Thursday, 9 January 2014

Under the influence?

In the past few days, there has been considerable discussion in the media over claims by the British Medical Association and other anti-drink campaigners that the government were unduly influenced by industry lobbyists in rejecting proposals for minimum alcohol pricing. To some extent this just looks like a case of sour grapes that they didn’t get their way – and weren’t they engaged in vigorous lobbying too for their pet project? But the whole thing rests on two very questionable assumptions.

The first is that any kind of industry lobbying is somehow illegitimate in the first place. Obviously it is the role of government to try to balance conflicting interests and it certainly should not allow policy to be dictated by industry or indeed any other interest group. But to say that an industry that employs a million people, gives pleasure to millions more and contributes billions every year to the Exchequer has no right even to be heard when there are legislative proposals that are likely to severely affect it is a singularly extreme view. It seems to assume that industry per se is some kind of exploitative parasite on the body politic rather than what actually makes up the economy and funds government in the first place.

Second, as argued in this particularly appalling piece in the Guardian, minimum pricing was some kind of no-brainer policy that enjoyed overwhelming public support until it was derailed by the big bad brewers and distillers. However, in fact it never gained more than a relatively small minority of support in opinion polls, and it is too often lazily assumed that anyone opposing any kind of regulatory proposal – in many other fields beyond alcohol policy – is actually a paid industry shill rather than someone who has examined the issues for themselves and reached a different conclusion.

In reality, rather than rolling over as claimed in the face of industry bullying, surely the government took a long hard look at the plan and decided it was simply bad policy. It did not command public support, it would be ineffective in achieving its claimed objectives, it would unfairly target the less well off, it would lead to an increase in alcohol smuggling and illegal distilling and, at the end of the day, it was almost certainly illegal anyway under EU law.

The whole thing is very effectively deconstructed by Chris Snowdon here.


  1. The comments at the Graun piece are a joy! :)

  2. The Grauniad have really shot themselves in the foot with this one!

    ps. Their correspondent looks suspiciously like the headmistress in the old St Trinian's films (Alastair Sim?), and she was portrayed as an old soak. (Sorry someone on the "functioning alcoholic spectrum")!!

  3. Get real,the only reason Alcohol
    is'nt getting the same lambasting as Tobacco is quite simply due to the fact that booze is still allowed to be advertised on TV and all other forms of media.
    When the millions of revenue from advertising is cut off(soon) just watch
    anti booze fanatics raise their
    crusade banners.
    As an ex regular drinker I cant wait to hear the wailing shrimps,twittering weasels and
    bloated bleaters,the same judas goats who did'nt give a toss when the smokers got dumped in the gutter.
    Farewell to Arms

  4. Ah, but if you silence any dissenting voice, then yours is the only one that is heard – so you win the argument! Simples.

    Radical Rodent

  5. The alcohol industry was divided between those that thought minimum pricing would benefit or harm their own business. Alcohol did not lobby with one voice.

    Call me Dave dropped the idea after thinking "Crikey the recession is dragging on, wages are stagnant, prices are rising and we are thinking of putting up the price of a bottle of Shiraz in Tesco?"

    It was dropped because it would be electorally unpopular. Because 80% of people drink.

    Most people accept alcohol has a cost to society but notice restrictions would affect their own habits.

    In 20 years time around 40% of people will drink. For most people alcohol will be a cost to society and any restrictions will not affect them.

    That is the point prohibition will come thundering in and it won't matter whether you like responsible cask ale in responsible pubs one little bit.

  6. Most people drink at home,
    just where Westminster wants them.
    No churches,no dance halls,no socials,no pubs,no clubs, just work,supermarket and a big couch in front of a big TV
    Sublime control

    Hades mini Cruises

  7. Cookie is spot on yet again. That's precisely how tobacco restrictions gained popularity coupled with, as Anon @22:43 said, the silencing of dissent. Prohibitionists are exercising method when they unfairly criticise drinks companies for debating their proposals. In time, government will be scared to talk to the likes of Diageo, Heineken etc just as they are currently terrified of engaging with BAT.


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