Trailed for a few days beforehand, by the Beeb and also on Twitter, was Alastair Campbell’s Panorama on alcohol use – and considerable abuse – in the UK. Given his role as Tone’s chief spinmeister at the time when all-day licensing was given the green light, some might consider him not the most appropriate person to pass judgment, but the problem, especially in London, was there beforehand.
Just the three for starters
Of this I can cite first-hand experience, having spent some time in the capital in 2000 and 2001 working by day, suffering the intimacy of the Northern Line at a variety of hours, and observing at night what was at the time referred to as the “City Culture”. This term is a misnomer: the drinking culture of working, professional London is universal, across the City, West End and Westminster.
Partly, this is because of the large number of freelance workers – and here I have to enter another guilty plea – who move around the capital from one contract assignment to another, retaining and reinforcing their social circle, and taking the mores of that circle out of the City into outside businesses, old media, new media, Government and the retail sector.
And the concept of spending the evening consuming heroic quantities of a variety of alcoholic beverages during the week was part of that culture. For many workers, this was part of the separation of work from home and family life. Thursdays were a time of compulsory attendance, with one or two other evenings per week optional. It was straight from work, and straight on to the drinks.
This, to me, was totally alien: I’m as partial to a beer as the next bloke, but drinking on an empty stomach is to be avoided. Confiding my aversion to a work colleague one afternoon, his reply – “eating’s cheating” – summed it up chillingly. Has the further relaxation of opening hours made things any worse? I doubt that it has made much difference.
That’s because, in and around London at least, the culture and the access to alcohol were there already. You may disagree with Big Al on other issues – and for me that would be Iraq, Iraq and Iraq, but not necessarily in that order – but on professional London’s drinking culture, there is little blame that can be laid at his door. It’s established, ingrained even.
Moreover, medical advice, minimum pricing and other Government action is unlikely to make a significant impact on it. Another pint? Oh go on then, twist my arm. Cheers, and, er, your good health.