Local vs. National Alcohol Policy: The UK Edition

Virginia Berridge, a professor of history and director of the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, recently alerted Points to a new briefing her organization published earlier this year. “Local and National Alcohol Policy: How Do They Interact?” is a concise and useful treatise on the difficulties of integrating local and national alcohol policies in the United Kingdom, with resonance for American scholars and those doing transnational work.

London pubThe report is a based on a seminar held in May 2014, and features notes from three scholars, conclusions, and a particularly compelling “Historians’ Overview,” which nicely summarizes the UK’s shifts in policy control between the Victorian Era and the 2003 Licensing Act.  James Nicholls discusses the “legitimizing role” that history has played in supporting both current policy as well as arguments for change. Betsy Thom outlines the role that the New Labour party’s emphasis on devolution and partnerships played on national and local alcohol policy in the 1980s. And Don Lavoie explains the evolution of policy as a whole, noting that national control over alcohol is a fairly new development, one that has only recently transitioned from discussions of crime and disorder to debates over the effects of drinking on public health.

For those interested in bringing a transnational perspective to studies of addiction, policy and governance, the article is of particular use. As Americans, we can also see clear resonance in the UK’s debates over local and national control in our own battles over states’ rights versus the federal government. In terms of alcohol, addiction treatment, rates of arrest and debates over drug legalization, “local versus national” remains a compelling and ever-present debate, and an understanding of the history behind these arguments is as useful here as it is across the pond. While no one in the article argues that history will solve our countries’ issues with alcohol, each scholar reaffirms the need to understand our past. As Nicholls notes, history can “help remind us what the shape of such problems is, and point to the different worldviews and epistemologies that are at work.”

You can download the entire report via the link provided above.