Monday, 16 March 2009

Setting the Minimum

The Scottish "Government" is going to do it. And it seems New Labour also thinks it is a good idea: To set a legally mandated minimum price per unit of alcohol. This is in order to tackle the "crisis" of "binge drinking" which has cropped up daily on the today programme as a scourge of life in Modern Britain. I am against the Government interfering in the price of goods in the market - no good ever comes from it. But I think the Government's attempts to control people's private drinking habits are not only wrong on a philosophical level - what business is it of theirs what I drink - but also on a practical level.

I believe the British pub to be one of the finest institutions in the country. At its best, it is a place to meet people from all walks of life, exchange views and engage in light-hearted banter with people you would otherwise not meet. It roots you into your community, and is a place to meet your neighbours. At its worst, the Gastro-pub for example, it is a tribal watering hole, threatening to outsiders as the denizens retreat into class-based prejudice. "No workwear or football strips" may be different in target to "No Blacks, Dogs or Irish", but the sentiment is the same. The Hampstead 'Liberals' of New Labour are demonstrating their contempt for this institution, and the people who go to them, by explicitly targeting the drinking habits of those whom they are supposed to represent. Repellent, patronising and totalitarian. I say again: What business of Government is it how much people drink?

Puritanism is defined as the nagging fear that someone, somewhere might be having fun, and such people frown on pubs and people who go to them. Earlier attempts to police people having a few drinks have included ever greater duty on beer so that now a third of the price of a pint goes to the Government. A further precedent was set with the smoking ban. People who didn't go to pubs thought that banning people smoking in them was a good idea. That "might" encourage them to go to the pub too, and the revenue effect would be negligible, as a new class of people would go to the pub, drink sensibly and Britain would overnight become a Mediterranean cafe culture. This, of course did not happen. The people who thought they "might" go to the pub, realised that if they went to the pub, they might have to mix with the working class, which is ghastly. Working class people, who smoke, started drinking at home and the result is that the entire pub industry collapsed.

Now those working class people, chased out of pubs by the smoking ban, whose local has closed as a result, have nowhere to go, even if they wanted to get out of the house for a drink. To what end? So that the town centre was no longer a "no go area" at night, for people who had no intention of going there anyway, and whose perception of it was based entirely on TV shows called "Police! Stop! Kill!" or something? Well there are still pissed-up people getting nicked for D&D on a friday night. Though the problem anywhere near as bad as our elected leaders would like you to believe, life has got a bit worse with the death of the community pub: Now that local pubs have closed down, all that is left is the kind of Leisure park barn, pumping out loud music, cramming thousands of boozers in on a weekend, and pouring watery lager into them. The extended licensing hours law, of course is interpreted so that only venues with "entertainment" could stay open after 1am, meaning that you can go and get your ear-drums perforated in a club piping canned music, but you cannot continue the discussion with your friends in your local over a few more pints beyond 1am.

Fuck it, people say. Let's just get a slab in and go home.

Now the Government has decided that people who drink at home must also pay pub prices, in case they "binge" - defined according to entirely arbritary criteria. Certainly increasing the price of a good reduces its consumption. But addictive substances tend to have very inelastic demand curves, especially amongst problem users. That is those addicted tend to prioritise their drug over other spending. So in using price to tackle "problem" drinkers, you will end up reducing their consumption of food, or heating and making their already miserable lives that bit more grim. Everyone else, it's true buys less booze, which means less profit for the retailers, pubs and brewers, and less revenue for the exchequer, but no diminution of the problem.

Of course the Government is openly saying that this would only affect the kind of cheap alcohol that ghastly working class people buy, not nice peoples' bottles of wine. This is bollocks. First, because of the glories of the Market economy, it is perfectly possible to buy a drinkable plonk for £4.50 a bottle. This is around the minimum price for wine being suggested. Now alcohol is a positional good - and this is especially true of wine. So, by hitting the price point, everything else must rise in relation. If Tesco's own brand red Corbieres at £3 a bottle (surprisingly good, actually) must rise by 50%, then a bottle of Napa Valley Merlot, must likewise rise to £5.50 or more in order to maintain "premium" status.

Everyone is going to have their pockets picked pointlessly in order to salve a Government target about something over which it has no control. Of course the same is true for Beer and spirits. There will be no more cheap Gin to pour over sloes, for example. No more cheap slabs of stella for a 6-nations weekend with the boys. And alchies will still sit in pools of cheap lager piss begging for small change. It's just they will have to beg a little harder and forgo their trip to the chippy in the evening. And everyone else's life is just a bit greyer and more miserable.

Of course, like any Government proposal, there is a Fake charity, Alcohol Concern in this instance, on hand to say that though these plans to kick you in the bollocks are a step in the right direction, because you are not to be also pelted with turds, they do not go nearly far enough. Who'd have thunk it: A "charity" which recieves 99% of its funding from the Government, supports government policy.

You may complain that prices for booze have "not kept up with earnings", as pravda the BBC did this morning, when talking to the former boss of Majestic wine. Neither have the prices for Cars, washing machines, televisions, computers, bread, meat, oranges or anything except housing, the supply of which the Government controls. Complaining about prices not rising with wages is complaining about the chief virtue of the market economy. It frees resources from alcohol to other goods and services, and makes life better for people. The Government should not step in to control prices. It is being tried elsewhere - to control inflation and it doesn't work in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Why think it will control deflation here? Anyone fancy a booze cruise?

This illiberal, nannying proposal is even being spun as support for the pub industry, which is like an anal rapist saying that at least he didn't wipe his huge, shit and blood covered cock on your curtains, after ripping your rectal sphincter asunder when he went in without the common decency to spit first. And just for the avoidance of doubt, he's already taken the dry cleaning bill for his trousers from your wallet.

I loathe the way this Government does business. They are truly beneath contempt.

Update: Gordon Brown has Squashed Liam Donaldson's proposals, for now. I am sure that these proposals will resurface, just like every other illiberal suggestion which has ever come out of the Labour party, as the pressure from their client state of prodnoses gets overwhelming


Anonymous said...

Has one of the three major political parties ever failed to win a single seat in a general election, especially coming directly from government?

Because I think that's where the Labour party are going. Assuming of course we can all avoid the massive temptation to riot and set fire to parliament with them all in it...

I don't think this will be introduced, but I can see taxes going up considerably on alcohol, come the 'budget', to compensate for whatever utter bollocks tax 'giveaway' Gordon tried to bribe us with. The man unfortunately for us doesn't actually know _how_ to cut taxes.


subrosa said...

Yes the Scottish government are doing it along with many other things. Pity they didn't stick the age up to 21 though, that would have helped far more imo.

What is most needed is the police to fine those 'drunk and disorderly' in public, around £200 would be fine and don't send them to block the A & Es which are needed for the genuinely ill.

I'm not particularly for this but I know the Scottish government want to target the young who are killing themselves with the stuff. In my day we had a sense of shame if we were seen under the influence in public. Nowadays it's fine to be lying in the gutter covered in vomit.

We used to drink as teenagers but we didn't have the money to drink much and also our peers would have frowned upon us becoming incapable, once was ok, twice you were shunned.

I'm sounding like an old bitch sorry ...

The Young Oligarch said...

I don't think the Scottish Government can do this , Subrosa , as they don't have a majority at Holyrood and everyone else seems to think the S.N.P. have gone mad on this one .

As for teenagers drinking themselves incapable , I can think of better ways to target this problem than raising the price for all .

For example - who is selling drink to the underagers we see all the time ? Is it Asda or Tesco ? Or could it be your local ethnic corner shop ?

Why don't the Police and the courts enforce existing laws against this ?

Instead , those of us sad alkies whose life revolves around sitting on a bar-stool guzzling heavy beer are going to get hammered for even more tax on our drink .

Ridiculous ! But only as ridiculous as your pals having to go outside into the snow to have a puff on their pipes or half a fag .

Direct state interference in our miserable lives , designed solely to make them more miserable !

Henry Crun said...

Subrosa, rather than the Police dealing with the problem, perhaps the Fire Service should be tasked with hosing down the drunken scrotes as they flush the vomit from the gutters.

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