If the Sunday papers are to be believed, Britain is drowning under a deluge of alcohol abuse. There are binge drinkers on every corner, corner shops are being besieged by under-age buyers of alcohol, and virtually every adult in England is taking advantage of phenomenally low prices to consume as much as possible.
Or is it possible that there were lots of blank pages to fill and yet another piece about alcoholism is (a) easy, and (b) guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of middle England?
There may or may not be a binge drinking issue to be addressed - the sensationalist nature of all news coverage of the topic actually makes it quite difficult to genuinely decide. If there is, we can be pretty sure that it is not universal, that it is confined to certain groups in society, and that it is nothing new. Which makes the constant attempts to squeeze it onto the news agenda both depressing and suspicious. The chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, is the man who pushed the story out this weekend with his ill-considered suggestion of price fixing - there should, he said, be a minimum price for alcohol. Oh, absolutely. It is clearly the role of the government to tell us all exactly how much is good for us, and to direct what we can consume. And, of course, it is well known that alcohol is priced far too low.
Fortunately, once one has waded through the morass of hysteria there is a beacon of hope, not just for the perfectly reasonable wine drinkers of society, but for anyone concerned with an over-abundance of government intervention on the liberties of ordinary people. The government and the opposition seem united in rejecting the idea of alcohol price fixing. Gordon Brown has been distinctly cool on his response, suggesting that the government has no intention of introducing the measure, and the Tories' health spokesman Andrew Lansley has also clearly opposed it. So we can safely leave the boozy journalists to their anti-alcohol print frenzies without the prospect of a Big Brother state hoving into view just yet.
For a different view of the Great Alcohol Debate, see Will Self's First Post article.