Oldham and alcohol – cutting through the spin

August 11, 2009 at 22:00 (Uncategorized) (, , , )

After watching extracts of BBC1’s Panaroma yesterday you would be forgiven for thinking that this great country of ours was either taking yet another fateful step up Adolf Hitler’s arsehole or alternatively descending into the donkey humping, vomit spewing, virgin sacrificing armpit of Satan himself.

We have a choice ladies and gentlemen, its either dictatorship or chaos.

The catalyst for this hand wringing, in case you’ve missed it, is Oldham county council’s decision to introduce a series of strong arm measures aimed at cutting an alleged 200% rise in violence along an admittedly ghastly part of the city centre, York street. And it is at this very early descriptive stage that we encounter the first backwash of spin from the council’s very good press department.

Looking at the aches of coverage, including reports in two national newspapers, Das Mail and the Fossilgraph, as well as half an hour on the nation’s lead TV channel,  you would think the council was undertaking the drinking regulation equivalent of putting a monkey on Mars.  I expected all kinds of shit from the hype –  compulsory tags in drinker’s guts that cause their knob to drop off when they hit ten units, gigantic robotised pigs machine gunning any bastard who drops a packet of peanuts and who knows, maybe those crazy boffins have even  invented a juke box without any fucking Elton John on it.

But no, what they’ve actually done is introduced a queue. A big queue.  The council has decreed that bars wanting to undertake two for one offers have to make people line up in an orderly fashion in between knuckle headed clones of the Mitchell brothers. These bastards are programmed to stop any queue drinking, pushing in, giggling, farting or anything else that might be misconstrued as having fun. You will only be allowed to buy two drinks and if you don’t give the correct change you’ll have your balls plugged into the mains.

Alright, I made the last bit up, but you catch the right wing drift.

This plan, soaked to the gusset in spin, provoked two kinds of reaction in direct response to those two opposing worlds I painted in my first paragraph. Those who like staying in, unless they are marching into Poland, loved it – pointing out that our nation is going to hell in a beer barrel, so what we do indeed need is some good old British queuing – and actually, while we are it, how about some fucking national service as well? On the other side we have the members of our community who regard the murder laws as a gross infringement on personal freedom – they spent the day running around, hands in the air, screaming that if we let this go we might as well hand over our genitals to the state in a handbasket.

All very dramatic, but me, I was left numb by the whole thing. Why? Because really this is dribble of a measure that not only represents no threat to our drinking way of life, but also wont move Oldham one inch in the direction of solving its problems.

For all the spin and gumpf, it is a fact that the scale of this proposal is tiny. It will only effect one central area in Oldham and covers only a small part of the drinking culture – special offers. It wont impact on shots, cheaper lagers (yes, £2.50-£3 is cheap) or the phalanx of other beverages that keep the tartlets wobbling on their high heels.

Moreover, as a a strategy for cutting booze it is woefully full of holes. Has it not entered anyone’s mind that what will happen is that those wanting to drink their eyeballs out will simply stock up on special brew and super glue from Costcutters before hitting the same tacky piss holes as they did before? Or perhaps collect their giro and head to a local pub just outside the catchment area to stock up on shots or suck up the happy hours there?

The basic point is this – if people want to drink on the cheap they always will do. Even introducing minimum pricing – the supposed silver bullet for binge drinking – wont have an impact because the sort of price rises that would be incurred are laughable. 75p a unit? £3 for a pint of lager? Anyone want to tell the authorities that most people have being paying this since the last Pope popped his clogs?

Ultimately what Oldham council have done is take the very easy option of a high profile PR stunt without addressing the real nub of the issue – why is it that some of its residents want to get this drunk in the first place? Because drink may make you turn into a dick, lose your wallet or walk into a bush, but it does not change a placid normal person into a nutter. It may make you more prone to arguments, sloppiness or stupidity, but those who drink to the point where they feel need to start glassing people have fundamental issues in the first place that booze is not going to make much worse.

And this is the real test for the Oldham scheme. Will it drive crime down in that area or will it push it elsewhere, to other pubs and into the home? I suspect it will be the latter because ultimately making someone line up for booze or asking them to pay an extra 50p is not going to rid a city which is on the poverty line, racked with housing problems and has been successfully buggered by governments of every political shade for the best part of three decades.

Yeah, I’ve gone political, and Ive gone lefty. But even those who think hippes should be roasted over a flaming fire and that the poor should be launched out of the nearest cannon can surely agree that the fucking problem isnt happy hours and the answer isnt a long queue.

So maybe Oldham’s council should stop chaperoning camera crews round its streets and start sorting the real issues that is causing its problems. Or is it just easier to set up a cheap PR stunt?


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