Friday, July 31, 2009

Much noise signifying nothing.

I listened to a show on Britain's binge-drinking culture the other day and learned next to nothing.

To be honest I was disappointed with Radio 4 with broadcasting this, and you can consider this an open letter of a sort as I'm breaking my Feedback virginity on this (next the Moral Maze). They chose as our guide PY Gerbaut, best known in this country as the man who saved the Millennium Dome, and now CEO of X-Leisure - Britain's largest leisure company, which runs leisure facilities, including bars and nightclubs.

The chief qualification PY (I'm sure he won't mind) had seemed to be that he was French, and in continental Europe they don't binge drink. Fair enough. We heard nothing of any expertise he may have picked up as CEO of a company that is 'in partnership' with, he didn't chose to interview any of his own staff to ask them what sort of problems they encounter in the business, or explain what his business did or was going to do to stop binge drinking associated with their premises. I'm getting used to the 'name' presented. No subject it seems can be explained to the public without a name - expertise is not enough, celebrity carries more weight and 'a journey of discovery' is even better.

The answer at which he arrived - and in fairness to M Gerbau he has written a much more considered article on the subject here.

M Gerbau promised us lots of people and lots of evidence on binge drinking and we got:

Tania Glide, who we were told used to call herself a binge drinker - we weren't told she's an author and journalist who's written a memoir on the subject. OK, I haven't read the book, it's had some good reviews, but is its author typical of the youngsters who are the chief 'culprits' if binge drinking's the crime? In fact, Ms Glide is now teetotal, suggesting she considers herself an alcoholic who simply cannot drink at all - alcoholics and binge drinkers are not the same. Why not walk down a high street on a Friday night and ask some teenagers why they're getting smashed out of their heads and how they afford it and if they have any worries about its effect on them?

Then a brief chat with an addiction psychiatrist who told us lots of people were getting sick from drinking. He identified price and availability as the key drivers to the increase in alcohol related illness.

Then a funny story from PY's taxi driver about a woman so drunk her clothes were falling off.

Then some students.

Then PY, his wife Kate, a television presenter, had a dinner party and talked about it. How nice - is this lots of people and lots of evidence?

"Scene seven, the drinks industry," says PY. And off to meet the Diageo chief to ask him what he thinks of Scotland's proposed remedy - higher prices. He doesn't like this idea. PY asks him if the industry is doing enough, he says they are making progress. Oh, that's good then.

Our addiction psychiatrist is back - although he's still not being asked anything about the psychology of addiction. He says again that price and availability is the thing, and that's where government should act on for quick cheap solutions.

Oh! A politician. Home office minister Alan Campbell. Stop people being sick says PY. People being sick is bad says Alan. Alan says eduction. PY says yes. Alan says changes in the licensing laws have helped. PY says nothing apart from "I totally agree with everything you said," but does raise cheap booze. Alan says people work hard and deserve a drink at a reasonable price. Bye Alan.

Then people - students, dinner party guests, Tania Glide? Who knows, I think they're PY's mates though, what exactly their qualification to speak on this matter are is not clear, but they're clearly having fun so that's OK.

"It's been a fascinating journey this last few months," says PY. You took months over this? Jesus.

And, the final word of PY. Lots of progress has been made and we can do more if industry, health experts and government work together, but in the final analysis (I'm joking there has been on analysis) we need to completely change the British culture as it relates to alcohol. OK. Job done then.

Please don't waste my time like this again BBC Radio Four.

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