Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Think Drunk Tanks

So the Conservative Government claim they to go to war on binge drinking. Partly as a measure of economics, to save the NHS the costs of sewing up people injured while insensible, the Police for dealing with the drunken violence and vandalism and generally to reclaim the centres of cities and towns up and down the land for 'decent' citizens. Binge drinking they say, is a symptom of the country's moral decay, another indicator of "Broken Britain". As analyses go, it's probably not too wide of the mark. But where do they think it stems from? This moral decay and Broken Britain. One doesn't have to go too far back into recent history to trace its genesis. And oh yes, it almost certainly arose during the last time the Conservatives held power, though ensuing Labour Governments did nothing to halt its inexorable tide.

After the post-war austerity of the 50s, there rose a new economic class with purchasing power, that of the young. Music and fashion, though overseen by Svengalis, was largely generated from the grass roots, as this new class flexed its creative and purchasing muscle.

In the 1980s, again a new class was empowered through their earning capacity, as Conservative economic policy targeted bringing the upper strata of the working class into a home and share- owning Shangri La. This was not grass roots generated in terms of what the money was spent on. Harry Enfield's "Loadsamoney" character, a get-rich plasterer satirised the times with laser precision: all spending power and no idea what to buy. Apocryphal tales of banners being unfurled at the opera bearing the legend "Bring On The Fat Bird", city floor traders necking champagne in bars as if it was lager, with spritzers for the ladies and the rise of the brand and the label as some sort of proof of material Election.

The 80s heralded the consumptive age. When aspirations were met through material purchases and pleasure was measured in terms of quantitive units. Yet for one not insignificant part of the country the 80s were as blighted as their communities, with job losses and a benefits dependency culture. Yet the aggressive acquisition culture was still being broadcast to them as worth striving for (and perhaps reached its apotheosis with the riots of last Summer). Between both the culture of excess and the culture of deprivation, the British ceded the arts of pleasure. That is we could no longer rely on our own creative energies to summon up a good night out. Not one that wasn't soused in drink anyway. Alcohol somehow was supposed to provide all the entertainment one could wish for. It was the genie that granted wishes, or at least unlocked the inhibitions to such wish fulfillment.

The Labour government that followed did nothing to reverse the trend, continuing to neglect those in need and doing nothing to tamp down the excesses of those with money. If anything they made it worse through loosening the legislation on alcohol, by permitting alcopop drinks to be sold to under 18s and allowing 24 hour licensing of premises. Teenagers who had experienced cheap, accessible foreign holidays, brought back their copious drinking habits to Britain with them and helped turn our city centres into no-go areas at the weekends. Girls as well as boys now embraced the abuse of alcohol too.

I wrote about all these trends in my debut novel "A,B&E". Part of the novel is narrated by a nurse in Casualty, stitching up all the pugilists to return to their drink-fuelled fights. The other is narrated by a woman abroad, watching the staggering amounts drunk by British youth on holiday, with the inevitable consequences. I started that novel over 12 years ago. There is nothing new that Prime Minister Cameron is talking about, though as usual the politicians look at the conspicuous symptoms and a quick, superficial sticking plaster, rather than the deep underlying causes. I would and did go so far to say that we are an unhappy and unfulfilled nation. We don't know what makes us happy, or possibly even more worrying, we don't know what happiness is. And with the current economic stringencies, we have just got a whole lot more unhappy as we feel the pinch so we can't even buy the white goods in such prodigious quantities as we used to.

Cameron, or someone in his cabinet, ought to read my book. Of course they won't. But his lightbulb moment of 'we have a problem here with binge culture' is something that artists, writers and cultural commentators have been expounding upon for many years, only to fall on deaf ears.

"Alcohol, the paint stripper of civilisation’s veneer. Bottled up rage, uncorked and decanted"

"The trouble with A&E is that it’s full of insensible people. Those off their trolleys and straight on to ours. Out of their minds with alcohol or drugs. Or a Carefree in the Community policy. Simultaneously anaesthetised and adrenalised, oblivious to the pain signals radiating from within their bodies"

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