A Panorama programme hosted by former Government spin doctor and self-confessed former alcoholic Alastair Campbell has received a mixed reaction from the pub trade.
Campbell's programme, Britain's Hidden Alcoholics, which aired last night on BBC1, aimed to highlight a perceived rise in the number of middle-class professionals with a secret drink problem. Campbell spoke to health professionals who asserted liver disease and other alcohol-related illnesses were at "crisis" levels, and interviewed recovering alcoholics from professional backgrounds at an exclusive clinic.
He also revealed that he had been opposed, during his time at the heart of the Labour government, to the relaxation of licensing laws and highlighted the problem of cheap alcohol which was fuelling drinking to excess in the home.
But drinks industry commentator Paul Chase, who is director and head of UK Compliance at CPL Training, accused the former Labour Party communications chief of "rehearsing hoary old myths".
Chase said: "Campbell's thesis is that there's a hidden epidemic of alcoholism afflicting Britain's middle classes, which requires us all to reassess our relationship with alcohol. No attempt was made to define ‘alcoholism' of course, apart from a brief reference to people who are exceeding recommended daily limits, and so this was a straightforward attempt to pathologise normal social drinking. He neglected to mention that the number of people exceeding these limits is falling."
He added: "A total of 25 million people in England drink alcohol every week, so just 0.7% of them end up in hospital. That figure falls to 0.3% if you only count those that are admitted for reasons wholly attributable to alcohol - some 68,400 a year. I would urge Alastair to get his facts straight and end the manufactured moral panic. Britain's Hidden Alcoholics rehearsed all the hoary old myths of Medical Temperance."
But Charlie McVeigh, owner of the Draft House chian of pubs in London, saw some reason for cheer in Campbell's comments on the price of alcohol. He said on Facebook: "Alastair Campbell talking sense: The issue is largely about price. Pubs charge a lot for a pint. Supermarkets don't. It is a sad paradox that the decline in pubs has come alongside what seems to be a rise in drinking and alcohol-related problems. In 1970, 90% of all pints were poured in a pub. Today, it is only 50% - the other half are bought much more cheaply in supermarkets and off-licences. The government has to do its bit.
By Neil Gerrard
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