Underage drinkers in Liberal England

Jonathan Calder reports that Tim Martin, the successful Wetherspoons entrepreneur has been talking about the crackdown on underage drinking.

As Jonathan quotes,

Martin said that the crackdown on underage drinking had in many ways proved counterproductive. Earlier generations of teenagers had learned about alcohol through drinking beer in pubs from the age of about 16. Though their presence there was technically illegal, no one worried about it too much as long as they behaved themselves.

Previous generations, including mine, learned to drink beer in pubs under the watchful eyes of other generations of drinkers. We did it before we were technically old enough, but certainly after we looked old enough.  The restraint was built in, because if we pushed it too far, and drank too much, we would call too much attention to ourselves and lose the privilege of being allowed to drink.

An argument can be made for allowing teenagers a little under 18 to do their drinking in pubs.  Firstly it takes them away from street corners and neighbourhood parks where they disturb communities.

Secondly it brings them into a more formal culture of drinking where there is some oversight from the more responsible.  In a park or on a street corner there is no-one to tell you when you’ve had enough.  You’re more likely to be drinking cheap spirits than beer, and the physical damage you can do to yourself is considerable, in relatively little time.  In a pub, there are restraints, both the informal watchful eyes of more responsible drinkers, and also the formal constraints on bar staff who are not supposed to serve intoxicated patrons.  And both the choice of drink, and how much you consume, are reigned in by cost considerations.

Unfortunately where this breaks down is another trend in licensed premises that I think has happened in the relatively few years since I have been drinking, and that’s the rise in the monoculture.

It’s all very well to see pubs in the nostalgic glow of the village pub where wildly different people come together of an afternoon for a slow, comfortable pint around the fire, with the dog sleeping on the hearthrug and the barman polishing pint mugs on his apron.  I suspect that much of the drinking both I and Jonathan Calder do is in pubs that fit this sort of description.

However your average yoof is more likely to be drawn to a huge pub warehouse affair with loud music and far too many patrons making too much noise. Conversation is impossible, and the bar staff have no hope of carrying out their responsibility of not serving intoxicated patrons or keeping a vague mental list of what people have had already.  There is no oversight from older generations to keep behaviour in check because older generations feel excluded by the noise and music.  Drinks promotions bring the costs of spirits in line with the costs of beer, and any advantage there may have been in drinking in licensed premises is eroded.

The licensing laws are a blunt instrument for influencing this.  Could we ever have different rules for the “right” sort of pub introducing leeway for younger drinkers in places where they can ease gently into responsible drinking culture?  Perhaps Jonathan’s conclusion that yesteryear’s drinking cultures are swept away and are not easy to return.


One comment on “Underage drinkers in Liberal England

  1. Jock's Place says:

    Alcohoodies: is “local-ism” the answer?…

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