Don't lecture the drinkers, just make them responsible

Mark Littlewood writes for the Yorkshire Post

Alcohol consumption is now a major problem in British society. Drunken teenagers are running rampant in our town centres. Accident and emergency wards are chock-a-block with people who have fallen over, been in a car smash or engaged in a fight because there was too much drink in their blood.

The long term damage can be even worse – even if you aren’t turned into a violent maniac immediately, your heavy consumption of alcohol will mean that you’re going to suffer from cirrhosis of the liver before too long. Therefore, something must be done. And we have a plethora of bureaucrats and politicians employed at the taxpayer’s expense to work out what this thing is, and then to do it.

This – in essence – is the mainstream view of alcohol consumption in Britain in 2010. It is a disastrously misguided, wrong-headed and highly dangerous view. The problem in British society is not the consumption of alcohol; it is the loss of personal responsibility. If you choose to consume so much beer that you collapse on the pavement and crack your head open, you can be taken by ambulance to an NHS hospital and be patched up at my expense.

If you drink yourself slowly to death over several decades and need costly long-term health care, I will pick up the bill too. If you commit a violent crime because you’re drunk, you will be sent through the criminal justice system. In very extreme circumstances, you may even be sent to prison. In any event, the bill for your irresponsible activity is sent to me.

The bureaucrats, employed at huge expense in a number of quangos, have a solution to this. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the rationing agency in Britain’s socialised medical system. Professor Mike Kelly, its director, added to the debate recently with his proposals for tackling the
supposed drink epidemic. There should be a minimum price for alcohol, he argues. You shouldn’t be able to sell alcohol below the price of 50p per unit.

Supermarkets selling beer and wine cheaply are just contributing to the problem, according to NICE. And Professor Kelly is very concerned that alcohol has become 75 per cent more affordable over the past three decades. The implication is that it would be preferable if the poor couldn’t as easily afford a bottle of wine or a six-pack of Stella.

If Professor Kelly was just an eccentric civil servant whose misguided advice could be laughed at and disregarded, I might not object quite so strongly to paying his salary out of my own pay packet. But, tragically,
elected politicians seem determined to jump on this bandwagon too. Of course, it’s always in the interests of
politicians to exaggerate a problem and to then assert that they are the only people who can solve it. Even MPs who characterise themselves as “liberal” seem determined to regulate – or even legislate – to save us from our own consumption decisions.

But if you hear any lectures from politicians about the evils of alcohol over the coming days and weeks (and you will), make sure you ask them to put their own house in order first. If they are really concerned about alcohol consumption, isn’t it reasonable to ask them to set an example in Parliament and at party political
conferences?

For decades, MPs have drunk at bars subsidised by taxpayers. There is a wide range of perfectly adequate pubs and restaurants within a few minutes walk of the Palace of Westminster. The latter should become an alcohol free zone before its inhabitants have the audacity to dictate to me and my local grocer how much I
should be obliged to pay for a can of beer.

One thing we don’t need is some patronising campaign about alcohol awareness. There cannot be an adult in Britain who is not aware that excessive consumption of alcohol can be damaging – in both the short and long term. So, let’s simply make adults responsible for the decisions they make. If you need your stomach pumped because you drank 20 pints rather than two, then you should be footing the bill. If you can’t hold down a job because you’re permanently drunk or hungover, you need to live with the consequences.

We’d all be a lot healthier if Professor Kelly and the vast platoon of nannying politicians piped down and went off and did something much less intrusive. If Carlsberg made freedom and responsibility…it wouldn’t look
anything like this.

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