24hourlondon is a
solution to a problem: how to get the best from a city where the
licensing laws often seem stacked against you.
You can download the app in Android or iOS from here
But why is London like this? What got us to this point?
James Nicholls' book, The politics of alcohol: a history of the drink question in England
suggests that the recent move to allow pubs to stay open later is a
break with the deep past and that restricting pub opening hours has
traditionally been seen by the government here as a way of restricting
the alcohol intake of working people – to make us more productive
capitalist worker bees.
As evidence for this theory, Nicholls points to what happened during the
first world war, when the temperance - anti-booze - movement was big
internationally. In the US it led to an unsuccessful attempt at
but in the UK its high water mark was the creation of the Central
Control Board (CCB) in 1915, whose job it was to address the effect of
drinking on the war effort.
Lloyd George, who in 1915 was chancellor of the exchequer (he became
prime minister in 1916), and who is credited with laying the foundations
for the modern welfare state, had a history of passionate temperance
campaigning and told a meeting in Bangor that year that “drink is doing
us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together”.
Later on he said: “We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink; and as
far as I can see the greatest of these deadly foes is drink.”
An editorial in The Times newspaper suggested he was getting the whole thing “a little out of perspective”.
context, Britain’s two key allies, France and Russia, had both
introduced radical temperance legislation in response to the war
themselves: Russia had banned vodka and France had banned Absinthe.
Lloyd George's CCB
created 840 industrial canteens to replace the pubs where workers had
previously had a “liquid lunch” (since it was unusual for food to be
served in them at the time). So, as an aside, the work canteen was
invented in an attempt to prevent lunchtime drinking. By 1916 this
legislation was effective across most of the country.
The CCB nationalised large areas of the pub industry – pubs, breweries
and off-licences – and promoted the sale of soft drinks and food. A
licensee’s income came to depend on their ability to promote good order
in their venues.
What this meant was
that by the time the war was over the breweries, which also owned many
of the pubs, had got used to the idea that they could and would be
heavily regulated if they didn't comply with the government's moral
outlook on alcohol, about which the church had also always had a lot to
drink question had become what the balance should be between the state's
need for productive workers and the success of the booze industry. So
it's interesting that William Waters Butler - who was chairman of the
gigantic brewing company Mitchell and Butler – and Sidney Neville,
managing director of Whitbread (both of which are still brewing today),
sat on the CCB. “Whereas brewing was often depicted in America as an
alien presence whose expulsion would return the nation to its purer
condition, no such nativist propaganda was going to fly in England,
where beer and the pub were so deeply embedded in cultural life and
history,” writes Nicholls.
Since then "the
demon drink" has come to be seen as less of a cause of poverty - which
laid all of the responsibility for the poor's situation in life at their
own feet, conveniently omitting the role of lack of social mobility and
the eagerness of the brewing magnates to sell their product - and has
become seen as more of an individual and health issue, with a
distinction between social drinkers and problem drinkers becoming
In 1989 a report by the monopolies and mergers commission began a process that broke the link between beer production
and its consumption by preventing the breweries from owning most of the pubs, as had been the case before then, and leading to
the opening of giant pub companies including Slug and Lettuce and Pitcher and Piano.
shopping malls and the recession of the late eighties and early nineties meant
that many city centres began to empty. The resulting regeneration efforts led to the adoption of
European-style café society with the emphasis on mixed use areas: living and
shopping and playing. Drink retail chains marketed themselves as an urbane
alternative to the old-style pub, part of a vibrant urban culture in 24-hour
cities. Nicholls points out that at the time alcohol companies were marketing drunkenness to young people as an
alternative to the ecstasy and rave culture of the late 80s and early 90s.
Joining the EU and affordable holidays
abroad meant that people of all ages were increasingly unhappy with being told to trundle
home at 11pm, after experiencing the strange thrill of being able to enjoy a
drink after midnight without being harassed by tired and irritable landlords.
Then shortly before
the 2001 election the Labour party sent a text message to thousands of young
people saying “couldn’t give a xxxx 4 last orders? Thn vote Lbr on thrsday 4
xtra time”. 24-hour licensing received royal assent in 2003 and became fully
operational in Nov 2005.
consumption went up, the term “binge drinking” entered the public lexicon and the
big question became: do the rights of moderate drinkers outweigh the government’s duty
to prevent the harm promoted by excessive consumption? Concerns about underage
drinking began to revolve around the availability of alcohol sold
irresponsibly. Supermarkets had become the place where 65% of the nation’s
alcohol was purchased.
Summing up, Nicholls says that public
debates on alcohol run up against the deeply held beliefs that a degree of
rational sobriety is essential for social
order and the equally deeply held belief that one has the right to explore
one’s inner world through – among other things – intoxication.
Fascinatingly, he then adds that “anyone wanting
to understand the phenomenon of celebrity rehab would do well to think
the cultural status of intoxication in those terms”. So he believes that
we are addicted to the idea of celebrity rehab because the plight of
the celebrity addict reflects an extremely common tug-of-war in all of
us: our rational side versus our emotional side.
When you add in the fact that there are ten million of us in London, all
living on top of each other and susceptible to concerns about noisiness
at turning-out time, the restrictions start to make more sense
* My next blog post will be about whether the UK has had more of a drink "problem" than elsewhere. You can read the previous post, about 24hourlondon being back after five years here
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