Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bank on the booze

The very British parallel between City banks and alcohol corporations.

Sue Carroll in today's Mirror is quite right in drawing a parallel between the favourable treatment enjoyed by the banks and that of the alcohol corporations in Britain (read her article "Who's sorry now over 24 hour licence to get legless?" here). The last few years saw them both make obscene amounts of money as they both had New Labour wrapped around their little finger. They both damaged the country and in both cases it's now society that has to foot the bill and pick up the pieces.

For years we've been told that the market is second to none in the way it regulates itself. Totally in line with the previous Tory governments, Labour applied the dogma religiously. From the day it took office in 1997, extreme deregulation of the financial markets was implemented, accompanied by a ridiculously supine rhetoric. And, unless you've lived as a hermit for the past few weeks, you know how it ended and how costly (literally) that game is beginning to be for all of us.

"What's it got to do with the booze", you're probably asking. Well, likewise, Tony Blair was of the firm opinion that the best way to sort out Britain's status as the alky of Europe was to let the free-market handle it. That meant, in the face of extensive popular criticism, total de-regulation i.e. 24 hour licensing laws. But as the country's livers grow in size, booze-related violence is increasingly replacing Queen Elizabeth as the international face of Britain, and A&E departments get clogged up at night with pissheads, the Government decided that enough is enough. Hence the extreme measure of banning free-wine promotions in pubs. Wow.
That is the equivalent of trying to stop a hurricane with an umbrella.

When I had a conversation with Francis Gilbert, author of Yob Nation, an extensive research into Britain's ills (which includes the country's endemic use of alcohol), he directed me towards a factor that up to then I had only marginally considered: big business and profit-making. "We've always had a culture of binge drinking", he told me, "something which City banks exploited when they took over the breweries in the early-1990s: they saw a chance for a massive expansion of the industry - it's been expanding by 10% each year ever since, and amounted to 3% of our GDP. The government also felt that it could regenerate our cities and towns by encouraging bars and clubs to open in their centres. This has led to a big upsurge in drinking amongst all ages and classes and to a big increase in alcohol-related violence".

Needless to say, the 24-hour licensing law fits the pattern perfectly. Until that changes, any effort nominally taken by the Government to tackle binge-drinking will simply look ridiculous.

No comments: