Raising a glass to freedom of choice

Suzy Dean of the Manifesto Club reports on Saturday’s drunken anti-Boris party on the London Underground.

Suzy Dean

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Topics Politics

Within days of London mayor Boris Johnson’s announcement that, from 1 June, drinking alcohol would be banned on the Tube, London buses, Docklands Light Railway and tram services and stations across the capital, plans for a final party became the subject of water-cooler chatter and Facebook discussions.

The party, which took place on the London Underground on Saturday night, just hours before the ban came into force, was not a celebration that ‘went too far’, as some media reports claim. It looked to me like a loud demonstration of people’s pissed-offness with an establishment that has taken yet another opportunity to tell us how to behave.

On Saturday, just after 5pm, groups of revellers started arriving at Liverpool Street station. They stood on the concourse clutching bags that were rattling with bottles of beer and champagne. Some were casually dressed in jeans and t-shirts; others wore cocktail dresses and elaborate costumes. The Last Circle Line Party group came along in black tie. Boris’s booze ban seems to have annoyed a whole spectrum of people – from football fans who will no longer be able to enjoy a pre-match beer on their way to the stadium, to hen parties, students and city boys who like a tipple when they travel.

The ‘last round on the underground’ could easily have been a farewell-to-booze party – and indeed some supporters of the ban did attend in that very spirit. However, there was a real sense of hostility towards Boris and his ban, as people excitedly descended to the platform in Liverpool Street and boarded the hot, sticky trains. Much of the chat centred on how petty the ban is; people told me they found the ban ‘irritating’ and ‘annoying’. Far from reducing crime, they said, the only thing it would reduce was their freedom to have fun.

As the partygoers became more riled, they picked up and discussed the Manifesto Club’s ‘Against the Booze Ban’ flyers. The flyer argued that, as adults, we should be free to ‘negotiate the niceties of how we behave in public’. At one point, five or six men waved the flyer in the faces of policemen standing on the westbound platform.

When partygoers challenged the police on the need for the ban, the police pointed out that there would be no new legislation coming in. They explained that they already had the right to arrest people deemed to be a nuisance, and they did not plan to enforce the ban, as such, but rather to use its powers if they needed to. This recognition that the ban is kind of pointless showed up what lies behind it: it is a way for Boris, in lieu of having any big or inspiring ideas, to make his mark on the city by introducing petty and authoritarian measures.

There was moral outrage about the demo in the Sunday papers after 17 people were arrested. Yet the fact that the arrest figure was so low – even though 10,000 largely drunk people were crammed into tiny carriages on the Circle Line – only demonstrated that the ban is unnecessary and mean-spirited. As the drinks flowed, and people started singing anti-Boris songs, it became clear that boozing with friends does not always lead to fighting and vomiting; people can cut loose and have fun without committing a criminal offence.

The ban follows various other restrictions on our behaviour, all of which have been introduced in the name of making our public spaces more pleasant – from the smoking ban brought in last year to the ban on the wearing of hoodies in certain shopping centres. Instead of tolerating this increasing invasion of our public space by the authorities, we should stand up and say that public space is always more pleasant if we are free to behave in it in ways that we see fit.

Suzy Dean is a member of the Manifesto Club.

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