Tristram Hunt brings an historical perspective to bear on the latest suggestion to end binge drinking, a minimum price for booze as suggested by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. This is not the first time he has raised the idea of higher alcohol prices and it was he who first mooted the smoking ban and has talked up the issue of obesity. His is the most prominent voice of moral puritanism to speak in the name of public health.
What Hunt does is to point out that proscribing popular pleasures has historically been a bitterly resented failure. And so he turns to Hogarth and his famous engravings of Gin Lane and Beer Street. Beer and the alehouse was the way that people were saved from the ravages of gin. The solution lies in pubs. He writes:
For some 500 years now, alehouses have played a pivotal role within British public life. But now pubs are closing at the rate of 40 a week and we are haplessly bearing witness to an extraordinary process of cultural self-immolation...
So what we really want from the Chief Medical Officer is not a one-size-fits-all tax on alcohol (which the Government is already suggesting it will not support) but specific policies to encourage more people to drink more beer in more pubs. That is called working with the grain, or yeast, of history.
Now that is a health policy I could live with. And it is worth looking at that Hogarth image again. People quaffing ale, the pawn shop closed, everyone prosperous, happy, healthy and, Liam Donaldson please note, fat.
The Zythophile is not impressed by Donaldson either - via