Blogs > Liberty and Power > London's Illiberal, Intolerant New Rulers

May 14, 2008 1:32 am

London's Illiberal, Intolerant New Rulers

Brendan O'Neill explains why the new Conservative mayor's ban on drinking alcohol anywhere on London public transport suggests we can expect more loss of liberty under his regime.

I guess it may surprise our American readers that drinking booze on buses and tube trains in London is legal. But if the thought disturbs you, cheer up because from Sunday, June 1, it is PROHIBITED. Just another nail in the coffin of individual liberties historically enjoyed by Londoners.

"You can tell a lot about a political leader by his attitude to alcohol. Historically, your position on the Booze Issue – including the freedom of people to buy it, to consume it, and even to vomit it up again in a hedge if necessary – defined where you stood on individual liberty itself, and on the trustworthiness of the mass of the population to make choices and to live with their consequences.

"Where illiberal, elitist, suspicious and quite often Christian outfits sought to restrict people's access to alcohol, great defenders of freedom and civil liberties groups emerged from the struggle against prohibition. John Stuart Mill's impassioned defence of freedom, On Liberty, was written 'in the midst of the growing power of Christian temperance groups'; the American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920, also the year in which the American government prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of all alcoholic beverages."


"Of course, many of us have had the painful experience of coming face-to-face with pissheads on a train – yet so long as they are only talking bollocks rather than committing a criminal offence (and I mean a real criminal offence rather than the new offence of drinking from a can of Stella Artois) then they should be left alone. As Mill argued, most of the 'harm' from drinkers' actions is really just an 'inconvenience...which society can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good of human freedom'. That we have a new mayor who is willing to enforce kneejerk new bans, treat the citizens of London like children and depict the inconvenience of public drunkenness as some terrible threat to civilisation suggests Boris [Johnson]-led City Hall will be a profoundly un-Millian, intolerant and illiberal institution."

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Anthony Gregory - 5/14/2008

The American Revolution will be undone, and the British and Americans will all take up each other's bad habits. Gun bans and ubiquitous spy cameras in the US. Draconian drug laws and executions in the UK.