Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Forget Ken's cronies. Now it's Boris's buddies (Guardian)

Boris Johnson's choice of Andrew Gilligan as London's cycling tsar increases the whiff of cronyism around the London mayor, writes Sonia Purnell.

2. Cameron can prove de Gaulle was right about us all along (Daily Telegraph)

Eurosceptics should not barrack the PM’s speech when it comes: they should bank it, says Charles Moore.

3. Cuba’s ideals failed. But at least it had them (Times) (£)

A Tory isn’t supposed to think this, writes Matthew Parris. But Havana’s revolutionaries had something that is missing in Britain.

4. A load of Thunderballs: James Bond is fiction, not a police instruction manual (Guardian)

A shocking ruling (let's call it the 007 standard) gives undercover police licence to break hearts, writes Jonathan Freedland. It's the hacking of people's lives.

5. This week has looked like an obscene remake of earlier western interventions (Independent)

We are outraged not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps, says Robert Fisk.

6. Barack Obama’s second term (Financial Times)

The US president must recapture the promise of a better politics, says an FT editorial.

7. Both Labour and the Lib Dems are guilty of gross hypocrisy and confusion over the EU (Daily Mail)

The two centre-left parties are in denial about the state of public opinion on the issue, and their utter failure to respond to it, writes Simon Heffer.

8. Unthinkable? Paul Krugman for shadow chancellor (Guardian)

If Barack Obama doesn't want the Nobel laureate as his treasury secretary then Labour should snap him up, says a Guardian editorial.

9. Life in the high street yet (Daily Telegraph)

To save our town centres, we must make them places for meeting and recreation – and why not have people living there, says a Telegraph leader.

10. Armstrong took his countrymen for a ride (Financial Times)

The American self-image of resilience, hard work, charity and ‘dreams has its dark side, writes Christopher Caldwell.

Show Hide image

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.