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Sunday, 30 December 2012

I wish they'd put a sock in it

One of our local free sheets has given up nearly half a page to the "Dry January" campaign that other bloggers, such as Curmudgeon, have already talked about; the campaign aims to nag people to give up drink for a month. The newspaper stated that "A number of members of the public and organisations [in Sefton] have already come forward to take part in the Alcohol Concern campaign, which aims to give participants time to think about their own drinking."

Well, firstly, can the paper tell us how many members of the public in Sefton have "come forward"? They can cite just one. The organisations are all the usual suspects, plus a couple who probably felt it would reflect badly upon them if they didn't take part, which might explain why the Health and Safety Executive signed up. Their own website states: "HSE's job is to protect people against risks to health or safety arising out of work activities", which is quite clearly a separate brief altogether.

A local chemist, which I won't name, has leapt upon the bandwagon by signing up all its staff to take part. It has been rewarded by a good plug in the paper and a photograph of the shop featuring all the staff, all very valuable free publicity, I'm sure. 

As for the ostensible reason for the campaign, that of making us think about our own drinking: this sounds rather patronising to me, that we all have to put ourselves on the naughty step to make us think about our misdeeds. Most drinkers are not problem drinkers, which even the anti-alcohol campaigners have accepted, so why are they trying to impose guilt trips upon them? I believe there is a combination of motives:
  • There are those who truly believe the propaganda and see it as their mission to spread the message; for instance, medical experts or social workers who see the damage that unsafe drinking can do, and extrapolate from what they see to the population at large. Such people can be quite persuasive, even when their sweeping assumptions go beyond their areas of expertise.
  • There are the puritans and morality merchants who see pubs as (to use old-fashioned terminology) dens of iniquity that they'd never set foot in and, although they deny it, they'd prefer to see drink restricted almost to the point of prohibition.
  • There are the law and order people who believe that city and town centres are like Sodom and Gomorrah at weekends, their view no doubt fuelled by live action police programmes, which of course show the worst, not the norm. A trouble-free Saturday night in a town centre won't make good TV.
  • There are the emergency services who'd, perhaps understandably, prefer a quieter life on the streets, but that doesn't mean any remedies they suggest are automatically correct.
Are all these good enough reasons to try to make ordinary people feel that drinking is some kind of aberrant activity? Furthermore, are these tactics likely to work? The answer to both is no. It is wrong to provoke guilt about an activity when you know that most people don't have a problem with it. This approach won't work because the main effect will be to drive drinking out of sight, something which is well on the way to happening with increased home drinking, shown by rising supermarket sales, and reduced pub going, demonstrated by pub closures. Pub closures aren't an economic form of evolution, with the weakest driven to the wall; rather they are a result of what Curmudgeon refers to as deliberate denormalisation of alcohol.

Obviously some pubs do become uneconomic, but the acceleration of closures since the duty escalator was introduced is not coincidental. The campaigners are out to achieve results, and, with government funding behind them (Alcohol Concern is almost entirely funded by us taxpayers, and more insultingly, by us beer duty payers), they have no shortage of our resources to pursue their objectives.

If you want to give up alcohol for January for your own reasons, go ahead, but don't take much notice of these silly, gimmicky campaigns that to me reek of desperation. In the meantime, just remember that pubs are open throughout January.

Cheers!

5 comments:

  1. What really gets my goat is the rash of adverts for online gaming organisations on ITV-"Claim your free £50 stake..." Just imagine the outcry if the guvnor of the Bull and Bladder offered a free gallon of ale to new (young) customers.

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  2. And if you worked for that chemist, and resisted the moral pressure to take part, might you worry that in future you might be ever so slightly victimised? Surely, so long as it doesn't impinge on work, what you do in your own time is your own business.

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  3. The herd instinct I'm afraid, Curmudgeon. People being almost shamed into taking part, moral blackmail not to let your colleagues down - that sort of thing. Morally repugnant so far as I'm concerned.

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  4. Quite right. One of the things that Britain gets spectacularly wrong about its approach to alcohol is the failure to make a distinction between moderate and excessive drinking. As you are made to feel guilty for drinking at all, this vital distinction is lost. In the rest of Europe where moderate drinking is fully integrated into society, the distinction exists.

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