16 Mar 2009

Pubs should return to the centre of public life

It's not everyday that I find myself agreeing with Tristram Hunt, reading his column in the Times today about controls on drinking was a pleasant surprise, until I got to the end and Hunt shows his true colours. Hunt argues that pubs should take their place at the heart of public life in Britain, and criticises measures like the smoking ban for driving people away from pubs. All very true, until Hunt says that the "...ban on smoking in public places has driven drinking back into the home, where social safeguards are absent".

Hunt is not arguing for the freedom of drinkers, he wants them to drink in public where they can be monitored and controlled, by each other and by the state. It's another version of the 'eye on the street' that institutionalises suspicion between citizens, and is abhorred by what they might get up to in the privacy of their homes. Hunt has used a similar logic in the past to argue against suburbs, again blaming them for moral degeneracy.

Hunt is not a campaigner for freedom, he's a pragmatic authoritarian who thinks it's better to monitor drinkers in public than attempting to limit their consumption of alcohol through punitive measure, simply because they haven't worked in the past. What a truly miserable view of humanity.

On a similar subject, I am trying to oppose the proposal to turn the area around the Arsenal Emirates Stadium into a Controlled Drinking Zone, a measure that the metropolitan police has asked Islington Council to consider. Very few people know what CDZs are, and what they actually mean. Effectively, this gives the police extra powers to stop you and confiscate drinks you are carrying, even if they are unopened. Either the police have developed psychic skills, or as I am more inclined to believe, they would use these powers to make their lives easier, and in the process making everyone walking with a drink a suspect.

The proposal is calculated and worded to create tension between the residents and the Arsenal fans, the fans are not being consulted only the residents are. What I found to my surprise, is that some Arsenal fans actually support this measure because they blame the away fans for bad behaviour. This is exactly the type of suspicion that such policies promote, and we should fight it.I agree with Hunt, let's put the pub at the centre of public life again, but let's remove all the constraints that have been imposed by the government and councils on public drinking to enable that.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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