9:00 am - March 3rd 2008
Many left-liberals will have been indulging in some top-level indignation at the totally unstartling news that the Tory hereditary peer Lord Mancroft is a creaking frothing shouty plonker who shouldn’t be allowed into public spaces, never mind a legislative assembly.
First off, he has a go at the nurses who treated him in an NHS hospital in Bath for being “grubby“. If not exactly civil, this is at least a legitimate concern and the nursing profession, unsurprisingly, is up in arms at the slur. So his fartship has been on the Today programme on Saturday morning doing what presumably passes among Tory peers for retrenchment; no, he was not actually complaining about the treatment he received; yes, he fully acknowledges not all nurses are grubby, and made this clear elsewhere in his speech.
No, the true horror of all this grave frothing is yet to reveal itself. This is how he goes on to talk about these young working women whose life choices are absolutely none of his business.
But worst of all my Lords they were drunken and promiscuous. How do I know that? Because if you’re a patient and you’re lying in a bed, and you’re being nursed from either side, they talk across you as if you’re not there. So I know exactly what they got up to the night before, and how much they drank, and I know exactly what they were planning to do the next night, and I can tell you, it’s pretty horrifying.
I do not recommend you locate the audio clip, because the prurience in the shaking timbre of his voice as he says “pretty horrifying” will make you feel a bit queasy. And it only got worse on the radio when his fartship gave us the benefit of his full assessment of the problem. John Humphrys has just asked him whether, well, there is a widespread problem at all (I paraphrase):
Well, you read about this in the papers, don’t you. Young women vomiting in the street and so on. Some of those young women will be secretaries, some will be teachers and some will presumably be nurses.
Later he must have thought, damn, I left out the seamstresses…
Now, this would be nothing more than yet another diverting right-wing-shouty-plonker-mouths-off-looks-like-a-cretinous-dinosaur story, if it weren’t for the fact that the prejudices on display are not limited to the right.
Recently, Jacqui “wetter than a haddock’s wet bits” Smith announced a new crackdown on underage- and binge-drinkers. Among her sophisticated suggestions to Her Maj’s police force are to stop drinking in problem areas* and close down “dodgy premises”. That drinking in public is a Bad Thing, and a Suitable Subject for a Crackdown seems to be taken as read by Ms Smith:
[Confiscation of alcohol] does make a difference, because it makes it very clear that young people should not be drinking alcohol on the streets with the sort of concerns that brings to local communities and the potential for them to go on and get involved in crime and disorder.
I’m sorry, the potential for them to get involved in crime? This bit of special pleading is rooted in nothing more than good old-fashioned suburban housefrau disapproval. How has it gained such currency, this Victorian notion that public drunkenness is a terrible problem in and of itself? It’s so conventional an assumption that even some liberals slip into using the language of illiberalism, as the Chair of the London Liberal Democrat Youth and Students (oh the rich irony!) recently did in this piece for Lib Dem Voice:
Everyone but me seemed to be devoted to the single-minded pursuit of the cheapest available route to drunkenness in the shortest possible time.
The writer himself was engaged in buying bread – try substituting the word “bread” for the word “drunkenness” in the above sentence and see what you learn about yourself. Somewhere in all the handwringing about binge-drinking and that well-known social demographic the Young People we have lost sight of the most fundamental liberal principle of all – who does it harm?
The binge-drinkers? Well then, we must have a discussion on whether the state has the right to save them from themselves, which alone could take the comments thread comfortably through a six-pack of Carling. And even if the state does have the right to intervene, should it do so via the route of law enforcement?
Innocent passers-by? But if someone is stabbed, assaulted, raped, robbed, jeered, threatened or otherwise inconvenienced by a street binge-drinker, there are laws which deal with and punish it, and oddly enough the punishment is exactly the same as for those who perform any of the above acts without being a street binge-drinker.
The Fabric of the Nation? Please. The entire business world today is run on coffee. Two hundred years ago the entire diplomatic and trading world was run on snuff and, not infrequently, laudanum. Five hundred years ago the whole of society was run on – yes! – alcohol again. We’ve always been high on something. The drug du jour is entirely incidental.
What the Home Secretary and the other tutters on the left cannot admit even to themselves is that they are just as guilty as the likes of Lord Mancroft when it comes to implicit prejudice about “things that nice people simply don’t do”. What the hell is wrong with the physical act of standing in the street getting wasted? Will Jacqui be sending police into middle-class homes on Christmas Day to arrest mummy and daddy for giving little Daisy a sip of sherry? The binge-drinkers live here too, Ms Home Secretary, whether you like it or whether it causes you to purse your mouth into something resembling a dog’s bottom.
The way this Hyacinth Bouquettish attitude is become mainstream in public life, I shouldn’t be at all surprised ten years down the line if sentences do start being varied according to the alcohol levels in the blood of the perpetrator. From there it’s but a step to simply banning alcohol, and this position would at least have the merit of intellectual consistency and prevent thick middle-class ministers from being able to legislate against lower-class habits in the name of public health.
The social fabric of Britain is under threat, not from binge-drinking, but from a truly terrifying marriage of barking right-wing paternalism and dour left-wing mumsyness, and it is my firm belief that every true left-liberal should lead the rearguard action by gathering up all their friends and hanging around in a big slouchy group outside the library swigging from bottles of merlot and shouting environmentally-aware abuse at passing 4×4 drivers. Direct action is what’s needed here.
* Yes, I read it that way the first time. But I think she means the police should stop other people drinking in problem areas.
Alix Mortimer is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a freelance writer and researcher living in London. As a Liberal Democrat party member she was recently shortlisted for the party’s Campaign for Gender Balance Best Blogger Award 2008. Also at: The People’s Republic of Mortimer
· Other posts by Alix Mortimer
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