Monday, June 02, 2008

Boris Bans Booze: London Gets A Hangover

My contract of employment obliges me to point out whenever I express an opinion about the Tube that these opinions are my own, and should in no way be taken to represent those of London Underground or TfL. So now you know.

A century ago, there were feminists who called for alcohol to be banned because they blamed it for domestic violence. Their view was understandable, as women took regular beatings from men who came home drunk, then as now. It took Prohibition to change their minds, as booze was banned but domestic violence continued.

In 2008, Boris Johnson thinks that banning booze will prevent, or at least reduce, bad behaviour on London's transport. He too is mistaken, and his motives may not be as worthy or understandable as the early twentieth century feminists. He was on a yacht when the booze ban came into force on Saturday night, which, being neither in London nor a form of public transport, was exempted. He has noticeably not called for the banning of alcohol at the Henley Regatta, which, after all, might piss off one or two of his constituents - popping the cork and letting the bubbly flow is part of the event darling, and you'd never catch a Hooray Henry misbehaving under the influence now, would you?

The relationship between booze and bad behaviour is more complex than a simple ban implies. Does alcohol cause aggression, or are people who feel aggressive anyway more inclined to drink? Perhaps aggression and violence fuel each other - but only in some people, not others. Boris' ban is not on disorderly or aggressive behaviour but on drinking alcohol or carrying open containers of alcohol. So someone who is behaving like a tosser, but not in possession of an open can whilst travelling - perhaps having got well and truly tanked up before setting off home - would not be covered by the ban; but on the other hand, a person behaving impeccably and sipping from a can or bottle while minding their own business would fall foul of the new rule.

Those of us who work on the Tube have been dealing with boozy passengers for years. Most are good-natured, some provide us with a right laugh (I particularly remember the pair who missed the last Central line train home because they sat on the station stairs thinking they were in the carriage). I'm always rather pleased that they are travelling on the Tube, rather than driving.

Some, however, can be a problem (as can some sober people). You do get assaults on staff. You do end up calling ambulances when drunk people topple down the escalators. They can be hard work. And the cleaners get the worst deal of all - clearing up cans, spillages and vomit, all on poverty wages that Boris Johnson wouldn't get out of bed for.

But Tube staff have never called for this to be dealt with by banning drinking.

Even if you supported the ban, the way it has been brought in is appalling. I for one do not recall Boris Johnson saying he would do this during his election campaign - it might have cost him votes, after all. Then he announces it days after being elected, imposes it a month later, and expects things to go smoothly! As if. There was no consultation with the trade unions, no extra staff on duty on the night it came in, and a promise of police back-up that was laughable.

Personally, I oppose the ban. And I support people's right to protest against it. But none of this excuses some of the behaviour on Saturday night when Tube workers were assaulted, abused and spat at. Anyone who thinks that's a good way to defend freedom and oppose Mayor Johnson should go home and sleep it off. And when you wake up with a hangover, think about the cleaners wading through broken glass to mop up the booze, vomit and piss.

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