Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The long tentacles of temperance

There's a 'public health' conference in Edinburgh in October on the subject of alcohol. The conference is called 'Momentum for change: research and advocacy reducing alcohol harm'. The words 'advocacy' and 'change' make it fairly clear that it is another chance for activists to swap notes and plan political campaigns. As usual, this shindig is being financed by the unwitting taxpayer, in this instance via the Scottish government and the Scottish NHS.

There is nothing surprising about this. It is the depressingly predictable way that the sock puppet state operates. But it is worth looking at one aspect of it, for it is being organised by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and its chairman Derek Rutherford offers some welcoming words on its website.

Derek Rutherford may be the most important temperance/public health luminary you have never heard of. His career nicely illustrates the way that the temperance lobby has merged into the 'public health' movement. Rutherford is a religious teetotaller of the old school. In an interview published in Addiction in 2012, he explained:

"In my youth I had three loves: the temperance movement; the church, because I was also an active member of the Baptist Church in Easington; and the Labour Party. They were the three organizations that I was committed to and they all came together." 

Rutherford is a trustee—and chairman of the Advisory Board—at the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). Despite its academic pretensions and dispassionate-sounding name, the IAS is a temperance wolf in sheep's clothing. It was created by the now-defunct UK Temperance Alliance in 1983, of which Rutherford was a prominent member. The UK Temperance Alliance was previously known as the UK Alliance, or, to give it its full name, the United Kingdom Alliance for the Suppression in the Traffic in All Intoxicating Beverages.

The UK Alliance was formed in the 1850s to campaign for the total prohibition of alcohol. Not only did it fail, but the failure of the 18th Amendment in the US made prohibition a dirty word for generations and so it adopted the more moderate word 'temperance' in 1942. When the word 'temperance' started to sound too puritanical, it became a sort of think tank.

During its glory days, the UK Alliance bought some nice real estate in Westminster—which is still called Alliance House—and the IAS lives of its rental income along with funding from the EU. The IAS is coy about its earlier incarnations, saying only that it has "moved on from some of its original viewpoints" but the financial accounts of the Alliance House Foundation—the charity which syphons the rent from Alliance House into the IAS—still gives its objective as being “To spread the principles of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks”. In all the years I've been paying attention, the IAS has never said a good word about alcohol in any context.

In his Addiction interview, Rutherford says that he has been a "temperance man" all his life. He says he joined the International Order of Good Templars (IOGT) in the 1930s when he was 9 years old. The IOGT was also formed in the 1850s to fight for prohibition and it has also morphed into a pretend public health group which now claims to work "solely from evidence based facts". In the 1970s, it modernised slightly by calling itself the International Organisation of Good Templars. Today, it is known simply as IOGT International. I can't find details of IOGT International's funding, but its Swedish branch, IOGT-NTO, which lobbies in Brussels, receives funding from the government.

In 1990, IOGT International formed the pan-European Active Sobriety Friendship (AKA Active Europe) for young people. I've written about their extreme temperance agenda before. Despite hardly bothering with the sheep's clothing they, too, get funding from the EU.

Rutherford makes an interesting observation about how the rise of 'public health' offered opportunities for temperance men that the disease model of alcoholism did not:

"...when I entered the mainstream alcohol field in my 20s it was dominated by the disease model, the view that alcoholism comes in people, not in bottles. The decline of this view and its replacement by the public health model really meant a return to the temperance perspective I acquired very early, which always accepted that the problem is actually all to do with alcohol, and that if consumption increases then so will the level of harm. Hence the importance the movement placed on factors such as price and availability..."

As a result of this convergence of policy interests, Rutherford was able to set up the Teachers' Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drug Education (TACADE) in the 1960s at a time when "the temperance movement had a bad image" despite being an officer at the UK Alliance. He then became Director of the National Council on Alcoholism, which started getting government funding in 1972 (even he calls its a "supposedly non-governmental organisation"). The National Council on Alcoholism was replaced by the (state-funded) Alcohol Concern in 1985, but Rutherford had already walked out three years earlier after a row with the NCA's new chairman who said that he had no time for "a bunch of Methodist teetotallers". Rutherford returned to the UK Alliance where he formed the Institute of Alcohol Studies "to fight the alcohol policy cause".

In 1990, whilst International Secretary of IOGT, he co-founded Eurocare AKA the European Alcohol Policy Allaince, a neo-temperance organisation that lobbies in Brussels and which—yet again—gets funding from the EU.

Today, as an elder statesman, he is the chair of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance which is having its annual conference paid for by the taxpayer in Edinburgh. The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance was formed in 2000 by Derek Rutherford who says that the priority is to "make the most of the opportunities provided by the development of the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy and the focus on non-communicable diseases."

The long and prolific career of Derek Rutherford tells us two things about the modern anti-alcohol movement that are not widely appreciated.

Firstly, that it remains steeped in temperance. Most people think that the temperance movement is virtually dead and that 'public health' is a different beast which just happens to have the same objectives of raising taxes, restricting licensing and banning advertising. In fact, the old temperance groups are still very much alive. They have simply changed their names or set up new organisations to pursue the same goals. This is one reason why I use quote marks around 'public health'. I refuse to accept the rebranding of moralists, religious zealots and puritans.

Secondly, the neo-temperance movement is dependent on government money. With the exception of the IAS, which has an unusual funding model, all the groups named above get money from the state in some form or another, and even the IAS gets some money from the EU. This is not unusual in public health—the majority of public health advocates get their hand in the taxpayer's pocket somewhere down the line—but it is still remarkable that an unpopular cause like gospel temperance is being kept alive by the largesse of government. Without it, the temperance movement really would be moribund because, as Rutherford says, it has vanishingly little grass-roots support:

"...the greatest tragedy is that we have not been able to create a people’s movement. We have not been able to have the grass roots marching as they did in an earlier era... We have many more professionals working in the field, but there is no popular movement"

But who needs public support when you have full-time professionals and government grants?


Christopher Snowdon said...

Same lack of public support and near-total dependence on the taypayer in Australia.

Christopher Snowdon said...

And of course, prohibition worked so well in the US. It's strange and has been remarked on before how the biggest shits amongst us gravitate towards positions of power and authority.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Very interesting.

Christopher Snowdon said...

>>the problem is actually all to do with alcohol

Yeh, cure an alcoholic by getting other perple to drink less.

Christopher Snowdon said...

>Rutherford says that he has been a "temperance man" all his life.

So WTF does he know about drinking?