Getting drunk not unlawful

27th June 2008 at 01:00
It seems not a week goes by without yet another proposal to regulate people's lives ever further
It seems not a week goes by without yet another proposal to regulate people's lives ever further. Whoever is in power in Scotland, be it Labour or the SNP, and whoever wins an election in England, be it Red Ken or Blue Boris, the illiberal obsessive interference in everyday life churns ever onwards.

One of the most recent proposals being aired for debate is the banning of 18 to 21-year-olds from buying alcohol at off-licences. These young people (make that young men and women) will, it seems, still be able to drink in pubs, but will not be able to buy booze from shops.

The logic - and it seems that, where this has been piloted, it works - is that this age group will sometimes buy drink for themselves and for younger teenagers, drink heavily in public places or at home, and then cause trouble late at night.

Given the concerns about youth crime, unhealthy living and the "dangers of alcohol", at one level the proposal appears to have a degree of common sense about it. It will, after all, protect the public and young people themselves.

But it is worth pointing out that this is not a proposal aimed at children, but at adults. These 18 to 21-year-olds from whom we apparently need to be protected, and who need to be protected from themselves, can vote, work, have sex, start families, go to war, drive, and yes - get drunk if they so wish. It is their right in a free society to do just that. If they break the law, arrest them; but, as far as I know, getting drunk is not against the law - at least not yet.

In this respect, this discussion about 18 to 21-year-olds should be seen for what it is - an attack on adult freedoms and something which, like Mayor Boris Johnson's recent banning of booze on the London Underground, reflects an illiberal contempt for adults in general (and, like Boris's law, it will no doubt have next to no impact on society, except to make vacuous politicians appear to have a role to play in it).

It is worth pointing out something we all know, which is that being young and getting drunk with your friends is not only part of growing up: it is also great fun. Having "binged" (whatever that means) with my friends recently and suffered a two-day hangover, my advice to the younger adults among us would be to enjoy it while you can.

Of course, for our miserablist, health and safety-obsessed politicians, this will no doubt sound rather irresponsible. But actually, getting drunk is not irresponsible and, ironically, the more we protect "young people", treat them as incompetents and build a wall of laws between us, them, and society, the less chance there is that they will be socialised and grow up to understand what being a responsible adult is all about.

Stuart Waiton is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org.

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