Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Minimum pricing to be dropped?

I've just noticed on the BBC News website that minimum pricing on alcohol in England and Wales may be dropped because Conservative ministers can't agree about the proposals. Apparently several Cabinet ministers, including Theresa May, Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley, don't agree with the plans to introduce a price of 45p per unit and a ban on multi-buy promotions. 

The BBC's health correspondent writes: "Research has suggested a 45p minimum could reduce drinking by 4.3%, potentially saving 2,000 lives within a decade. This was why the idea had such strong backing from the medical profession. But using price is a crude tool. As well as hitting problem drinkers, it would also influence those who consume alcohol in moderation. Dropping the plan may win ministers votes, but it won't make them popular with doctors." It's my underlining in the quote, because research that can predict a possible outcome is not scientific: it's little more than informed guesswork to a predetermined solution. 

The phrase "a crude tool" is right: it will disproportionately affect people on lower incomes, while providing merely a diminishing inconvenience the further up the income scale you go. Is it only poorer people whose binge drinking is a problem? Actually, to this shower in government, the answer is probably "yes". The British state has for hundreds of years mistrusted ordinary people and drink, and moral panics are nothing new. For example, during the First World War, the government introduced many measures to tackle drinking, including banning the purchase of alcohol for someone else, and drastically curtailing licensing hours.

If they do drop minimum pricing, I suspect the reasons may include an unwillingness to embark upon the time, expense and effort of fighting challenges under EU law, and a reluctance to introduce a measure that will doubtless be depicted as yet another Tory attack upon the poor.


  1. Minimum pricing is Labour & Lib Dem party policy, but don't let that stop you.

  2. Yes, I think the Labour Party would ignore the open goal of depicting it as a Tory attack on the poor ;-)

    Mind you, if the BBC is saying it, as opposed to the Mail and Telegraph, it must be true...

  3. You both talk as though:

    1) The only people likely to criticise the Tories are the Labour and LibDem parties.
    2) I am a member of the Labour Party.

    Wrong on both counts. But even if I were talking only about political parties as you both assume, it wouldn't be the first time a political party has opposed a policy it has later adopted, or supported a policy it later dropped. All three parties have done that in recent years.

    But be my guest: don't let those facts distract you both from your hobby of Labour Party bashing, even though it's barely relevant to my post.

  4. Nev, it's only a bit of fun. I did add a smiley :-)

    Cookie can speak for himself, but I am not now and never have been a member of the Conservative party.

    I have been very critical of the current government over the way they have if anything intensified Labour's Puritanical approach to tobacco, alcohol and food.

    Given that your handle is "RedNev" it's a reasonable assumption you are perhaps marginally more sympathetic to Labour than the Tories.

    And to my mind it's a point well worth making that it is ironic how Labour, nominally the party of the working man and woman, are avoiding shooting into an open goal by attacking what is basically an anti-poor policy.

  5. I was trying to be slightly flippant myself; I can see it doesn't quite read that way. There's not a lot I'd disagree with in your last comment. The three main parties are committed to micro-managing people's behaviour through tax and price controls. If any of them tried to break away from that consensus, the other parties and the press would hysterically accuse them of going soft on anti-social behaviour. Thus the herd mentality ensures that foolish policies are accepted as unchallengeable truths.

    This is the kind of nonsense you get when politicians have no ideology and instead have their minds made up for them by focus groups and opinion polls.

  6. Oh, Nev, it’s your blog, you can write it how you like. If you want to slag off “the shower” of a government feel free. I gather a fair few old tory grannies would agree it is “quite a shower, what what”, not just the comrades. It’s just the issue at question isn’t a party political one.

    It is interesting as to why they are dropping it. I gather for some it is a principled objection to any form of prices and incomes policy. A belief it is not the governments job to control prices. For others it is a worry that additional unnecessary price rises are politically unpopular as tory voters do like a cheeky bottle of cheap red vino. It might be interesting to speculate on what would occur if Milliband was in charge. I would suspect some in his cabinet would disagree too, maybe for the reasons of the effect it has on lower income and likely labour voters.

    Either way the issue is more as you say about the degree the state ought to control individual behaviour, not a left/right issue on the level of tax and size of the state. Seems such a waste to use that for cheap digs that distract from the point you are making. The point is a good one and better made for the clarity of an objective rather than subjective position. But you know, it’s your blog, carry on how you like, pal.

  7. If you scroll back to when Labour was in power, you'd see that I slagged them off then; my third ever post was called, "Thanks for nothing Gordon". Yes, I am on the Left, but I survey the narrow spectrum of Labour, LibDem and Tory parties with their similar policies on most things, including this issue, with a degree of frustration. Thatcher smashed the old post-war consensus, but instead of having a range of electoral choices, we now have a new consensus supposedly based on the free market and driven by next week's opinion polls, rather than any deep-seated political convictions.

    In relation to this issue, I object to the increasing tendency of parties of all three colours to want to micro-manage our lives. I wasn't having a cheap shot at the Tories because of my Left perspective; my attitude is to all three parties who strive to control our drinking habits is more "a plague on all their houses". So my comment wasn't partisan; I heard on the news today Labour taunting the prime minister for his apparent U-turn on minimum pricing, and my main thought was how often serious issues are reduced to this "Yah boo" style of interchange (I couldn't in all honesty call it a debate). I wasn't making a cheap left-right jibe: I'm certain my post wouldn't have been significantly different if Labour had been in power. In other words, I'm sick of the lot of them.


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