A different manifesto

10 December, 2010

Amysterious new name has emerged in the binge and under-age drinking debate over the past couple of months.

Manifesto Club convenor Josie Appleton’s views on alcohol-related matters fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but have won enough interest for her to be invited to speak at industry conferences.

A campaign around the over-zealous confiscation of alcohol from people drinking in public places has moved on to oppose what the organisation sees as intrusive demands for young people of legal drinking age to present ID when buying alcohol.

The body cut its teeth campaigning against the over-rigorous vetting of people working with children and restrictive visa checks in the name of anti-terrorism, but how does its mission to promote “freedom in everyday life” tie in with the binge-drinking debate?? “We look for areas in social life where there is tension between what people want to do and state regulation,” says Appleton. “We try to find areas where there’s that tension but no one’s really talking about it yet.

“The misuse of alcohol seems to be one of the main justifications for state intervention in social life.”?Its main campaign so far has been against what it sees as the misuse of police powers to confiscate alcohol from members of the public. The police are supposed to only do so where there is a public order issue, but Appleton says the group was inundated with calls from innocent people and claims young people and street drinkers are being victimised by the way the powers are being used.

“The police are doing it because they have completely open-ended powers which are a gross intrusion into social life,” Appleton adds. “There are lots of powers already to deal with drunken and disorderly behaviour.

You don’t need powers which say you can take something off people whenever you feel like it.

“We had one guy who’d come out of an off-licence with an eight-pack of lager for the weekend. He wasn’t even going to drink it, but the police just made him pour it all away. He was furious. What gives them the right to take something which is legally his?”?The ID campaign has focused on what the Manifesto Club sees as the demonising of people in their 20s by Challenge 21 and 25 schemes, but Appleton suggests even the under-18 drinking limit is open to question.

“It didn’t use to be such a big deal.

An off-licence would make a judgement, sometimes they got it wrong, but the consequences were not really so great because under-18s could get alcohol if they wanted anyway – they still can, because their parents have it or they get someone to buy it for them.

“It shouldn’t be a normal part of life to produce your ID all the time. If you’ve got a law to prevent people drinking if they’re under 18 why would you have another law to make them check ID if they look under 25??“It’s just about a return to common sense. Maybe lowering the drinking age to 16 [is an option]. You then integrate that section of youth into adult drinking culture – they’d choose to drink in the controlled environment of a pub rather than on a bench.

“Politicians have got the idea that a 16-year-old drinking a can of lager is like child abuse or the holocaust or something, but it’s not – it’s just a normal thing. Everybody, including politicians, starts drinking when they’re 16, and everybody knows that – it’s the reality.”?Appleton argues there’s a disconnect between the real world of drinking culture and politicians’ perceptions of it. “There are certain areas of policy where people get caught up in a fiction of what life is like and it becomes unacceptable to step outside those terms. We have people in the industry saying: ‘Personally we agree with you, but there’s no way we could say that. ’ ”?Though the club hasn’t embroiled itself directly in the pricing debate so far, Appleton doesn’t think price controls are the answer.

“Alcohol would become something that’s not just normal that you buy from supermarkets, but something to be bootlegged and ‘dealt’. The effect is to remove alcohol from normal social life and make it underground.” Appleton says looking for quick cure-alls such as punitive pricing detracts from deeper issues. “People misuse alcohol because they want to escape, or they don’t like their lives or their job, or they’re not happy in a relationship. There’s a role for doctors to say ‘you drink too much, it’s bad for you’, but the causes of genuine problem-drinking and alcoholism are always better solved by provision of jobs, housing, things that are conducive to a good quality of life.

“Policy is focused on a medicalised undertaking of alcohol, with units on bottles and giving people a drinking calculator. It’s a very meaningless system – if you’re drinking to lose yourself, it’s not going to mean anything at all.”?Expect the name of the Manifesto Club to appear more frequently in the context of alcohol in the future.

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