Minimum pricing is a slightly tricky issue for politicians: on the one hand, they want to be seen to be doing something about Britain's binge drinking problem, but on the other they don't want to alienate the many voters who benefit from cheap alcohol. With unemployment likely to go up to (if not beyond) 1980s levels, the only way many people will be able to have a drink is by buying cheap booze. David Cameron's announcement that his government may look sympathetically (whatever that means) at local minimum pricing schemes is, frankly, wrong for a number of reasons:
Tories are supposed to believe in the market. Prescribing a minimum price is a severe interference in the whole principle of free market economics. But then, I struggle to find any principle behind David Cameron's utterances; he is driven by a desperate, second-rate populism tempered by a nanny state desire to control the unruly drinking classes.
I don't know how minimum pricing can be squared with competition legislation, both from the UK and from the EU.
Not everyone who buys cheap alcohol is a binge drinker - many simply don’t have much money.
Minimum pricing will simply increase the profits of retailers such as Tesco's. No wonder Sir Terry Leahy (Tesco's boss) has supported a minimum price, as opposed to a tax increase when the money would go to the Exchequer.
It will lead to a postcode lottery for alcohol prices, with people driving further to buy drink from shops in areas that don't have a minimum pricing scheme.
I have written previously about minimum pricing.