Column April 14, 2010: It’s not our fault, Gov

IF ONE visits the United States of America, one is asked a series of questions including: “Have you ever been a representative or member of a terrorist organization or a member of a group which endorses terrorist activity?” Cunning, eh? If Osama Bin Laden ever tried to waltz into the States, he’d be done bang to rights.

But it’s not as stupid as it sounds. The US Government is sort of counting on terrorists to tell a fib about their intentions. Because when they do try their hands at a bit of terrorism, Uncle Sam can say, “Ooh, you big fibber, you promised you wouldn’t let off any bombs. We’re going to prosecute you for telling lies.”

Yes, not as stupid as it sounds, but still quite stupid. The US reduces itself to a wronged wife: “It’s not the murdering we object to. It’s the deceit.”

It’s also a back-covering move. It doesn’t stop terrorism, but it absolves the US authorities.

I thought about this while I watched the FA Cup semi-final between Portsmouth and Tottenham (SPOILER ALERT: Portsmouth win) and, specifically, the electronic advertising hoarding at the side of the pitch during a lull in the match.

I saw an advertisement for beer, just the name of the manufacturer, and underneath, in smaller type was the order “Drink responsibly.” You’ll see the same legend on all alcohol advertising nowadays, along with groups of late- twentysomethings enjoying small quantities of fermented beverages in a sensible way, ie,. not being maudlin or aggressive, or projectile vomiting outside the Jacaranda.

Frankly, if that doesn’t wipe out binge-drinking at a stroke, I have no idea what will. Already we can see the effects of this campaign on the streets of Liverpool on a Saturday night. Around Concert Square, it’s wall-to-wall people having a sensible time and being respectful of each other’s personal space and dignity.

“Charley, what do you think? Should we have another glass of Bailey’s? Perhaps a Malibu?”

“Oh, I don’t think so, Jade. I already have a definite, if slight, sense of well- being. If I’m honest, I actually think we’ve overdone it as I’m verging on being a bit tipsy. Let’s just stick to soft drinks from now on.”

“Yes, you’re quite right. That would certainly be the responsible thing to do. We’ll just have a cuppa and, if we’re lucky, we’ll be home in time for Casualty.”

I’m not exactly Oliver Reed, but even I would find it difficult to have just one alcoholic beverage on a night out. I’d prefer to abstain completely.

The “Drink responsibly” campaign has only one guaranteed success. It enables the drinks manufacturers who sign up to it to say, “Not our fault, mate. We’ve been quite clear. We reckon binge-drinking is right out of order.”

And it enables the Government to say, “We’ve done our bit. We’ve had a word with the drinks manufacturers and we’ve made it very clear we reckon binge-drinking is right out of order.”

Even sweet manufacturers have their own SnackWise marque, essentially saying “Sweets are lovely, but if you eat too many, you’ll end up with a big tummy.”

It’s got nothing to do with being responsible and everything to do with the avoidance of blame, as the only people who would heed the warnings are the sort of people who already give a damn. If you don’t know or care that sweets are fattening and beer can make you drunk, then no warning in the world will put you off.


THAT said, I actually had a single glass of wine at lunch last week for the first time in, well, my life. I was meeting a couple of former colleagues and was sitting in a French restaurant and I suppose I was a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. I had a delicious steak baguette with Dijon mayonnaise, salad and thin pommes frites, and felt thoroughly cosmopolitan. If Gerard Depardieu had walked in with Juliette Binoche, I’d have happily invited them to our table and talked about French stuff.

And then I realised, “Hang on. I’ve come to a French restaurant, with all the glories of Gallic cuisine on offer, and I’ve basically ordered burger and chips.”

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