Many people were hoping that the new coalition government might demonstrate a significantly less bullying and authoritarian approach to public policy than its predecessor. Now, I have argued in the past that, at least on issues of “lifestyle freedom”, a change of government was unlikely to bring much respite. And so it has proven, with David Cameron expressing qualified support for the Greater Manchester local authorities’ crack-brained plan to impose a minimum unit price for alcohol in their area. This was clearly an instinctive response and reveals his true colours to be those of a patronising, authoritarian snob rather than anything that could even be vaguely called a libertarian. And his reference to “tins of Stella” really showed him to be someone in touch with what is happening on the street.
As I have repeatedly pointed out before, minimum pricing is an extremely inefficient and broad-brush method of dealing with “problem drinking” (whatever that may be) and would in practice have a significant impact on the wallets of less well-off families, even if they kept within official drinking guidelines. Hell, a few months ago, I even heard the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who is hardly a liberal in the true sense of the word, arguing against it on those grounds.
Now I can’t really see Cameron pressing ahead with this once Sir Terry Leahy’s tanks are drawn up on his lawn, let alone the fact that it is totally illegal under both UK and EU competition law. And hopefully, by bringing the “Tory snob” factor into the debate on minimum pricing, it will help expose the idea as a direct attack on the lifestyles and living standards of the poor, and make it less likely to happen, not more.