers and bar owners to pay for extra policing to cope with rowdiness caused by drinking is futile. Expecting new laws which deal with anti-social behaviour to stop binge drinking is naive. Expecting us to stop lifting our glasses after 14 or 21 units a week has already been a flop. In short, Mr Blair, it's time you walked round my way at midnight on a Thursday or Friday, and tell me how things can get better when the boozing goes on all day and probably all night. Zero tolerance of alcohol abuse should mean higher prices, shorter hours and fewer bars. It won't make you a lot of friends, but it might start to address the problem.

A Major oversight

John Major emerges from retirement to pour scorn on the honours system, revealing how he loathed being nobbled by the great and the good in pursuit of a gong. Of course he dished out titles to his mate Lord Archer and his chum Maggie's husband Denis, but listening to his evidence to a Commons committee on the radio reminded me what an asset Mr Major could be to Mr Blair. He's witty, charming, affectionately regarded since the Currie "sex bomb" revelations and someone the Government could do with on their side. Having turned down a peerage, this thin-skinned and rather humble bloke should be given a decent job, serving the public again.

Does anyone fancy forming a co-operative with me to buy Britain's most beautiful house? Years ago I spent a wonderful weekend as a guest of Lord Hesketh at Easton Neston, the family home he is now putting up for sale alongwith an estate, cottages, stables and Towcester race course.Forget the timber prefabs and art deco villas you see on Grand Designs, I want to be ensconced at Easton Neston, with its perfect proportions and fabulous topiary. It's just the place for my old people's home of the future. When there's nothing on the telly, we can be wheeled over to the track to fritter our money away on the 3.30.

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