Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Why China is stoking war of words with US (Times)

Beijing's belligerence is a diversionary tactic, says Bill Emmott. China's economy is not doing as well as we think, and there's nothing like nationalist outrage to sweeten unpopular economic reform.

2. We should watch bankers as closely as we do politicians (Guardian)

Jackie Ashley says that no one should be above the law, and calls for equality of scrutiny. There should be a bright lamp shining in boardrooms and on tax havens, as well as legislatures.

3. Tories may wobble but Brown remains their strongest asset (Independent)

The party needs an attack dog to take on Peter Mandelson, says Bruce Anderson. That's not David Cameron's role -- he should leave the negative campaigning to others.

4. General Election 2010: Fewer MPs would be fairer to all parties (Telegraph)

If Gordon Brown wants electoral reform, he should make constituencies the same size and rebalance representation between urban and rural areas, argues Philip Johnston.

5. Britain can learn the "rules" of a hung parliament (Financial Times)

Minority governments are perceived at Westminster as weak, unstable and short term. But, says Robert Hazell, they need not be if parties abandon their majoritarian mindset.

6. Corruption is the killer that we all ignore (Times)

BAE Systems has escaped prosecution for bribery. Richard Dowden asks where that decision leaves the poor of Africa.

7. Our vital contribution in Zimbabwe (Guardian)

Rowan Williams and John Sentamu describe the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. It has an uneven record, they say, but is now leading reconstruction.

8. Diplomacy has not yet run its course with Iran (Independent)

The leading article says that the world should tread carefully over Tehran's nuclear programme, showing that international law must be respected, without playing into the hands of hardliners.

9. Will Tehran choose the Tiananmen solution? (Times)

Amir Taheri looks ahead to protests expected in Iran this week, when we'll learn how much blood the regime is willing to spill -- and how tough the west can afford to be.

10. Republicans and the politics of No (Financial Times)

The US Republicans have made extraordinary gains against the Democrats, says Clive Crook. But while they have united in opposition, they have not replaced their differences with a coherent strategy.


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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.