Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Children of Göbbels

All the various claims about alcohol taxes and sales are confusing. Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern says that: “Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law.” On the other hand, we read about tax going up faster than inflation and that we are more highly taxed than most EU countries. What is a confused drinker to think? Who's telling the porkies?

Well, the answer is quite simple: the anti-drink campaigners. Using the technique of the big lie perfected by Joseph Göbbels, they keep on reiterating the same falsehoods, which in turn are routinely recycled by an unquestioning media as facts rather than propaganda. Don Shenker's comment about low duty must be viewed with the following statistic in mind:  according to the British Beer & Pub Association, "Britain’s beer drinkers are paying 40% of the entire beer duty bill in the European Union – despite Britain’s small, 12% share of the total population. UK beer drinkers are paying £3.1 billion out of an EU total of £7.7 billion in beer duty revenues." The full article is here. So much for low duty.

It is impossible to have a rational discussion about alcohol when one side deliberately confuses supermarket-driven binge drinking with regulated pub-going, the media usually shows pints of beer being pulled in a pub when referring to alcohol problems (instead of cheap vodka and tins of strong cider and lager), the discredited 14/21 units per week keep on being quoted as facts, and the myth that our duty is low keeps on being peddled.

But don't the anti-alcohol campaigners have a point about supermarket prices being low, even with the new minimum price? They're correct about the prices, but not about the reason. The minimum price is defined as tax and VAT only, and won't include the costs of production, transport by the producer, transport by the supermarket, storage, advertising, stacking the shelves or checkout costs.

Tesco, seller of cut-price booze, has proclaimed its support for a minimum price for alcohol, so why doesn't Don Shenker and his ilk say, "In that case, just do it!" Instead he has publicly welcomed Tesco's "commitment" to minimum pricing - even though they have done absolutely nothing - then continues to whinge about "low" levels of duty and to demand even more regulation of pubs, the dearest places to buy drink.

That is the level of debate. Pathetic, isn't it?


  1. Tesco have only said they support a minimum price because they know that it would in effect allow them and the other major supermarkets to operate the kind of price-fixing cartel that is currently (rightly) illegal.

  2. I agree entirely and made a similar point last August.

  3. The old myth that the problem is cheap off trade booze. Nobody has a skinful at home and then goes into town for a fight at the cab rank. Pubs and bars routinely serve drunks which spill out onto the street to puke and fight.

  4. No point in condemning one myth, Cooking Lager, only to quote another one. What you say is right about home drinkers, but what about pre-loaders who drink at home before going out?

    Unlike you, I am a regular pubgoer, and I see very little of the trouble you describe in pubs. From kiddie bars and clubs (where the preloaders are more likely to go), yes, but not usually pubs.

    In addition, no one is saying that all drinking at home is binge drinking - I certainly wasn't anyway.

  5. Repeating the myth of pre loading doesn't make it true, nor are the publicans that repeat this myth any the wiser as to where the drunks entering there premises have been. How do they know they have been at home drinking? They have more likely been on a pub and bar crawl and getting drunk in other pubs. Ah but the publican has to make an excuse for serving drunks by trying to move the blame from the last drink of the night to the first in the hope those supermarkets selling booze to sober people will take a hit.

  6. Preloading is no myth - it's a well-known activity. Some young people I know do it almost routinely, but they don't then head down to Duck and Grouse for a pint of Crudgington's 6X. More likely to a club.

    You have often made your views clear: drinking at home is cheaper and preferable, while drinking in pubs is dearer and a mug's game. That's fine - each to their own - but it doesn't leave you best placed to pass judgement on something you rarely experience.

  7. It would be interesting to know what proportion of total off-trade sales go in preloading.

    And do other European countries, which typically have lower off-trade prices than the UK, have the same problem?

    If not, it suggests it's a cultural issue rather than a price issue, and the many shouldn't be made to suffer for the sins of the few.

    WV = "stabi" ;-)

  8. I'd be interested to know what percentage of total EU beer consumption is consumed in the UK - if we consumed 90% of the beer in the EU, it would be a different story than if we only consumed 10% of the beer in the EU.

  9. Again, I agree Curmudgeon. I don't believe for a moment that most home drinking is preloading. I also know the depiction of pubs throwing out-of-control drunkards onto the street every night is a caricature ~ I just don't see it, despite going to pubs up to 5 times per week.

    As always, the extremes of bad behaviour are by a few, wherever people drink. Unfortunately, a small minority can make a big impact. I expect police and hospitals won't see it that way, but if - say - 100 engage in anti-social behaviour at the weekend, it is a tiny percentage of everyone out drinking in every pub, restaurant, bar, hotel and club in a town. In reality, the arrests in my town are considerably fewer than 100.

    I have argued previously on this blog against minimum pricing, as it won't knock a penny off the price in the pub, which is what affects me.

    Steve: I don't know, but I suspect we're at neither extreme.


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