ANCIENT & MODERN
Drunk and orderly In the adult world of the pub, under-18s can learn to drink alcohol responsibly
Thought-crimes mainly refer to what we all think about those stupid laws and bossy official directives only designed for your benefit, sir. Romans did not face these but rather what George Orwell in 1984 understood by thought-crime: wholly innocent activities interpreted as threats to state security.The historian Tacitus is full of them.
When one of Rome’s best-loved sons, Germanicus, mysteriously died, many suspected the jealous emperor Tiberius was involved. So in ad 28, when a distinguished Roman,Titius Sabinus, started helping out the widow and family, some ambitious public figures saw a chance to prove their loyalty to the emperor by stitching up Sabinus good and proper. One of them, Lucanius Latiaris, started privately sympathising with Sabinus. Sabinus responded in kind, and ‘these exchanges of forbidden confidences seemed to cement a close friendship. So Sabinus now sought out Latiaris’ company and unburdened his sorrows to this apparently trustworthy friend’.
The schemers now had to find a way to publicise this obvious threat. So they hid three senators in the roof of Sabinus’s bedroom.There Latiaris engaged him in their usual conversation, Sabinus unfolded the usual grievances— and they had their man.The reaction in Rome was one of pure terror. ‘People avoided all meetings and conversations, shunned friends and strangers. . . when Sabinus was led away, there was a stampede, and all roads and public places were immediately evacuated. But then people returned to them, alarmed that they had displayed alarm.’ Sabinus was never heard of again.
This, for Tacitus, was symptomatic of the world of the emperors, where, in the satirist Juvenal’s words,‘men’s throats were slit by a whisper’.As Tacitus brilliantly comments,‘Rome of old explored the limits of freedom, but we the depths of slavery, robbed even of the exchange of ideas by informers.We would have lost memory itself as well as our tongues, had it been as easy to forget as it was to remain silent.’ Orwell would have understood.
Nowadays it seems to be everybody’s democratic duty to subvert the state. But question an airport security official? Down you go, mate.
Why are so many young people so bad at getting drunk? No sooner have they necked a couple of lagers or downed a bottle of sickly alcopop than they start parading through the streets, skirts up or trousers down.There’s no dignity to their drunkenness.They get obviously, stupidly drunk.Things have got so bad that this week the British Red Cross —more used to helping out in disaster zones — suggested teaching young people ‘alcohol first aid’, to give them the ‘ability and confidence to cope in a [drinking] crisis’.
The inability of today’s yoof to consume booze in an adult fashion is, ironically, a byproduct of the authorities’ war on underage drinking. New Labour and the Liberal-Conservative coalition have promoted a zerotolerance attitude towards teenage drinking. They have introduced stiff punishments for any public house that dares to pull a pint for a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old.They have increased the powers of the police to shut down such dastardly institutions and given local councils the right to revoke their licences.
As a consequence, pubs have become no-go zones for those who inhabit the purgatorial zone between childhood and adulthood. And that’s a disaster, because it was traditionally in pubs that young people learned how to handle their drink. In the grown-up world of the boozer, teenagers were taught adult skills: how to conduct themselves socially, how to converse with other adults, how to flirt and how to drink in a way that wasn’t embarrassing. No amount of alcohol training by the Red Cross can replace that informal education of old.
Now, permanently barred from pubs, underage boozers booze only with each other, in their bedrooms, in parks, in car parks, under bridges, in the shadows of public monuments.Not surprisingly, this has nurtured a generation of drinkers who drink in the most juvenile fashion.
Last week, the consultation period for the Lib-Cons’ proposed reforms to the licensing laws — published in July under the title ‘Rebalancing the Licensing Act’ — comes to a close. One of the key proposals is to punish even more harshly public houses that ‘persistently sell alcohol to children’. The Lib-Cons want to increase the power of the police to shut down any pub suspected of serving underage drinkers. At the moment, cops can force pubs to close for 48 hours.The
Lib-Cons want them to make that a week. The government also wants to raise the fine for institutions that sell drink to under-18s from £10,000 to £20,000.
The Lib-Cons are following in the footsteps of New Labour. It was Blair, in 2004, who first gave police the right to close pubs ‘on the spot’ if they were caught serving alcohol to anyone under 18.Claiming that alcohol overconsumption had become ‘the new British disease’, Blair saw himself as the cure.
Emboldened by New Labour’s new laws, police launched sting operations to catch out pubs serving booze to underagers. Some police forces sent 17-year-olds into public houses to see if they could successfully order a pint (where do they find these young squares willing to do the cops’ dirty work?). In a massive eight-week sting operation in late 2004, police forces around the country sent youngsters into 650 alcohol-serving institutions. Fifty-one per cent of these institutions committed the unspeakable crime of providing some form of distilled beverage to an individual who was not 18.
In such a climate, it’s no wonder that more and more pubs now keep their doors firmly closed to teenagers. This is bad news. Going to the pub at the age of 15 or 16 was once an important step towards adulthood. When I first started experimenting with booze — just shy of my 16th birthday — it was in Irish pubs in Kilburn or trendy pubs in Camden. Surrounded by grizzled-looking 50-year-old Irishmen or beautiful 25-yearolds sipping fancy Belgian beer, your instinct is to fit in rather than to stand out. I’ll never forget when, aged 16, I was in the toilet of a pub called The Hendon in north London, feeling and looking worse for wear.Two men in their twenties looked at me and said: ‘He couldn’t even drink holy water.’ Ouch.That told me far more about the need to grow up than any government minister’s warning about binge-drinking could have done.
The landlords who for decades let under-18s into their pubs were breaking the law. But they weren’t being immoral. By allowing wide-eyed youngsters to develop their social skills in a serious setting, they provided a useful social, intergenerational service. Today, teens have been forced into teen-drinking ghettos.Drinking on their own, brutally separated from the adult world, they have become childish boozers. It’s time to let them back into pubs.
the spectator | 18 September 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk Get ready for Bush III
John Ellis ‘Jeb’ Bush insists he doesn’t want to run for president. Don’t believe a word of it
The next presidential election is 26 months away and already the parties are fretting about it. Barring a disaster, President Obama will be the Democratic candidate, but history is not treating him well. When he took office, the millennial hopes raised by his candidacy bumped into the realities of a long recession and two hard wars. He was just another politician, after all, not a messiah.
But if the Democrats have come down to earth with a bump, the Republicans are still trying to shake their post-2008 hangover. John McCain lost badly and won’t be back. His running mate Sarah Palin, the Alaska maverick, is loved by some Republicans but hated by others. Party managers know that she is a polarising figure, unlikely to attract voters from the electorate’s big grey middle, the dull folks who are essential to winning campaigns. That’s why so many Republican eyes have alighted on John Ellis Bush (‘Jeb’), son of one president, brother of another, and a seasoned politician in his own right.
There’s much to be said for Jeb (born 1953). He is the only Republican in history to win two consecutive terms as governor of Florida (in 1998 and 2002). He would have won again in 2006 but the state constitution limits governors to a maximum of two four-year terms. If he runs for president he can compete strongly for votes that don’t come easily to most Republicans. His wife Columba was born and raised in Mexico, he favours a liberal immigration policy, and he speaks fluent Spanish.That gives him a boost with the ever-growing Hispanic population, much of which normally votes Democrat.He opposed drilling off the Florida coast, which makes him seem wise and environmentally sensitive to Floridians suffering from the terrible BP spill in the Gulf. His education initiatives are admired across the spectrum and have drawn sympathetic notice in the black community, which is usually another hard sell for the GOP. He was popular in Florida right to the end of his term.
On the other hand, there’s much to be said against Jeb, starting (fairly or unfairly) with his relatives’ shortcomings. His father promised no tax increases, then imposed tax increases, then lost to Bill Clinton. By the time his older brother left office, early last year, it was difficult to find anyone willing to say a kind word about him.‘W’ plumbed new depths in presidential unpopularity polls and left office with the economy in a tailspin and unemployment vaulting upward.
Another problem is that Jeb tells interviewers wherever he goes that he is not a candidate for president — he says he’s just a business consultant. The coy fellow who poses as a non-candidate until he becomes one is a familiar figure, so these disavowals can be taken with a pinch of salt. On the other hand Jeb may indeed shrink from the ordeal of a two-year campaign, especially if its prospects of success have been torpedoed beforehand by the legacy of an inept brother.
Consider the history of presidential brothers.A few were eminent figures in their own right, such as Milton Eisenhower (18991985), who became a university president at age 44, ten years before Dwight’s election. Another was Robert Kennedy (19251968), attorney general under JFK and then a presidential candidate in 1968.A third was Thomas Boylston Adams (1772-1832) who, like Jeb, was still going strong after both his father and his brother had left the White House.He became chief justice of the Massachusetts court of appeals. Far more presidential brothers, however, have been misfits and ne’er-do-wells, some of whom caused their Oval Office siblings to squirm. John Quincy Adams’s brother Charles (1770-1800) shamed an eminent family and drank himself to death at the age of 30.Theodore Roosevelt’s brother Elliott (1860-1894), who was regarded as the smart one of the pair dur-
the spectator | 18 September 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk ing their childhood, was likewise unable to put down the bottle, jumped out of a window in a botched suicide attempt, and died of a seizure, aged 34. His only claim to fame was to be the father of Eleanor, Franklin Roosevelt’s wife and the famous first lady of the Depression era.
Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy (19371988) promoted an evil-tasting beverage, ‘Billy Beer’, often appeared drunk in public, urinated on an airport runway in front of a crowd of journalists, and then tried his luck as a lobbyist for one of the most hated men in the world, Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi.He told a Senate investigating committee in 1980 that he was not ‘a buffoon, a boob, or a wacko’, a denial some of the senators found unconvincing. Bill Clinton’s halfbrother Roger (born 1956) served a year in prison for using and dealing cocaine, and was also busted for disorderly conduct, conspiracy and reckless driving.
Now think about the Bush brothers. When they were growing up George W, the oldest, was a burden to his parents, a terrible student who got in to Yale only by family string-pulling, and then made a hopeless mess of it. He wriggled out of the Vietnam war draft, failed in several careers, and was well on the way to alcoholism before Jesus intervened to sober him up. Jeb, on the other hand,was his parents’ pride and joy, an exemplary student at the University of Texas who graduated ahead of schedule with highest honours, and went on to an almost unbroken series of career successes. History has played an ironic joke on the pair. The embarrassing brother won the presidency and the responsible one got stuck outside.
Another person who might be on Jeb’s mind as he decides what to do next is a presidential wife —Hillary Clinton, whose recent experiences include a whopping cautionary tale to all presidential favourites.What could have been more certain, as 2008 began, than that Hillary would win first the Democratic nomination and then the presidency? Everyone assumed she had a lock on both but then, as if from nowhere,along came Obama, who upstaged her in the primaries and seized both prizes. She has had to swallow a lot of gall over the years, and perhaps never a bigger dose than when she smilingly supported Barack after his nomination.
As Jeb thinks about these various people and problems, the temptation to run for president, and the temptation not to run, must be racing in his imagination just about neck and neck. He is tough enough to say no but smart enough, at the same time, to recognise that he’s still probably the Republican with the best chance to win. If he does, he will be the first person in history to be the third person from a single family in America’s top job.
Patrick Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History, Emory University.