'It is hard for health professionals to admit it, but the Daily Mail is not always wrong'
Don't be taken in by talk of a snap general election next spring. Gordon Brown's takeover from What's His Name has gone smoothly so far, a fact reflected in the polls. But he has struggled long and hard to get this far. I do not think it is in character to risk it all on a gamble.
But we are starting to get clearer hints about the Brown Age, not least on gambling. Number 10's decision to dump Manchester's mega-casino as an instrument of urban regeneration struck me as wise, as did the promised review of the status of cannabis as a class C drug. Brownites sometimes use 'review' loosely, as in 'Wanless'. They know the result they want: back to class B, where it was in the Cabinet's student days.
Both moves fitted the Daily Mail's agenda. It is hard for health professionals who daily suffer the Mail's disdain to admit it, but the Scourge of Middle Britain is not always wrong. As we will see, Mr Brown is also prepared to incur its wrath. Why, only last week he declared he would champion gay rights.
We are back in familiar territory here: liberty versus licence. Contrary to his Nanny Blair image, old What's His Name used to defend all sorts of things, more boozing and gambling, gay marriage, etc, in the name of liberty, albeit with mixed results.
A new survey of nocturnal crime suggests that 24/7 drinking seems to be causing more petty harassment and criminal damage - between 3am and dawn, instead of 11pm to midnight - but less violent crime overall. How does that square the accident and emergency department at St Thomas' in London recently reporting a tripling of drink-related customers at night? They cannot all be MPs from just across the Thames.
Coincidentally, that nice Lib Dem MP Sandra Gidley introduced a backbench bill at Westminster designed to test the political water on alcohol harm reduction and see if something could be done to match England's 1 July ban on public smoking which seems to have gone quietly, as ministers said it would.
The Romsey MP told a familiar tale. Some 19,000 cases of booze-related cirrhosis of the liver in 2005-06 (a 178 per cent increase since old What's His Name took over), a doubling of alcohol poisoning cases, all of it affecting younger and younger people, especially young women - more of whom end up in hospital than teen males.
No doubt, there is a link with unwanted pregnancy and sexual disease.
Total cost to the UK? Around£20bn, the MP claimed, the equivalent of 20 per cent of the NHS budget.
Not all news is bad. Red wine is confirmed as beneficial in moderation. Even cider turns out to be high in antioxidants. Alas, I first got drunk on it at 14 and still shudder at the smell.
Ms Gidley, a pharmacist by trade, is rightly sceptical about years of government promises and reminded public health minister Dawn Primarolo that simple measures would help. Such as? Higher taxes and an end to supermarkets selling booze cheap as a loss leader, as medical experts have long protested.
Alas, the Blair regime seemed to live in terror of the big supermarkets - on labelling unhealthy food, for instance - and was forever consulting them as to how to please customers/voters.
So there's a test for prime minister Brown. Ditto lax cinema and television advertising codes. A fortune is spent on glamorising drinks.
It need not be. Labelling should also be enforced (I am a great believer in measuring units as a form of self-discipline: labels would help) as should better education in schools and better police strategies. I speak as someone who has cut back heavy drinking, but still sometimes drinks unwisely.
At one such lunch with a libertarian chum recently, he defended the right to drink or drug oneself to death, or to commit suicide, as members of his own family had done.
When I suggested he would agree to draw the line at child porn, he changed the subject. We must not fear to protect our young people from drink, drunks, sexual abuse or even killing themselves in car crashes. I see MPs want the Brownites to tighten those rules too. Good.
Michael White is assistant editor (politics) of The Guardian.