The Tories’ plans to triple duty on “high-strength” beers and ciders are ill-considered, indiscriminate and unlikely to achieve their stated objectives. They may put people off drinking the likes of Special Brew and Diamond White, but they will also impact on high-quality strong ales such as Robinson’s Old Tom, recently voted world’s best ale, Belgian imports such as Chimay and Duvel, and the products of independent cidermakers. These products are consumed responsibly by discerning drinkers and already are often relatively expensive in terms of price per alcohol unit.
Yet again beer and cider are being unfairly singled out when wines and spirits are equally to blame for our supposed alcohol problems.
The vast majority of the alcohol-fuelled disorder we see on our streets results from people consuming normal-strength drinks. The super-strength products are overwhelmingly drunk at home and scarcely feature in pubs.
And you can bet your life that the promise to reduce duty on “low-strength” products will only apply to the sub-3% pisswater that nobody wants to drink, and not to everyday quaffing beers in the 3-4% range.
It is also inevitable that if there is a sudden jump in duty levels at a particular strength level, numerous products will cluster just below that level, thus distorting the market.
The plan is a thoroughly bad idea which is likely to cost the Tories many votes from people who would often see themselves as their natural supporters. More proof, if it were needed, that defending the interests of responsible drinkers is not a straightforward party political issue.