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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

So much for people power

Most people reading this will probably be aware that beer tax is increased annually at 2% above inflation using a mechanism known as the escalator, which was introduced by the "New" Labour government in 2008 and carried on by this lot. As a result, beer duty has gone up by 42% since then. CAMRA recently forced a debate in the Commons by getting more than 100,000 signatures on an e-petition to have the escalator removed, and in that debate MPs voted unanimously for a reassessment. The government response a few days later was quite unequivocal: “There are no current plans for a review of the beer-duty escalator but we do keep all taxes under review. We will continue to engage with the alcohol industry, including pubs and breweries, on how the tax is affecting them.”

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) have responded by agreeing to make joint representations to the Treasury - yet again. While ministers have repeatedly argued that they cannot remove the escalator because they need the revenue for schools and hospitals (funny how they always mention schools and hospitals and never wars and nuclear weapons, isn't it?), in fact their obstinate refusal to move on this is more because of the moral panic about alcohol being deliberately stoked up by fake charities such as Alcohol Concern (fake because it's funded almost entirely out of our taxes). They don't want to be judged as soft on alcohol seeing that it is increasingly associated, in the manner of Pavlov's dogs, with anti-social behaviour and disorder.

This government set up the current system of e-petitions; to dismiss in such an offhand manner the concerns of more than 100,000 drinkers and the associations representing the industry shows the level of their respect for public opinion. Perhaps they're calculating that there aren't too many votes in scrapping the escalator. A lobby of Parliament is planned for 12 December. I've been on enough lobbies of Parliament not to hold my breath about that, but it's got to be done: in our democracy, failure to protest is interpreted as agreement. I consequently hope to be on the lobby.

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