Prohibition, one binge drinker at a time

Britain may have a new government, but when it comes to drinking, we can expect another round of clampdowns.

Patrick Hayes

Topics Politics

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In yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the new Lib-Con coalition announced the introduction of a Bill ‘to tackle alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour.’ While certain threats to civil liberties, such as ID cards and the database state, look to have been put on hold under the new coalition, the forthcoming Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is an ominous sign that movements towards a New Prohibition are still likely to proceed with full force.

As has been observed previously on spiked, the authorities have long had drinking controls in their sights. The previous government implemented puritanical measures, such as substantial tax increases and patronising adverts aimed at making drinking ‘socially unacceptable’. The use of what John Stuart Mill termed ‘sin taxes’ to attempt to eradicate cheap booze, ‘pioneered’ in Scotland last year, look set to be introduced UK-wide, while the age you can purchase alcohol in places other than pubs may be raised to 21. Pubs would be the exception simply because they represent an environment in which drinkers can be monitored.

This is prohibition by stealth, with the young and those least able to afford alcohol singled out and prevented from enjoying themselves. Even the executive chairman of UK food-and-fashion chain Marks and Spencers, Sir Stuart Rose, has drawn parallels with Prohibition in 1930s America, arguing ‘why should the majority of people be dictated to by the bad habits of the minority just because a few people get drunk in the streets?’.

DBO: Don’t Booze, Okay?

The recent implementation of Drinking Banning Orders (DBOs) – also dubbed ‘booze ASBOs’ – suggests that moves towards prohibition are entering a far more explicit, and dangerous, stage. Those people who ‘get drunk in the streets’ can now be prevented from purchasing alcohol entirely, allowing ‘any prohibition…which is necessary for the purpose of protecting other persons from criminal or disorderly conduct by the subject while he is under the influence of alcohol’.

While anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) can be used to place the same restrictions upon an individual, DBOs are intended to have much more widespread use, with 11,000 orders anticipated to be introduced over the next three years.

Rather than a prison sentence, an individual who breaches the order will face a fine of up to £2,500. DBOs are also intended, in the words of the Home Office, as a ‘short, sharp shock’ to the offending individual to get them to see the error of their boozy ways. If an individual fails to respond to the DBO, the authorities have a ‘toolbox of tactics’ at their disposal, from ASBOs to prison sentences.

The orders are largely enforced by local ‘Pub Watch’ schemes, which proudly boast of being grassroots-style voluntary organisations run by local groups of licensees, despite having an organising committee almost entirely constituted of policemen and retired policemen. Having ‘created the first national database of watches in the UK’, the licensees identify ‘problem’ individuals and then communicate information about them to others in the network, declaring that ‘in this way the problem is excluded and not allowed to go from premises to premises’.

While official documents pretend there is no desire to ‘name and shame’, DBO guidance instructs that ‘the distribution of publicity through leaflet drops, newsletters or print and television media should be made as soon as the order has been made’. Large colour mug shots of DBO offenders have been splashed across the pages of local papers around the country.

Re-education programmes

However, DBOs go beyond simply excluding ‘the problem’ from public houses. Another widely touted benefit of the orders is that they allow the imposition of Positive Behaviour Intervention Courses to ‘educate’ individuals about the evils of booze. The courses include lectures about legal alcohol limits for drivers and preaching about the damage alcohol can do to your body and the legal consequences of alcohol-related behaviour. They also include an Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), to ‘classify the type of drinker’, and more therapeutic elements, such as participants speaking in groups to analyse their drunken behaviour and why they did what they did, how to cope with peer pressure, role playing in groups and drink diaries. There are also guest speakers who were victims of alcohol-related behaviour.

The cost of the course comes out of the pocket of the offending individual. While the courses are supposedly voluntary, the minister who introduced the legislation warned that ‘if irresponsible drinkers do not accept support, these orders will ensure that they face some very real consequences’.

Laura Hall: ‘legend’

DBOs were made available to the police and local authorities in August 2009. The first DBO was slapped on 24-year-old Ryan Kane in December last year; the ban prevented the ‘pub nuisance’ from going into any pub or club in and around Banbury in Oxfordshire, buying alcohol from any licensed premises – both shops and pubs – and being in possession of ‘unsealed alcohol containers in a public place’ for two years.

While Kane will simply have to travel further afield to get a drink, the powers of DBOs can extend far beyond the local area. Last month, 20-year-old Laura Hall was the first to suffer the full consequences of the new law. Branding her ‘all that is despicable and rotten in society nowadays’, the district judge Bruce Morgan condemned the Bromsgrove resident to a blanket alcohol ban across England and Wales, prohibiting her from entering any bar, pub or club or buying alcohol of any kind for the next two years.

Officials are keen to emphasise that the orders are designed to ‘rehabilitate rather than punish’. Sergeant David Roberts from Bromsgrove police, who applied for the ban to be imposed upon Hall, argued that the order was aimed at ‘helping address Laura’s offending behaviour, and we very much hope that rather than seeing it as a punishment, she will use it as an opportunity to get her life back on track’.

Hall has spoken about visiting pubs with a scarf over her face so she isn’t recognised by pub landlords. She has already appeared back in court under suspicion of appearing ‘drunk and disorderly’ and has received a six-month community service order and, unless she sees the error of her ways and repents, is likely to be pilloried further.

The aim of the authorities is far from simply changing Hall’s behaviour, however, as officials freely admit. The aim is to deter ‘others from behaviour that can result in a DBO’. As PC Neil Sharpe, licensing officer for Redditch and Bromsgrove stated: ‘We hope that others with drink-related issues will take note of this.’

The message is clear: this isn’t just about Laura Hall, this is about sending a threatening message to all of us. If we don’t check our behaviour and ensure we don’t let our hair down too much in the pub on a Friday night, then it could be any of us in this situation. We could be next in the stocks alongside Laura Hall having abuse thrown at us until we sufficiently repent and pass our Positive Behaviour Intervention Courses. The threat of individual prohibition hangs above us all.

Patrick Hayes is a co-founder of the Institute of Ideas’ Current Affairs Forum and one of the organisers of the Battle of Ideas festival.

Previously on spiked

Tim Black argued that Scottish plans to raise minimum pricing for alcohol was a sin tax. Neil Davenport noted how Britain is undergoing prohibition by stealth and wondered if the government knows its limits. Dr Michael Fitzpatrick urged doctors to refuse to become the high priests of the new anti-boozing temperance movement. Lee Jones analysed the moralistic myth of the ‘demon drink’. Josie Appleton argued against all booze bans. Or read more at spiked issue Drink and drugs.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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