Yet again, when the actual facts about alcohol consumption in the UK are revealed, we see a very different picture from that portrayed by the BBC, the Daily Mail and the righteous prohibitionists that over-populate our public sector.
In 2003 70% of 16- to 24-year-olds told interviewers they had had a drink in the previous week; by 2010 just 48% had. The proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who had drunk in the previous week halved over the same period. Heavy drinking sessions are down too.
So why are we spending time debating control measures, minimum pricing and such? How come hundreds of column inches and hours of air time are given to temperance campaigners (even if they are doctors) and anti-booze campaigners?
The Guardian reading middle-classes disapprove of working class lifestyles. For all their left liberalism and recycled paens to the workers, these people are not really any different from the Daily Mail reading bigot when it comes to eating, drinking and smoking - perhaps worse. It's not really about health - as witnessed by the Guardian and BBC giving over so much space to celebrations of (posh) grub and expensive booze.
For my friends on the right, there's a different sort of disapproval fuelled by a view that people shouldn't be out enjoying themselves. This is the 'twitching curtains' party, filled with tutters and complainers. And it's an easy win to do the "binge-drinking is destroying our town centres" line even though it's mostly nonsense. This is the party of Cllr Audrey Lewis and Westminster Council's licensing department - pulling the plug on music, clamping down on al fresco drinking, shorter hours.
We do not need further clamp-downs - let alone ones that are directly and specifically aimed at the poor. Yet this is what we appear to be getting - the evidence doesn't support minimum pricing, we'll have to spend millions getting it through the European courts and, while this is happening, the public will carry on moderating their drinking. The strategy of liberal licensing, good quality health advice and targeting resources at those who need help has worked. We have fewer drunks, young people are drinking less and - over the coming few years regardless of policy decisions - ill-health caused by drinking will decline.
So let's smile, relax and learn from a old Muslim poet:
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
From The Tavern, by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273) - found here