IT is always good advice that if you find yourself in a hole you should stop digging; there may be times, however, when the hole is already so deep that there is no chance of getting out of it whatever you do. That seems to be situation that the British government has got itself into over the extension of licensing laws. A poll of 1'500 adults published yesterday showed a 62-34 per cent majority against the proposals; more important, with a single exception, no matter how those questioned were broken down by political allegiances, age groups or gender the result came out the same. Labour supporters were less hostile to the new law but still opposed it by 53 to 43 per cent. The single and telling exception was that the 18-24-years-old group supported longer drinking hours by 51 to 47 per cent. That outcome will reinforce the belief of many people that the new arrangement will increase rowdyism and worse in the streets late at night and in the early hours, although there is some encouragement to be found in the fact that the margin in favour was so slight.

On his return from his holiday Mr Blair made it clear that he would not change his mind on this subject and the Government is apparently determined to press ahead so that the change take effect in late November. Some 60'000 of the 190'000 pubs, bars, and clubs in England and Wales have applied to extend their hours and there have been local objections to about half of those.

It is still a mystery why Mr Blair should have wanted to give such a high priority to a measure that seems certain to work against his other priority of reducing binge drinking, street vandalism and violence, and increasing “respect”. His argument that it will introduce “continental” drinking habits in Britain is superficial and risible. What other arguments have swayed him?