8. April 2011 09:29
As the Government’s Police and Social Responsibility Bill goes through its final stages in Parliament, it is now clear that despite some concessions this lamentable piece of Daily Mail appeasement will pass into law, largely intact. It will then be down to licensees up and down the country to fight this one in the trenches - at countless licensing hearings where the injustices of this piece of legislative prejudice will be played out.
I do however feel that this Bill represents the high-water mark for the medical temperance lobby, at least in terms of government legislation. Their tactics will now change. We saw recently that the BMA, Alcohol Concern and the Institute for Alcohol Studies, amongst others, withdrew their support for the Government’s Alcohol Responsibility Deal. It is clear that they felt particularly uncomfortable at the very idea that the drinks’ industry itself should have any role to play in formulating policy in this area.
Meanwhile in Scotland, Alcohol Focus (Scotland’s equivalent of Alcohol Concern), has now announced that it will no longer accept any financial support from the drinks’ industry. One of its biggest industry supporters has been Diageo, whose cash they apparently no longer want. Perhaps this explains why they refused an invitation to an alcohol conference to Diageo’s Mark Baird, whose excellent research has done so much to expose the dodgy statistics, and questionable mathematical models masquerading as research, upon which much of the medical temperance case rests. After all, why invite someone with solid facts that contradict your simple certainties?
So the scene is set for the next phase of the medical temperance campaign. Distancing themselves from the industry is necessary if they are to demonise it. This will take the form of further attempts to de-normalise alcohol use and to re-invigorate the campaign to persuade the public to see alcohol as they see tobacco. Expect an even greater emphasis on the need to protect young people from ‘exposure’ to alcohol.
There is a fundamental issue of liberty involved here. We all accept that alcohol has the potential to be abused, and that a licensing system should address that. But how far do we want government to go in regulating peoples’ life-style choices? When it comes down to it, the BMA and its allies do not trust the idea of personal freedom because too many people might make the ‘wrong choices’. So their concept of public health is that government should reach into the tap room and the living room and make those choices for us. 1940s paternalism is alive and well, but it now wears a white coat instead of a dog collar.
A long battle lies ahead.