The day has come and gone. We’re still waiting for the much heralded end of civilisation as we know it. Twenty-four hour licensing has been with us for nearly three months along with all that festive spirit in the middle. But as far as I can see – and my town does its fair share in keeping the pub theme parks afloat – there is no taking to the barricades, no rioting in the streets, no breakdown of civil order, at least no more than before 24 November.
Lest we forget, curbs to the nation’s drinking hours only occurred at the beginning of the Great War when Lloyd George felt that the demon drink was a greater threat to us than the Germans or Austrians. Female munition workers could not expect to keep those shells coming if they’d been out on the razzle all night. The Defence of the Realm Act was designed to control civilian behaviour in a time of national crisis – but somehow this was all forgotten for the next 100 years and licensing hours restrictions, the relaxation of afternoon hours apart, continued until last year.
Nobody who works in the health or social care sector – or the Liberal Democrats for that matter – needs to be lectured on the perils of excessive drinking. It’s a problem many of us encounter each day – not to mention many of our service users. A recent report showed the UK as having one of the highest numbers of drink-related illnesses. Yet it’s a socio-cultural problem, not one that can be countered through legislation.
There is no evidence to suppose that with the relaxing of the 11pm rule people are necessarily drinking more. Yet before the new legislation we were only too aware of the problems on our streets caused by gulping down unfeasibly large quantities of alco-pops in an unseemly haste to beat the clock. And then disgorging vast armies of revellers from all the pubs at the same time…
Well, it was hardly a sober mandate for public order, was it?
In our supposedly liberal society this legislative change should be welcomed – even if the slandered munition workers haven’t lived to see it. OK, it’s early days yet, I know, but the prophets of doom, who would have had us believe we are a nation of biologically determined binge drinkers, have gone remarkably quiet since November. And long may it continue. Now that I’ll drink to.
Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service