You must have seen the thing in the news the other day about the call to ban happy hours. There’s been quite a bit of debate about the fact that cut-price drinks are next in the firing line for the current gaggle of moral crusaders.
The positions on both side of the debate are very familiar and not worth repeating here. What I think is fascinating is that the pub happy hour is the only aspect of this issue that anyone is talking about, when in fact the call from MPs has been for a ban on happy hours AND cut-price deals in supermarkets. Any sane observer of the British drinking experience knows that it’s ten bottles of Carlsberg for a fiver in Asda that’s causing far more trouble than half-price pints between six and seven, but on the whole that’s been ignored yet again.
No doubt the pub industry will be up in arms about this – it’s yet another example about how the media pick on the pub. Yet again, the real culprits – the supermarkets – are getting away with murder.
But I think it’s not that simple. I think the reason for the imbalance in coverage is that the pub remains so culturally potent.
As of this year we drink half our alcohol at home. The latest slew of surveys shows that, for the first time in British history, a slight majority of people prefer drinking at home rather than in the pub. But nobody wants to talk about supermarkets – they’re boring. The pub and the happy hour are cultural institutions. To anyone outside the alcohol industry, that aspect of the current proposals is far more newsworthy, far more emotive, than whether or not Tesco’s is going to get its wrists slapped.
Yes, we should constantly remind anyone in a position to affect the alcohol trade that cheap deals in supermarkets are where the problem really lies. But we should actually take comfort from the fact that people only want to talk about pubs. When the regulation of what happens in your local boozer is no longer deemed newsworthy, that’s when we really need to start worrying.