A METHODIST RESPONDS TO THE BREWERS' CULL
Well I’m back again after a much needed break. There are many matters which I hope to write about in the next few days but at the risk of inducing a great big yawn, I want to start by discussing our attitudes to alcohol. Now I know that this is often regarded as a Methodist obsession but in the past it has certainly not been my obsession.
During my little breather, I have been listening to the debate about 24 hour opening. For what it’s worth, I think it will result in a modest increase in alcohol consumption. The industry must expect this. After all, they are not so stupid as to increase their costs through longer opening if they don’t expect increased takings.
My concern goes deeper than the matter of a modest increase in consumption. My concern is that the message given by our Government is that alcohol is OK. You see, since coming to power, we have seen budget after budget clobber smokers whilst at the same time there has been amazing and dare I say it, uncharacteristic restraint by Gordon Brown when it comes to alcohol. Meanwhile tobacco has had advertising curbs and a timid effort to reduce its sale in pubs, timid if press reports are to be believed because John ‘Attack Dog’ Reid from the Department of Defence saw fit to intervene to ensure that England should have less restriction than his native Scotland. Such was a constitutional outrage about which I hope soon to post.
However, the contrasts in treatments of tobacco and alcohol, magnified by the opening hours changes, suggests that alcohol is OK. Well, my response is that alcohol is not Ok.
I offer just a few of the figures that shows it not to be Ok. Every year 22,000 people die prematurely from the effects of alcohol, 30,000 people are admitted to hospital as a result of alcoholism and 17 million working days are lost. Over a half of violent offences are believed by the Home Office to be drink related. In short, alcohol is having a destructive effect on our economy and on many lives. The tragedy of the early death of George Best is evidence of this.
Indeed so bad is the destructive effect of alcohol that I think Osama Bin Laden could be more effective in destroying the West by spending his reserves on buying a brewery than he ever could by the use of terror.
So what needs to be done? I think that our Government needs to take decisive measures against the cull of their customers by the breweries. It is surely time to tax alcohol until the very pips squeak. It is time to step firmly on advertising of alcohol. The contradiction of for example sportsmen running on to compete in athleticism whilst wearing shirts that advertise the very brewers who are responsible for the cull of drinkers, is reprehensible and needs to be stopped. And the legislation to allow 24 hour drinking should be repealed without delay. After all if ministers want a café culture, then we can drink tea or coffee.
I do not deny that I have on occasions enjoyed alcoholic drinks - sometimes too much! However, Britain is a country whose conduct denies any myth of pain free responsible drinking. And of foregoing my pleasures helps to create a more humane society without the needless cull, then so be it.
Throughout recent years we have heard about a war on drugs. The problem is that this only addresses banned drugs. Whilst brewery bosses feature in honours list, their product ‘though legal kills more than the illegal drugs trade. And we ignore it! It is time to wake up to the problems caused by alcohol. Indeed were we to take the legal route to confronting the menace as we do with illegal drugs, alcohol would surely be a Class A drug. That route will not work as the example of American prohibition makes clear. However, we can at least get out the message that alcohol is not OK. On the contrary it is an anti social curse.
Forgive me for a moment of fantasy but in my dreams I get a longing for some day in the future when Methodism’s equivalent of revolutionary guards storm the bars of Britain and pour the poison down the drain.
And finally a light note. There is a story of a travelling preacher who preached at a church whilst the local had someone lead the service. The sermon was a fiery denounciation of strong drink. The preachers last words were, ‘If I could I would take all the string drink and pour it into the river.’ To the congregations horror, the last hymn was then announced - ‘Shall we gather at the river.’