I want to be angry. I really do.
So we are launching a 10-week consultation, seeking views on five key areas:
- a ban on multi-buy promotions in shops and off-licences to reduce excessive alcohol consumption
- a review of the mandatory licensing conditions, to ensure that they are sufficiently targeting problems such as irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs
- health as a new alcohol licensing objective for cumulative impacts so that licensing authorities can consider alcohol-related health harms when managing the problems relating to the number of premises in their area
- cutting red tape for responsible businesses to reduce the burden of regulation while maintaining the integrity of the licensing system
- minimum unit pricing, ensuring for the first time that alcohol can only be sold at a sensible and appropriate price
But somehow, since I knew it was coming, I am resignedly depressed. I joined a Party that stood for personal responsibility, choice and independence but now find myself watching as an unjustified and unjustifiable attack on the lifestyles of ordinary people is prosecuted in the name of “health”.
There is no evidence to support the contention that alcohol is an especial problem – consumption has fallen and is falling further, violent crime is at its lowest level for thirty years and young people’s drinking behaviour is extremely moderate (and is matched by sharp declines in other drug use).
I can only conclude that these proposals are the bastard child of a terrifying union between temperance campaigners and a disdainful upper middle class that cannot countenance the idea of poor people drinking. It is Titus Salt revisited – a man who wouldn’t permit his workers to drink while enjoying a drink himself.
These proposals hand to public health officials the power to shut down pubs (the few that survive the smoking ban, massive hikes in duty and now the late night levy). The reason for this appears to be that we, like Sir Titus, don’t approve of working-class people drinking. It’s not the consumption of alcohol that is the issue but by who and where it’s being consumed. We appear to be OK with public school educated journalists and doctors quaffing champagne. We can just about tolerate a couple of university educated chaps enjoying a pint (just the one, you know) of “craft beer”. But some poor old man buying a can or two of cheap lager – that is terrible and eats away at the foundation of society.
The advocates of minimum pricing are quite clear – they are deliberately targeting the cheapest alcohol, the stuff that the least well off buy. This is despite the fact that – unlike smoking – drinking rates increase with social class and income. It’s those middle-class journalists who are drinking too much not the ordinary working class bloke.
These are not public health proposals.
These are not community safety proposals.
These proposals are a patronising and offensive attack on the lifestyles of ordinary people who, for whatever reason, can’t afford posh beer, malt whisky and fine wines. Why should they be punished just because we don’t approve of their tastes?
I give up.