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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
December 15, 2009



Britain goes off the booze, shock!

You may not know it from the headlines and an increasingly vociferous anti-alcohol lobby, but for a few years now, people here have been drinking less and less. Those whose agenda dictates that drink is dragging us into anarchy, that we live in a Binge Britain, that we have all fallen sick in an alcohol problem of epidemic proportions may have fudged around the figures, but the trend is unarguable.

Now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has produced a vaulable report which brings together the major pieces of research into UK alcohol consumption. Despite the authors' cautious conclusions there is remarkable agreement across the board. We are drinking less.

And that goes especially for young people, for whom the decline could almost be described as sharp. What's happening to our binge drinkers? It's almost worrying. Are they not feeling well?

The JRF has its roots in Christian temperance. Joseph Rowntree himself was one of the more moderate temperance campaigners of the the late 19th and early 20th centuries. No, prohibitionist he nevertheless favoured state control of the drink trade and had a vision for a less boozy kind of boozer.

So the report keeps trying to warn us that the research may not be all it appears. 'Adjusted' figures are introduced which attempt to take into account people drinking larger glasses of win these days, and stronger beers (despite the recent success of 4% ABV imported lagers taking sales away from the 5% stuff).

At a quick glance this makes it look like consumption has suddenly shot up. But it's the trend that counts.

Countervailing evidence is highlighted. Women's consumption is closing the gap on men's consumption. Northern Ireland is, mysteriously, bucking the trend.

This is interesting. Both these examples arguably reflect positive social developments. A growing equality for women. The Northern Ireland peace process.

Central Belfast, in particular, has become a great place to go out drinking. People are no longer confined to their own communities.

A rising alcohol consumption, you could say, reflects populations celebrating new freedoms. It doesn't mean there aren't problems associated with drink, where people are alienated and depressed. But for most people most of the time drinking is a happy kind of thing.

It's just a shame we have to keep pointing out something that's so obvious.

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