By Humphrey Carter
I.D. cards, 24 hour licensing and binge drinking, the euro, pensions, the riots in France and the next leader of the Conservative Party were some of the issues brought up by members of British Conservatives Abroad at Saturday night's question time in Portals Nous. With a panel, chaired by the chairman of British Conservatives Abroad, Ronald Gross and which included the leader of Westminster Council, Simon Milton, the chief Justice of the Peace for Islington, Melvin Marks, Calvia Councillor for Tourism and Foreign Affairs, Kate Mentink and Bulletin journalist Humphrey Carter the evening touched on issues which have a bearing across Europe, not just in the British Isles. For example, on the issues of ID cards, Milton is wary about the effectiveness and cost of the proposed scheme the Labour government is planning to introduce in Britain. The main excuse is that it would be important in the war against terrorism, hence the high cost of the operation. However, while few people on the panel and in the audience agreed that ID will have any effect on the war on terrorism or even fighting organised crime, ID cards would help crack down on problems like benefit fraud while helping to make the running of the legal system much easier and aid the police. One member of the audience suggested that the ID card system should be made “simple and easy with the emphasis being taken off terrorism and placed more on improving the lives of honest people on the streets.” As a JP, Marks explained that in so many cases, in particular traffic cases, the five-day period of grace during which time traffic offenders have to provide the documentation often leads to confusion for the courts. Offenders claim they were not driving but it was in fact their brother who is no longer in the country. Marks maintains that having to provide an ID card on the spot would make people more accountable and enhance the smooth running of the judicial system. Kate Mentink added that the ID cards are extremely helpful to councils as it enables the local authority to get a good idea of who is living in the local community. To conclude, the panel and audience agreed that ID should in fact be made compulsory, rather like in most other European countries, including Spain.
Some members of the audience suggested that, with a smoother running judiciary and less bureaucracy for the police, there will, however, be more resources which could be channelled into the war on terror or even cracking down on weekend binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled city centre violence. Milton, whose council represents some 3.600 licensees, is opposed to the 24hr opening law coming into effect in the UK this week.
He fears it will not only cause more problems for local authorities, it will also lead to an escalation in alcohol-related incidents and crime.
Both he and Marks were interested to hear about the increasing problem of binge drinking in Majorca, especially Palma. Marks thought it rather ironic that one of the reasons Labour has introduced the 24hr opening policy for licensed premises is “to encourage a more continental drinking culture.” Here in Palma the city council has been forced to admit it is unable to stamp out binge drinking and is now considering the introduction of special areas where people can gather and drink on the weekend to keep the activity under control. The aim is to remove it from key areas such as the Paseo Maritimo and centre of Palma. Kate Mentink said that in Calvia, while the problem is nowhere near on the scale it is in Palma, they have found that an extra police presence at key times and hot spot areas, such as the early hours of the morning, has proved a deterrent. But, in both the UK and here in Majorca, according to Marks, cracking down on binge drinking depends greatly on whether the police forces have the “time and the will.” “It is a great burden on police forces to have extra officers on the beat throughout the night and sometimes it is not the solution,” he said.
Milton added that it is a cultural problem which society as a whole needs to be involved in resolving. He suggested starting at the root of the problem, the distillers and even suggested that the same crackdown on tobacco be introduced on alcohol. He said that in many ways, the marketing and retail of alcohol is irresponsible in Britain and young peoples' role models are not helping. He added that the club in the borough of Westminster about which they receive the most complaints is one frequented by the likes of Prince Harry. “If they are seen to be misbehaving and are not made accountable, what kind of example are they giving young people,” Milton asked the audience.
Milton also said that 87 percent of cases involving violence in the centre of London are alcohol related. He and his departments, including local hospitals for example, are braced for an increase with the new 24 hour drinking law. Would the next leader of the Conservative party, should he win the next election, revoke 24hour drinking laws and call for a cheaper and more simple ID card system, remains to be seen. Milton stressed that he would certainly have the powers and it would appear that, here in Majorca at least, the majority of Conservative Party members have voted in favour of David Cameron becoming the next party leader. Milton has backed Cameron. Apart from being young and having time to gain experience he said “risks are sometimes very rewarding.” He defended Cameron's decision not to talk policy, “he's got four years to talk policy” and said the party should not worry too much about young people “young people do not vote.” However, while most members agreed the party needs someone with charisma and an image that appeals to the public, not just the party members, some complained that Cameron has “no substance and should at least be making some kind of declaration of intent on key policies.” Where does he stand on pensions for example?
But, all agreed just how important electing the right leader for the party is, as the next general election could be crucial for the future of the party. Mentink said that should the Conservatives get it wrong, they could be in opposition for a very long time. There was similar agreement over the future of the Euro. The Euro is definitely here to stay but both Milton and Marks said that Britain has been wise not to join the single currency and that, for the short term future, the debate is dead and buried in Britain. Mentink however said she would like to have seen a stronger Britain in its role as European President this year. With countries like Germany, France and Italy floundering, especially economically, Britain should take the lead and help create a strong Europe capable of competing with the dollar and the rising power of the Far East. The panel also urged European states to learn the lessons from the French riots as they could quite easily happen in neighbouring countries.


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