Of all the misguided "liberalisations" that the Labour Party committed (in the support of big business rather than the community) one of the least celebrated is the 2003 Licensing Act. There's the usual "Daily Mail" hand-wringing about cheap alcohol ruining children and the occasional effusion of technicoloured vomit on television when a cheap documentary about the decline of the country is required, but as usual this is a simplistic and counter-productive response.
As a regular and appreciative user of licensed premises, with a slightly-developed sense of curiosity, the economics of the trade interest me. There are constant examples of pubs closing down in villages and suburbs, whilse the so-called vertical drinking establishments in town centres continue to flourish - targeted at maximising profit and minimising the space available per punter. This is a simple way of profit maximisation, and as such should be seen as a typical manifestation of capitalism.
The 2003 Act requires the managers of pubs, clubs and bars to take responsibility for their own premises, which is all right and proper. However, there is no mandate for them to be responsible for punters once they have left the modern Gomorrah to go about their business, and this all falls on the police and local council to take care of. Added to that is the current three-stage police classification of drinkers as being sober, "in drink" and "drunk and disorderly" - with only the latter attracting attention, and there is a recipe for anarchy at tipping-out times.
As the legislation assumes that councils have to justify any refusal, and that the wider impacts are not really important when it comes to licensing as it's irrelevant to the act, the presumption is that the trade can do what it wants - often employing expensive lawyers against local residents and councillors whose concerns are thus diminished, as nothing gets a local council officer more worried than the thought of having to fund litigation, even with a good chance of success.
This runs across Delirium Dave's localism and "Does My Society Look Big In This?" agenda, but what the hell? For the most part, people who live in town centres (promoting sustainability and reducing carbon emissions by not needing to drive anywhere) are not stalwarts of their local Tory association, so being kept awake by profit-generating, inexperienced drinkers revelling in their ability to exploit the acoustic properties of the urban landscape at two in the morning is a small price to pay - until something actually happens when we get back to hand-wringing. The number of times the "local night-time economy" is cited as an excuse to provide palliative alcopops for the masses is breathtaking.
Who needs joined-up policies, anyway?