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Pagemaster: Brendan O'Neill (brendan@mail.informinc.co.uk)

Time gentlemen, police

There is a certain insanity about pub closing time - and not just from the point of view of the frustrated drinker. By forcing people to do all their drinking in a few hours, before chucking them all into the street, the British licensing laws support a culture that is far from abstemious. It was only a matter of time before New Labour decided to do something about it. Given the puritan instincts of the government, the prospects for a freer drinking regime seemed bleak.

In December the Home Office accepted the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force, which the government set up in September 1997 to consider, among other things, the liquor licensing laws. The task force recommends greater flexibility in pub opening hours (with pubs being allowed to stay open until 3am) and suggests devolving control to local authorities. So the Home Office has accepted that the licensing laws must be liberalised and that we should all have more time to spend getting drunk. How can this be?

Before you get the celebratory drinks in, note the words of Better Regulation Task Force chairman, Lord Haskins: 'It is time for regulators to refocus on the reasons for regulating the sales of alcohol: to prevent nuisance and disorder, and to protect young and vulnerable members of society...There is ample evidence to demonstrate that a single closing time creates rather than controls nuisance and disorder. We therefore propose the introduction of more flexible opening hours based on the circumstances of the local community.' So longer opening hours are planned as a means of enhancing social control, not individual freedom. The new relaxed order is just as much about regulating people's behaviour as the old restrictive licensing laws, which were introduced to keep workers in check during the First World War.

It's liberalisation, Jim, but not as we know it. Even when New Labour does something liberal-looking it has to be justified in the name of preventing 'nuisance and disorder'. So we may well be able to stay out later, but only if we behave ourselves in the pub and on the way home. The no-smoking, non-sexist, child-friendly, sensible pub of the future might be enough to have us curled up with a good book by 10 o'clock anyway.

Dolan Cummings is author of Surveillance and the City, published by the Urban Research Group. Email: dolancummings@hotmail.com

We are all hooligans now

Why has New Labour published yet another raft of proposals aimed at combating football hooliganism? Even government ministers admit that hooliganism is 'largely a thing of the past'. The arrest figures for violence at domestic games have declined steadily over the past five years, and the kind of (overhyped) violence that took place in Marseilles during the World Cup makes headlines precisely because it is so rare.

New Labour's proposal to outlaw 'racist chanting by individuals' is an attempt to legislate against a problem which no longer exists. Racist chanting 'in concert with one or more others' is already an offence under the 1991 Football Offences Act. Now the government wants to punish lone individuals who shout racist abuse at football. The very fact that it is so difficult for all the CCTVs and stewards and security guards to find two or more racists chanting 'in concert' suggests that racist chanting has all but disappeared.

So given the absence of trouble at football matches, how can the government justify these latest anti-hooligan measures? Bryan Drew of the National Criminal Intelligence Service insists that a 'hardcore, hell-bent on causing mayhem, is using football matches as a cover for its criminal activities'. But apparently this violence no longer takes place at football matches. According to Drew, 'away from the ground, often under the cover of darkness, the hooligans are having a field day'. Hence New Labour's proposals to monitor and arrest football fans not only at the ground, but on public transport, public highways and in pubs. In other words, as soon as they leave their homes.

The government also proposes that the police be given powers to ban the sale of alcohol in certain areas before a game; that the courts be empowered to issue banning orders preventing 'non-convicted persons' (aka people who are presumed innocent) from attending matches; and that persons subject to banning orders be required to surrender their passports to prevent them travelling to international matches.

The stories about supposed trouble at football sound more and more like hooligan fairy tales. But the casual infringement of our freedoms that they justify are all too real.

Duleep Allirajah is a founding member of Libero!, the football supporters' network. Email: libero@offence.demon.co.uk

Never mind reforming the Lords, abolish it

During the controversy over reforming the House of Lords, one question has gone unasked: why do we need a second chamber anyway?

After all, it is no more than Common Sense, as Tom Paine succinctly put it in 1776, that 'the English constitution [is the] base remains of two ancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials. First - the remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king.
Secondly - the remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers. Thirdly - the new republican materials, in the persons of the commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England... The two first, by being hereditary, are independent of the people; wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the freedom of the state.' Just so.

Democratic government has no need of a second chamber. Arguments that such a mechanism provides expertise, continuity or the wisdom of the ages are so much hogwash. The true function of a second chamber is to limit the democratic effectiveness of the first chamber. There was a time when this was openly acknowledged, as when James Madison justified the setting up of the American second chamber, the Senate: 'A necessary fence against this danger [the tendency to err from fickleness and passion] would be to select a portion of enlightened citizens, whose limited number and firmness might seasonably interpose against impetuous counsels.' (The Federalist Papers, 1788)

Come to think of it, this is exactly what Tony Blair is proposing: to balance out the hereditary peers in the Lords with 'enlightened' New Labour worthies, like people from community politics and the voluntary sector. Blair's reforms are as profoundly undemocratic as the hereditary principle. There is not one jot of progress in replacing the fogies with his toadies.

Alan Hudson teaches social theory at Canterbury Christ Church University College. Email: a.e.hudson@cant.ac.uk

Sleaze wheeze

How, many onlookers asked, could such an expert media fixer as Peter Mandelson himself so easily fall victim to press allegations of sleaze and be forced to resign? They should have kept up with LM and LM Online.

'The real problem with the sleaze bandwagon is that once it starts rolling it does not stop', observed an LM Online commentary in July 1997, when Sir Gordon Downey published his report into the 'cash for questions' scandal involving ex-Tory MP Neil Hamilton. A few weeks later, James Heartfield argued in LM that New Labour's obsession with using the 'sleaze' weapon against the Tories was likely to backfire on the Blair government itself: 'The current preoccupation with sleaze is not an interruption to the ordinary political process of left versus right. On the contrary, "sleaze" is the new political process.'

Instead of left v right, Heartfield noted, politics was now about 'correct behaviour v corruption, public service v private greed, or, as we used to call it, good v evil', concluding that 'the perception of sleaze could just as easily turn on New Labour' (see LM, September 1997).

Those who want to avoid being caught out next time should subscribe to LM, and to the LM Online commentaries.


In December Gwynneth Flower, the head of the government's Millennium Bug task force Action 2000, told consumers to have a 'judicious amount of surplus food' (enough for about two weeks) ready for Christmas next year, so as to 'avoid panic buying' you understand. 'Tins, dried foods and grains will be very useful', Flower said. 'Cans of soup, maybe half a dozen curries, tuna and packets of biscuits. Long-life milk would also be a good idea, although we wouldn't advise people to stockpile water.'

The cabinet office response was to announce that the government 'disagrees with [Action 2000's] analysis'. 'The food and electricity industries are among the most prepared sectors in the country.' Sainsbury's also dismissed fears of food shortages: 'much of our millennium preparation is going on alcohol because we think people will be drinking more.'

As army reservists are put on standby to deal with the civil unrest that some in authority claim will be caused by the bug, expect the voice of Whitehall to waver between those two Dad's Army stalwarts, 'We're doomed' Frazer and 'Don't panic' Jones, throughout 1999.

Also in December the UN started the first world Bug Summit. Addressing delegates from over 120 countries, under secretary-general for management Joseph E Connor helpfully explained the expected effect of the problem: 'All we know for sure is the timing. The scope...is simply daunting.' Despite his mediations on the uncertainty of life, Connor also managed to say that 'we should be able to limit the Millennium Bug to an inconvenience rather than a major disaster'.

Britain is joining the coordinated international panic. A senior government official overseeing Britain's year 2000 compliance programme complained that, 'In some third world countries, it is not even clear that they have heard of the millennium problem, let alone done anything about it'. And British Airways is flying the flag, announcing that it will not fly to any airport that fails a Y2K audit (though that could be for air traffic control or for baggage handling). If ever the UK authorities are forced to admit that they have their domestic year 2000 bug under control, Johnny Foreigner looks set to be wheeled on as the irresponsible host of the contagion.

Mark Beachill is a computer programmer. Email: mark@mb01.demon.co.uk

The what's NOT on guide

GUNS, KNIVES AND NOW...SPOONED OUT: McDonald's has withdrawn plastic stirring spoons, after reports that drug dealers were using them for measuring out illicit powders. Since they reduced the temperature of their beverages in response to the 'hot-coffee-can-burn-shock' panic, you can stir the lukewarm stuff with your finger anyway. BOOTED: An advert for south London lawyers Fisher Meredith, urging victims of police violence to claim damages, has been banned from the London Underground. The text on the ad begins 'Dear suspect, your face hit my boot'. The authorities ruled that it might offend police officers. BULLIED: Kellogg's has been censured over an advert which suggested that its cereal could prevent bullying by helping fat kids lose weight. The ad depicted a plump lad with the caption 'sticks and stones may break my bones but names could really hurt me'. Mattie Alderson, director of the Advertising Standards Authority, claimed that it 'exploited children's and parents' insecurities'. Preying on the public's fears is obviously something that those in authority would have nothing to do with. POLLOCKS: The US postal service is issuing a special stamp in celebration of the late abstract expressionist 'action' painter Jackson Pollock. The image on the stamp will be taken from a famous portrait of Pollock published in Life magazine in 1949 - except that the all-too-concrete cigarette he was smoking will be airbrushed out. LOVE THY LABOUR: A memo issued by senior New Labour officials urged staff at Millbank HQ to stop the feuding and backstabbing. The memo was leaked soon afterwards. CHILD'S PLAY: Retiring chief censor James Ferman seems to have come to the conclusion that adults need more nannying than children. 'Children have learnt more to look after themselves', he says. 'They are much better educated about films, and issues about drugs and things from schools.' Recalling his first days in the job in 1974, Ferman said he aimed then 'to look after children and give more freedom to adults. I saw myself then as a civil libertarian. Now I think there should be less freedom for adults, especially with a new wave of sexually violent films coming to Britain from abroad'. A senior member of the British Board of Film Classification described Ferman as an 'inspirational thinker'. DUMBSTRUCK: Financial Times TV correspondent Chris Dunkley has been sacked as presenter of the BBC Radio 4 listeners' complaints programme, Feedback, after 13 years in the chair. Dunkley's programme had won a reputation of late as a forum for the many listeners objecting to 'dumbing down' at the corporation. But those are not the kind of people they want to focus on at John Birt's focus-group obsessed 'People's BBC'.

Compiled by Andrew Calcutt

Reproduced from LM issue 117, February 1999

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