Wednesday 28 November 2012

Let them drink Chablis

Well, it’s all kicked off today with the government announcing a consultation on a 45p per unit minimum alcohol price. There’s little to say that hasn’t been said before, but if you read nothing else, read this article by Chris Snowdon on Six reasons to reject minimum alcohol pricing.

Also well worth reading is this post on Heresy Corner in which the author sees it as a personal obsession of Cameron’s even though he knows it is bad politics. This quotation is a classic.

The Minimum Price, while long demanded by the health lobby (which seems to believe that reducing the chance of early death is the only goal worth striving for in life) is only being forced on England because it is Cameron's personal obsession. Cameron has a regrettable tendency - it's the most irritating thing about him - to go off on moral crusades. He likes to ride a high horse, even though it usually turns out to have been lent to him by the husband of Rebekah Brooks.
And see this from Jackart too.

You might think this offered an open goal to the Labour Party who could portray it as a snobbish move by public school toffs to curb the pleasures of the working man. But the problem is that Labour are just as keen on it as the Tories, if not more so. It has been said that the British Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marx, and in the sense of their general puritanical tendencies there is much truth in that. They have always seemed to think that the working man would be much better off attending an improving lecture at the Mechanics’ Institute than down the pub or the bookie’s, or on the beach at Benidorm.

Labour now seems to be dominated by privileged Hampstead socialists who look down on the actual working classes of this country with profound contempt. As someone brilliantly put it, within one generation in the eyes of the Labour Party the working class went from "the salt of the Earth to the scum of the Earth". Whereas once you had the noble Stakhanovite coal miner, now you have white van man. So not much hope of any effective opposition from that quarter.

Edit: and here’s a blogpost on Why Labour should oppose minimum alcohol pricing. I’d be very surprised if they did, though.

I tend to think Jackart’s prediction in the post linked to above is very likely:

This policy will be declared illegal under European law as the Scottish experiment is shot down. Cameron will use that as a pretext to drop a policy in which he's invested, but on which the rest of the Cabinet is less less keen. He will use it, like the votes for prisoners, as something on which he will "stand up to Europe". We will still hear the confident assertions medical/political complex go unchallenged on the Today program.
And the risk is then that they will seek to replicate the policy through the duty system, which would at least be legally watertight. All you self-proclaimed pub-lovers who signed the duty escalator position, but still think minimum pricing might have something to be said for it, be very careful what you wish for.


  1. "As someone brilliantly put it"

    I believe it was Owen Jones, author of the following book and native of Cheadle, an area in your neck of the woods.

    A book I suspect you will not much like. 2 chapters are well thought through arguments, the rest being the type of socialist rubbish and class war that even old Labour wouldn't look at.

    The Labour party have betrayed their roots and the Tories appear to have returned to patronising paternalism. Not much hope of sanity with nutters like Farage offering the alternative.

    Whilst I agree that minimum pricing is foolish, I suspect we are now too far down the road of at least something.

    I long thought minimum pricing was stage 1 of first stopping the poorest from drinking and gradually racking it up and up. Much like how cigarettes have gradually got more expensive forcing some to give up but leaving it affordable to others and splitting smokers along income and class lines so a large group never forms in opposition.

    Those supporting it because it doesn't affect them are only a few years from regretting it.

    With EU law I now think the most likely outcome is a big one off hike in duty, affecting all drinkers.

    Ho hum. Off to France, then, for a shop. It is years since I bought some 33 Export in Calais.

  2. Well, Owen Jones really covered himself with glory on Question Time the other night. Came across like a typical ranty sixth-form leftie with no experience of the real world.

  3. To save you bother of reading it the 2 interesting chapters make the fair point that we as a society are more divided on class lines now than we have been since class barriers started to fall after the second world war. The social acceptability of calling people “chav” is a sign of this and we now believe those at the bottom deserve to be there and it is there own fault (making them scum of the earth). Rather than being there due to lack of opportunity or barriers (making them victims and therefore salt of the earth). We reinforce the belief that social inequality is fair by using pejorative terms in regard to those less well off, working class, in social housing.

    The rest of it makes the point that the solution to this is building a socialist utopia of the type that has been historically tried and failed.

    He does not express an opinion on alcohol pricing but does make the point that it is only the poor for whom drunkenness is considered both a problem and defining feature of. The point is made in the manner of how unfair that is and used as an example of how unfair things are in general.

  4. I agree that many middle-class people are much more openly contemptuous of the working classes than they were 40 or 50 years ago. Then there was still some respect given to the dignity of labour, whereas now they're just seen as boorish, uncultured chavs.

    Much of the agitation for minimum pricing and against "junk food" and takeaways in my view basically stems from rank snobbery.

  5. The problem is, if you ask four people what the defining characteristic of a "chav" is, one will say "council estate", one will say "benefit scrounger", one will say "wears tracksuits and bling" and one will say "antisocial behaviour".

    Thats four very different things, all described by one word. As language defines our notion of reality, since the popularity of the world chav has swept the country, we are now no longer able to differentiate between the four things. All four definitions have become conflated in our national conscious. To us, everyone who lives on a council estate is a benefit scrounger, and everyone in a tracksuit is guilty of antisocial behaviour.

    It doesn't take long to reach the inevitable conclusion that the poor are all criminal scum. George Orwell would be proud!

  6. the thing that bothers me most, apart from the constant misleading statistics they keep presenting about it, is why so many in the beer trade see it as a good thing

    ok I can understand desperate pub landlords might think theres going to be this magic boost of returning custom as a result of such changes, which is CAMRAs sort of hopelessly idealistic view, and you know dream on that aint gonna happen.

    But when you get brewers like Greene King suggesting they fully support it and even actually favour a higher 50p unit cost to start with, as did 80% of trade respondents in a recent BII survey. Or you get other brewers making noises its ok as they already overcharge their products so wont be affected.ok they didnt quite say that but their view is they are already reassuringly expensive so wont be impacted.

    I actually wonder have I missed something, is this some amazing business plan or way to make more money for breweries that Ive not spotted yet. As do they not see it will not solve the problems its expected to significantly change and so the likely way this is going to head as the government have never knowingly rescinded a power once they took it starts at 50p, then the bleating starts about it not making an impact and its it hiked on some form of I dont know tax escalator like thing, for evermore.

    and how long will it be before a reassuringly expensive beer is suddenly finding its alot more expensive and people stop drinking it altogether, or actually it doesnt want to be stuck in the same price bracket as tramp juice so willingly puts its price up.

    I mean the government have stated they (though frankly we should be happy Damien Green is let nowhere near the treasury if this is his grasp on economics) expect if the price of a particular product goes up, demand for it goes down (and funny that wasnt the government view held in the beer duty escalator debate...)

    but so the beer industry is falling over themselves to sign up to drive down the demand for the very product they make & sell !!!

  7. Couldn't agree more. As I argued here, it won't give people a single extra penny to spend in pubs. And, as you say, once established we'll get the "minimum price escalator" and before too long it will be in to the bottom end of pub prices.

  8. Ta for link. Having looked at the govt consultation paper, this whopper may b of interest

  9. Jones and CL make a good point which is never addressed. In terms of after tax income, a £3.59 wine for a minimum wage earner is equivalent to a £17.50 wine for a GP. The former will increase to £4.22; and increase of 17.5%; yet it is not deemed necessary to increase the price of the latter to £20.56. Only recently we were told the affluent middle classes were problem drinkers.


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