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24-hr drinking allowed by Blair's govt was wrong, says Alastair Campbell


February 19, 2012 - London

Alastair Campbell, the right-hand man of Tony Blair, has admitted that the former Prime Minister's government's decision to roll out 24-hour drinking was a mistake that has fuelled a frightening alcohol crisis among Britain's middle classes.

Campbell, one of the architects of New Labour, conceded his party "might have got it wrong" when it introduced all-day licensing in 2005, and said that David Cameron should now consider reversing the move.

Instead of creating a new "continental caf‚ culture" as Blair had hoped, the 54-year-old said it simply increased the availability of cheaper supermarket booze and helped kill off thousands of pubs where alcohol was traditionally more tightly regulated.

The former director of Downing Street communications said it had also contributed to a new drinking culture in which middle class professionals live in denial about their alcohol dependency, in particular wine at home.

The British journalist said the problem was now so deep that Cameron, who last week described binge-drinking as one of the scandals of our society, should consider radical reforms.

These could include raising the legal age for drinking from 18 to 21, looking at minimum pricing or raising duties and restoring the traditional role of the pub.

He also said that the Coalition could learn the lessons of Labour's "successful" anti-smoking legislation, particularly around advertising.

The recovering alcoholic made his comments in an interview with the Sunday Express in which he talked about his own return to moderate drinking after spending more than a decade drink-free.

He is fronting a BBC Panorama documentary, Britain's Hidden Alcoholics, tomorrow night when new figures will show that thousands of Britons a year are dying of alcohol-related liver disease, with a major rise in the number of women victims.

The documentary features medical experts, one of whom, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, also laments the decline of the pub.

Campbell also urged the current Prime Minister not to miss the problem of middle class alcoholics by concentrating on "chasing easy headlines" tackling the issues of a binge-drinking youth.

He said Britain was in a love affair with wine, with 1.6 billion bottles drunk every year. Much of that is done at home where people believe they do not have a problem.

"I must admit that the Labour government I worked for might have contributed to our alcohol crisis," the Daily Express quoted him as saying in the documentary.

"The idea had been around for a long time. We were trying to signal that we could change the culture but I never bought that because of this country's history. When you think about Britain with the gin epidemic and other things, we are a drinking nation. I certainly articulated my views.

"If we had been making the argument that the drinks industry was lucrative and an important part of our economy, I would have got it but if we were making the argument we wanted to cut down on binge-drinking and make people drink more responsibly, and the way to do that is to have it more available so it is less of a big thing, I never bought that," he added.

ANI

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