Monday 7 September 2009

ASBO's all round!

Much comment has been made on Drinking Banning Orders, also known as 'booze asbos', which recently came into force (BBC News: New 'booze Asbos' come under fire). This legislation has been under fire from across the political spectrum, for various different reasons.

Some of the criticisms can be easily dismissed, notably the plaintive cry that the law should instead be targeting young / teenage / underage drinkers yet again. As if 'underage' drinkers haven't already had endless crackdowns upon them, for donkeys' years. And as if yet another crackdown on said will, by now, have a significant impact upon underage drinking - let alone, upon problem drinking as a whole.

If anything, it does make a refreshing change for the Establishment to finally be looking beyond the usual scapegoat of young people, and be trying a different approach to the problems associated with excessive drinking. But here my praise for the measures ends. And is outweighed by genuine criticisms of the legislation, as made by groups such as Liberty.

Most obviously, like any ASBOs, the Drinking Banning Orders are another way of 'short circuiting' the process of law by using civil orders to criminalise behaviour. ASBOs are also tainted by their reliance on unreliable, even hearsay, evidence. And by their use in petty circumstances - pirate broadcasters, kids playing football, even pensioners feeding birds, have all been subject to ASBOs. Can we really be certain that Drinking Banning Orders will not be used in similarly petty circumstances?

And how will these orders be enforced? The only way I can see them being enforced is by every pub and off licence checking the identity of every customer, of any age, to check they're not on a 'banned' list. Yes, everyone who is or appears to be under 25, already has this to put up with. But I really don't see 'levelling down' our civil liberties as a step in the right direction! Then, there's going to have to be a register of banned drinkers, which would have to be accessible to every alcohol outlet and the workers therein - with all the privacy issues that entails.

It is also ironic that the Drinking Banning Orders can be used on anyone aged over 16, despite the legal drinking age being 18. Seems yet another case of the Establishment's double standards, which mean someone aged 16 is deemed responsible enough to be punished for alcohol-related offences but not responsible enough to be allowed to buy alcohol in the first place.

But perhaps the most important point to make about Drinking Banning Orders, is that much of the anti-social behaviour associated with binge drinking can already be dealt with by existing laws. Violence, threatening behaviour, criminal damage, harassment (including racial and sexual harassment) were all criminal offences, the last time I checked! If these laws are not being enforced, how would yet another gimmick like booze asbos make us any safer ???

Then again, I guess it all comes down to the system's priorities. Violence - whether drunken or otherwise - tends to be a crime against the individual. And crimes against the individual tend to be, in the eyes of the system (which includes the law and its enforcers), a poor cinderella compared with crimes against the Establishment and crimes against the system itself.

Small wonder, then, we now have the grotesque situation where soldiers returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, are told by their Army bosses to 'get pissed and have a fight' rather than seek counselling (Daily Mirror: The scandal of our troops who are left with no support for traumas). Maybe, among the laws the Armed Forces have opted-out from, are the laws banning common assault :P Seriously, though, it is telling that violence is sometimes encouraged as a way of 'letting off steam'.

And not just within the Army. Every community is blighted by recession, job insecurity and hyper-unemployment, and many poople are only too eager to drink as a means of escaping the stress. At the same time, the Establishment would much rather see workers batter each other after a few drinks, than see us unite against them and their capitalist system which is ruining our lives.

We must not fall for the Establishment's crocodile tears about lives 'ruined by drink'. But at the same time, we must realise that drinking can never be a permanent solution to our problems. Only unity against the capitalist system can truly make things better. And leave the Establishment, rather than us, suffering the following morning!

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