Monday 25 September 2017

Drinkers' Voice

Back in 2013 I wrote a discussion paper titled “The Industry Perception – a Discussion”. In that paper, which I delivered to a group of trade body representatives and industry insiders, I made the following points – public and political perception of our industry is driven by individual experience of licensed premises, medical temperance campaigning, media distortion of issues and problems, and our failure to engage with the public in the alcohol and society debate.

And I indicated we were in this position because of a failure on two levels. Firstly, a failure to examine, analyse and deconstruct the medical temperance narrative, or to construct a counter-analysis regarding the causes of alcohol-related harms; and secondly a failure to recognise the serious nature of the resurgent temperance threat and lead a co-ordinated response to it.

The difficulty that others at the meeting pointed out to me is we, as an industry, are famously fragmented, so agreeing common positions on some of these issues was going to be difficult. There is no doubt since 2013 our trade bodies have recognised the serious threat posed by medical temperance and the constant litany of scare stories, dire warnings and phoney statistics that have accompanied their never-ending campaign to de-normalise the use of beverage alcohol. And there is now a coherent counter-narrative to medical temperance, which I have tried to play my own modest part in creating.

The difficulty in the past has been finding a suitable vehicle for expressing this narrative, particularly given the fact any drinks’ industry initiative would automatically be dissed as an attempt by “Big Alcohol” to promote its own agenda. What has been missing from the debate has been the voice of the ordinary drinker – until now.

Two weeks ago saw the launch of a new lobby group called Drinkers’ Voice. This is a Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) initiative designed to give the ordinary, moderate drinker a voice in the alcohol and society debate. CAMRA is in an ideal position to launch this initiative precisely because it is the biggest consumer group in Europe, is often highly critical of big brewers and cannot possibly be portrayed as drinks’ industry shills. The initiative has begun well and Drinkers’ Voice provided the media with a poll that highlighted 70% of UK drinkers don’t take any notice of the chief medical officer’s revised drinking guidelines, because they’re not based on science and have no credibility with ordinary drinkers.

There have been articles on Drinkers’ Voice published in the Sun on Sunday, the Sunday Times and the Telegraph as well as a television appearance by Amy O’Callaghan, Drinkers’ Voice’s spokesperson, on Sunday Live. Drinkers’ Voice will be a grassroots organisation with spokespeople in communities across the country that are passionate about their freedom of choice and their right to drink in a sociable and moderate way. As Drinkers’ Voice put it itself:

“We believe it is important that people understand the benefits of drinking alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle. We want people to talk about how enjoying a drink with friends enhances their wellbeing, and how scientific evidence shows that moderate drinking can help heart and cognitive health.”

And then: “You’ll know that for too long this debate has been dominated by the anti-alcohol lobby, which has sought to de-normalise drinking and restrict people’s access to alcohol. As a result, we have seen the UK’s alcohol guidelines reduced last year without credible evidence to justify it. As the poll shows, this has widened the gap between government’s instruction and people who want to just enjoy a drink.”

Creating a grassroots organisation of this kind is a bold move and CAMRA, and its chief executive Tim Page, are to be congratulated on taking the lead. To influence the wider alcohol policy debate we must influence the public opinion on which politicians’ ride. This is a fledgling organisation and it needs money. The decision has been made not to accept donations from the drinks’ industry, for obvious reasons. It is being crowdfunded by donation and if you would like to support Drinkers’ Voice as an individual you can donate here.

This initiative is needed, and long overdue. Please get behind it. Further information about Drinkers’ Voice is available on its website.

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