Last week, we were chastisted for drinking mineral water. This week it is the turn of alcoholic drink. Dame Jacqueline Wilson, the children's author, has publicised a survey showing (horror of horrors) that 71% of parents allow their teenage children a drink at home. The Local Government Association is trying to mix increased flexibility for village pubs to open a bit later with the binge drinking that existed in inner cities long before the licensing laws changed. And the Chancellor apparently wants to tax us wine drinkers further (while presumably not raising the duty on Scotch whisky again). Tim Hames gets to the heart of the middle class wine drinking debate in the Times. But with all of these stories, there is a common thread.
Parents who allow their teenagers a glass of wine with dinner or a half of lager with a meal are acting responsibly; they are introducing them to alcohol in a measured way (those who are banned are surely more likely to binge when they are outside the home). Those who allow twelve year-olds to drink unlimited booze are not. Equally, the local that opens until midnight on a Friday and Saturday, and until two in the morning on New Year's Eve, without having to justify itself to bossy bureaucrats and magistrates at every turn, is not the same as an inner city bar offering unlimited cheap booze to young people.
It is high time this debate acquired a sense of proportion: the horrors predicted by the Daily Mail have not occurred since the licensing laws were relaxed; the fact that a wholesale cafe culture may not have either might have more to do with the weather than the law (though smokers have been forced into one!). So, if Alastair Darling really wants to cut middle class drinking rather than simply raising revenue, here's a thought: cut the duty on half-bottles of wine, which are nearly impossible to get in this country so that people can have a glass of wine midweek without feeling the need to open a whole bottle. That will both stimulate demand and supply for half bottles (the only company I found with a half-decent selection recently was Laithwaites) and cut middle class drinking. At the same time, let us praise not condemn parents who encourage responsible drinking and pubs that use the new licensing laws sensibly, as well as excoriating those who don't. When we do, we might have a sensible debate on drinking.