June the 1st – 2008; recently elected Mayor of London Boris Johnson bans drinking on all public transport. In response facebook and other social networking groups create ‘Party on the Underground’ and 10 of 1000’s of revellers, most of whom would never normally want to drink on public transport anyway, converge on the Circle Line for a mass blow out. Why? Because a dude on the internet told them too silly… If you’ve ever been accosted/abused by a drunk on the bus or tube you will quickly agree that the decision to ban alcohol was a smart one, mirroring the kind of social reforms last seen in the mid 80’s and Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s early 90’s clean up of New York City.
However, 2 and a half years on and all the cynics who cried that it would never work seem to have been right. The fundamental problem with what was then clearly a PR Policy is (still) this; for any law to be effective it must be enforced consistently. But by who? Transport Unions highlighted that their members had no training or interest in tackling anti-social behaviour over and above that which they already had to bear. Police Officers of the Met also made it clear (informally) that they too would not be able to deal with what in their eyes amounted to an influx of unwanted petty crime and the newly introduced tidal wave of Special Constables were neither skilled or appropriately resourced to cover such work. So where does that leave Londoners? Saddled with another new and pointless law that actually frustrates more than it resolves things.
The New York initiative was strategically introduced over years and with careful co-ordination with relevant bodies to tackle something referred to as the broken window theory. It’s primary aim was to show disengaged New Yorkers that someone did care (and so should they) and that when it came to social disorder, even the smallest things count. I must confess I met a lot of people that night and not once did anyone talk of being genuinely upset by (or supportive of) the ban. Sadly for Londoners (and tax payers UK-wide) all we have is yet another stark reminder that those in positions of power only ‘care’ around election time. It’s also worth noting that the news coverage from the evening ranged (as it tends to) from a ‘born to mild’, was that it?, all the way up to full blown urban riot reports… Of course events of this scale are always fair game for societies head-cases to come and kick off but when you consider that 10 of 1000’s of people drank solidly for a good couple of hours (though at Liverpool Street many were smashed before they started) and actually caused relatively little damage; mainly to carriage signage and each other. Add to that there were very few arrests (that stuck) during or after the event; which after some posturing on both sides, simply faded out.
This is only my opinion (obviously) but for me masses of people fighting social reform by getting drunk, all because some faceless entity on the web suggested it and ‘powers that be’ merely scratching at the surface of key social strategy to then waste money by applying highly diluted, ill conceived and half baked plans that have no credibility whatsoever is far more worrying than some stinky old dude cracking open a can of Tennents Extra on the 149!
No offence to Tennents drinkers, or stinky old dudes intended; drink (and stink) responsibly!