Binge-Drinking to Remain Affordable in EnglandBy Robert Mackey
Perhaps remembering what happened to Herbert Hoover when he supported efforts to keep people from drowning their sorrows during the Great Depression, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown rejected a new proposal on Monday by England’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to combat binge-drinking by introducing a minimum price for alcohol, which would have doubled the price of many beers and spirits.
Sir Liam laid out his argument for raising the price of alcohol in his annual report on the state of public health in England — the section on drinking is available as a .pdf file — as well as in a series of media appearances. Unfortunately for him, in an odd bit of political timing, Mr. Brown had already rejected his proposal by the time he went on the air for an interview with Channel 4 News in London.
As The Guardian reported on Monday, Mr. Brown said at a news conference:
We do not want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more or suffer as a result of the excesses of a small minority. And that’s the context in which we look at the problems that the chief medical officer has raised.
During his interview with Channel 4 News, which is embedded below, Sir Liam argued that Mr. Brown’s remarks did not mean that his proposal had no chance of being adopted in England, and stated flatly that “there’s no question about it, this country has a drink problem.”
Samira Ahmed of Channel 4 News also asked Sir Liam to respond to suggestions that he himself was partly responsible for the increase in binge drinking, on the theory that his advice that the government ban smoking in public places had led to “40 pubs closing every week,” and a corresponding increase in drinking in private houses, where binges might be more common.
In an odd twist of British ethno-nationalist politics, Mr. Brown, who governs England as Britain’s prime minister but who is himself Scottish, seems to have rejected throwing the weight of the British government behind a minimum price for alcohol just as the devolved local government in Scotland is in the process of going ahead with the same measure. The Guardian explains:
The Scottish government is planning to introduce minimum prices for alcohol, and these could come into force by the end of the year. It would make Scotland the first country in Europe to introduce minimum pricing, which would be accompanied by a ban on certain drinks promotions.
So if Mr. Brown’s government rejects the proposal for England, but Scotland moves ahead, it could soon be a lot cheaper for drinkers to do their binging in England than in Scotland. What this might mean for weekend traffic across the border can only be imagined.Meanwhile, on a Guardian blog, a Dutch psychologist named Anna van Wersch argues that “binge drinking can be a positive experience.” Ms. van Wersch has apparently carried out a (formal) study of binge-drinking in Britain and is concerned that the experience is so central to British culture that just removing it will create another problem: “From our research, the main question is, if we are going to abandon the binge drinking experience, what are we going to replace it with to guarantee that people can still relax and have fun with their friends?”