The 'scandal' of public drunkenness - will it ever leave our streets?

Filed under: iDaily

Having briefly caught on Wednesday's news something about David Cameron vowing to tackle the 'scandal' of public drunkenness in the UK, I saw something on Twitter that amused me so much, I re-tweeted it.

It was posted by someone who goes by the name Cocktail Girl, whose profile reads: "Sacked from Observer Food Monthly for 'untenable debauchery in office hours.' Apparently. I thought it was FINE. Professionally fabulous. Generally drunk."

And this was her (I am presuming Cocktail girl is a she) tweet: "Dear Cammers / Dave / Mr Pres / whatevs; you say 'scandal' of public drinking. I say 'street theatre'. Perception, babes."

Yes, Cocktail Girl, perception! After laughing and re-tweeting, it really made me consider the battle Mr Cameron intends to launch himself into. Because deeply ingrained in our culture is not just the idea that it's okay to drink shed loads of booze (and, among certain sections of society, as quickly as possible), but also that doing so is funny.

cocktailsPhoto: PA

Unlike some of our considerably more mature friends in Europe, who regard alcohol as an accompaniment to food, over here (or sometimes actually in those sensible European countries), we guffaw at stags and hens who neck 10 shots then chuck up over the bar; we laugh at the silliness of happy hours that last from 5 til 8pm as we glug as much as possible to get our money's worth; and we cheerfully needle each other about our terrible hangovers (before going to the pub – well, it IS the weekend – for a hair of the dog).

It has been this way for a long, long time. Children were grappling to get their hands on the grappa (or whatever other nasty thing could be smuggled out of the drinks cabinet) when I was at school and, despite all the sensible warnings and despite it being illegal, they are still doing so now. Drinking is funny. Drinking is cool. Will the scandal of public drunkenness ever leave our streets?

Obviously, not everyone goes out, gets blotto, and causes havoc several nights a week – it's a relatively small minority who create this problem. But one thing guaranteed not to help make it go away is the constant quoting of pound signs.

As I write this, the BBC reports Cameron is expected to announce irresponsible drinking costs the NHS £2.7bn annually, and that wider alcohol related costs to society could cost between £17bn and £22bn per year. Undoubtedly we have a problem with alcohol generally and it's shocking stuff alright, especially when we're all suffering from cuts in public spending. But shocking enough to make Joe Bloggs put down his half finished pint and go home on a Friday night? Nope.

As of April 6th there will be, in England and Wales, a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price – less than the tax paid on it. And later this year we should hear the government's alcohol strategy. But I'd put the cost of a large Pinot Grigiot on it not going far enough to stop the binge drinkers Cameron is currently aiming to target.

As has been demonstrated with smokers, two things are likely to reduce alcohol consumption overall. The first is making alcohol unaffordable (and it remains to be seen whether any potential minimum pricing policies actually do that). But you see, to do so would be to penalise lower income people, not to mention those who do not have a drinking problem (or go out binge drinking every other night).

The second is scaring the bejeezus out of people with information about how alcohol will kill them. And true enough, drinking heavily all the time can ultimately lead to death (via addiction, permanent ill health and other horrible things). But drinking moderately does not. What's more, the 15-25 year olds – the ones most likely to be causing this scandal of public drunkenness – they're young, they think they are going to live forever.

So, the idea that anything other than an instant criminal record and hefty fine for drunk and disorderly behaviour will make the slightest difference – well, it's a blurred vision.