Wednesday 19 January 2011

A useful idiot?

I can’t say I was particularly surprised to read the reaction of CAMRA’s Mike Benner to the government’s “minimum pricing” plans, although even so it was dismaying to hear him recycling the anti-drink lobby’s stock catchphrase about supermarket lager being sold at “pocket-money prices”.

He then went on to say “For any ban to have a meaningful impact it is vital that the cost of alcohol production is factored in, which for beer will produce a floor price of around 40p a unit – double what is being proposed,” which shows a total failure to understand the economics of the off-trade alcohol business. Has he never been in a discount offie?

In reality it’s not remotely difficult to buy own-label or minor brand beer, for about 30p a unit, and I don’t think anyone’s making a loss on that. Equally you can buy wine for £2.99 a bottle, and spirits for £8.99. Those drinks may be cheap crap, but they’re not loss leaders.

The whole business about supermarket loss-leading on alcohol is a delusion. Tesco are not fools, but they do know how to drive a hard bargain, and I’d be amazed if more than 2% of the total alcohol units that go out of their door are sold at below the suppliers’ invoice price. Probably not even 1%. As Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium (quoted by Chris Snowdon here) says: “if you just stop and think about it for a minute, no business could survive – let alone thrive – if it was routinely selling large amounts of product at less than it was actually paying for it.”

CAMRA are often heard parroting the line that “well-run community pubs have been recognised as part of the solution,” but in reality the anti-drink lobby couldn’t give a toss about community pubs which, in any case, are almost without exception dens of the kind of binge-drinking they deplore. Show me the pub where nobody ever drinks three pints of Stella (or equivalent) at a sitting. They are just playing a cynical exercise in divide and rule, and people like Mike Benner have been suckered in.

The phrase ‘Useful idiot’ has often been used as a pejorative term for those who are seen to unwittingly support a malign cause through their naïve attempts to be a force for good. And it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Benner has become a useful idiot for the neo-Prohibitionists.

On a more positive note, Brendan O’Neill in the Daily Telegraph makes a robust attack on the concept of minimum alcohol pricing:
What we have in minimum alcohol pricing is a prohibition on the kind of boozing that Cameroons and Cleggites consider immoral: the cheap and speedy consumption of lots of drink with the aim of getting temporarily wasted. Such drinking might not be the high point of human civilisation, but it should not be punished and possibly even banned simply because it doesn’t conform to some political squares’ idea of what a proper night out is. This is prohibition through the backdoor, targeted at those whom the political classes consider to be reckless and self-destructive.
Not only is it an exercise in bansturbation, it also demonstrates rank snobbery and contempt for the less well-off in society.


  1. Well put. Run for office and replace this Benner fellow!

    As for CAMRA promoting responsible drinking, I do hope nobody at your NWAF do exceeds their 4 daily units.

    Once the market for chemical fizz is given a kicking, nobody wants pong to be next in line.

  2. Cameroid and Cleggover sit in their plush subsidized Westminster bars writing down moronic policies on the back of a knapkin, chortling at their good fortune and patronizing the working classes,arseholes!

  3. I feel that there may be a more dangerous idiot on the loose Curmudgeon

    Ms Roberts took less than 2 days to make sure that the very second rate study from Sheffield resurfaced complete with all its breathtakingly awful statistical drivel. I have read the Sheffield study report which is probably more than can be said for anyone from the BBC. Otherwise, why would they publish such irresponsible rubbish?

    Anyone with the stomach for it can also read it here

    The string of statistics that Roberts reels off is produced using estimates based on opinion and assumptions that are simply not supported by the evidence. But it’s OK because “experts” say so. The BBC is supposed to be impartial but short of declaring her undying love for Petra Meier, I am not sure how Roberts could be less critical or any more favourable to her. God help us all if the BBC is reduced to this level of reporting.

  4. But do we not agree that to ensurethat a reasonable number of pubs survive, we need some way halting the trend of drinking at home (or in the street/on the train etc.)
    The message needs to get through that there is no regulation on the quantities drunk at home wheras in the pub price socail factors and licensing laws come into play.

  5. But pubs will always be more expensive than drinking at home because of the overheads and staff costs they have to bear, and the reasons for the decline in pubgoing go far wider than just price, as I set out here.

    And, as posted by Eddie86 here:

    "If Jack has £1 to spend on alcohol, at the moment he'd go to the supermarket. He can't afford the £3 in a pub. Put the prices up in the supermarket to £1.50 - he can't drink. But he still wouldn't be spending money in a pub - so how the hell does reducing disposable income of customers help pubs? What it comes across as is 'We, champions of pubs, dictate that if we have to pay £3 a pint, so should everyone else.'"

    The anti-drink lobby are opposed to all drinking, whether at home or in the pub, and if they manage to get the on and off-trades at loggerheads with each other they have succeeded in a divide and rule strategy.

  6. I agree with much of what has been said here. On my own blog I wrote that making off sales more expensive will not make pubs cheaper: if you can't afford to go to the pub when there's no minimum price, you won't be able to if there is one.

  7. @Birkonian: Sorry, but it is none of your business whether I choose to drink at home or not. Pubs need to survive by being welcoming, pleasant and convivial places to enjoy a drink, not by people being penalised if they drink at home.

    There are laws to protect us from those who cause nuisance through drinking too much - and note that the offence is being a nuisance, not drinking too much. Why not use them instead of creating bad laws?

  8. @Birkonian

    If we want a decent number of pubs to survive, lets have more decent pubs. Supporting an increase in off-trade prices will be read by the public as the on-trade being bitter and moaning that it's not fair.

    It isn't fair, but it is a free market. Want pubs to survive? Make them better and more relevant to today's market. Don't tax the poor to subsidise poor pubs

  9. Sorry for being late on this, but excellent stuff PC.

    Birkonian: "we need some way halting the trend of drinking at home"

    Just a short response ... no we don't, and who are the "we" you are wibbling about?

    If the hospitality industry continues to shoot itself in the foot, why on earth should they be saved from their own foolishness?

  10. The buggers in the temperence movement just renamed themselves simple as that.


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