John Greenaway / “The First World War: Drink and National Efficiency” / Drink and British Politics Since 1830: A Study in Policy-Making / 2003

George V, King of the UK, 1910-1936. Abstainer, sort of.

A study in the high politics of social policy-making: how elite politicians wrestled with one social issue. Since 1880, drink was aspect of social reform in England. 1914, it became issue of national efficiency. Lloyd George collected material on the effects od drinking on production in shipyards and armament factories. Failed to connect drinking with “lost time.” Infamous statements that drink was a deadlier for than Austria or Germany. Same day, Lloyd George requested abstinence of the King, because royal example would help coercive measures. King’s secretary produced conditional letter of assent. This was leaked, so royal family was bounced into abstinence for duration of war. However, George V privately annoyed. Years later said he drank privately, “under doctor’s orders.” “King’s Pledge” governed publicity. Celebrities followed, but not the Cabinet, nor the House of Commons [Did house of Lords? If so, interesting split on issue -Evan]. Daily Telegraph: what in peacetime was an “economic waste and a social evil” became in war “a black crime against the nation.” One Cabinet colleague reported Lloyd George, 1915, saying “the idea that slackness and drink, which people talk so much about, are the causes of delay, is mostly fudge,” and rather government mismanagement caused shortages of ships and munitions. Bonar Law (UK PM 1922-1923), re the munitions problem: “I think the Government have bungled the whole subject, and the cry about drink is being used partly at least to divert attention from their own short-comings.” Central Control Board Committees researched alcohol consumption: experiments on the effects of alcohol on typists’ speed and accuracy, on manual workers’ output, etc. Social trend: more acceptable for young women to order drinks without male companions. Temperance people saw as problem. Ads done away with antiseptic/austere State run pubs. D’Abernon, re Gracie’s Banking, it was “as different from the ordinary public house as chalk from cheese.”  August 1916, invited Lloyd George to witness its opening, because it would “serve as a model of what public houses should be, to the country at large,” and it would “stand as the first real monument and outward symbol of the state’s control of public houses,” and regarded from this point of view, its inauguration becomes a business of national importance.” 1916, Lloyd George becomes PM. CCB pushes for State to purchase drink trade. D’Abernon: further improvements required. “The State stepping in to clear away the present confusion and reorganize the whole trade on more economical and scientific lines.” During WW1, Britain became a more sober nation: by early 1920s, per capita spirit consumption down by 1/2, beer down 25 gallons to 10.


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