Leading article: We need a cultural shift to change the way we drink

Share
Related Topics

The Government's review of the 2003 Licensing Act, which liberalised our archaic drinking laws, is admirably straightforward in its conclusions. It finds that, since the law came into effect in November 2005, alcohol consumption has declined and crime has fallen overall. The review does report a spike in disorder between the hours of 3am and 6am, but the predictions from the Act's opponents – that the levels of alcohol-fuelled crime would shoot through the roof – have been exposed as hysterical scaremongering. In any case, most pubs and bars opted to keep their opening hours exactly as they were before the legislation was introduced. The idea of "24-hour drinking" has proved to be a myth in the vast majority of areas.

One might have expected such findings to have been greeted with a sigh of relief. The apparent displacement of violence until later in the night should not, of course, be ignored. But it is worth remembering that police initially supported staggered closing times on the grounds that it would relieve the burden on them at 11pm, when, under the old regime, drinkers were disgorged en masse on to the streets. This is exactly what appears to have happened.

Yet critics of the Act are not giving up. They argue that, since the Act has failed to curb the national binge-drinking habit, it should be scrapped. The logic here is elusive. Though the evidence of the past three years suggests there is no correlation between opening times and binge-drinking rates, still the cry goes out for a return to the old licensing regime. It seems that the Act's critics cherish their opposition to this piece of legislation above their respect for the facts.

But it is crucial to think about this issue with a clear head. No one would deny that Britain has a serious binge-drinking problem. Anyone who visits a town centre on a Friday or Saturday night can see that too many of us cannot handle alcohol sensibly. It is also quite true that alcohol is a major factor behind many assaults and violent crimes. While the hysteria of the right-wing press is counter-productive, a shrug of the shoulders and a reference to Britain's historic bibulousness is not an acceptable response either.

The main problem with alcohol is not its availability but public attitudes towards the amounts that need to be consumed. And the violence associated with alcohol is less a problem with drinking in pubs and clubs, than its increasing consumption on the streets. With this in mind, the Government's new proposals are broadly sensible. Ministers are promising to clamp down on landlords who breach licensing laws and off-licences caught selling alcohol to under-18s.

In other words, ministers are pledging to enforce the present laws. No one should have any objection to that. It is also reasonable for the Government to look into the way some establishments encourage irresponsible drinking through "happy hour" promotions and various other multi-buy offers.

But it would be misleading for ministers to argue that anything other than education is likely to prove a long-term solution to our dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. We require a shift in cultural attitudes to binge-drinking on a scale of that which saw public attitudes towards drink-driving turned on their head in the space of a decade.

Measures to restrict access to alcohol can do only so much. As the continental experience shows, what matters is not the availability of drink, but the desire to consume it in moderation. If the opponents of the liberalisation Act could be persuaded to divert some of their energy into solving that underlying problem, we as a nation might finally begin to sober up.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Secondary teachers needed for supply roles in Sudbury

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Head of Technology

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Technology needed for a Outsta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits