Sunday 21 June 2009

Our Dizzy Island

British beer drinkers pay nine times more duty than the Germans and seven times more than the French, and the only EU countries to impose higher excise duty rates on beer than Britain are Finland and Ireland. British beer lovers pay more in duty on a single pint than drinkers in each of the five other largest member states (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland) pay on five pints.

These figures, compiled by the Axe the Beer Tax campaign, destroy the argument that beer taxation is good for us. We are berated for our so-called binge drinking lifestyles and are burdened with high taxes to discourage this. We are also urged to follow the example of more 'sensible' drinking habits of our continental neighbours ~ and the government studiously ignores their lower tax levels. It is clear, therefore, that while higher taxation obviously does not cause drinking problems, it does little to prevent them.

Britain, and England specifically, has had a reputation in Europe for binge drinking since before Tudor times. The Royalist preacher Thomas Reeve called England "the Dizzy iland", whose people "drink as if ... we were nothing but spunges to draw up moisture, or we had tunnels in our mouthes" (God's Plea for Ninevah, 1657). Over centuries preachers, prohibitionists and now chancellors have all determined to resolve the drinking problem with their own panaceas, but history suggests that Alistair Darling's solution will be no more successful than his ecclesiastical and teetotal predecessors.

Drinkers who find they can't afford pubs any more can switch to having supermarket booze at home, and the problem is thus merely swept under the carpet ~ out of sight, out of mind. The best that can be said for unregulated, isolated drinking at home is that it keeps trouble off the streets and makes life easier for the police. Perhaps, despite the rhetoric, that's all they really want ~ it's certainly all they can hope to get.

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