Just as the government is hoping that the discussion over minimum pricing will fade away, one special interest group has decided to get it rolling again...
SIR – We urge the Government to stick to its plans to introduce a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol, to address the costs to society of irresponsible alcohol sale and consumption, and to encourage drinkers back into pubs and clubs.
The important role of pubs in communities across the country is often under threat from the easy availability of excessively cheap packaged alcohol.
The Government has public support. In a recent YouGov survey the majority said the Government was right to try to reduce the amount of cheap alcohol sold in shops.
Yet at the same time, the Government’s plans are being undermined by some who seek to distort the public’s understanding of how MUP would work. For example, 46 per cent wrongly believe MUP would increase the price of alcohol in pubs.
MUP will not solve all alcohol-related ills, but it will encourage responsible drinking.
The recent move to scrap the beer duty escalator and cut duty by 1p per pint is also welcome, in discouraging consumption of higher-alcohol products – drunk mainly at home – such as spirits, wine and strong ciders and beers.
By introducing MUP, the Prime Minister has a great opportunity to save lives, to save money and to protect British pubs.
This letter, published in the Telegraph, is not from the usual suspects at the British Meddling Association and Alcohol Con, but from representatives of pub companies, cask beer manufacturers and the Campaign for Real Ale.
I despair of these people. What can you call it—Rent-seeking? Pork barrel politics? Crony capitalism? It is all of those, and yet what galls me is not the transparent attempt to use the law to gain a competitive advantage on the off-trade. It is not even the fact that their core assumption (that making people poorer will draw them into pubs) is nothing more than wishful thinking.
No, it is the sheer, staggering short-sightedness and gullibility that makes me despair. These are people who have been tricked and screwed over by one bunch of neo-prohibitionists in recent memory when they were conned into supporting a total smoking ban. Deborah Arnott of ASH has since gloated about how she "split the opposition":
It is crucial to exploit opportunities that come your way. Our campaign was often lucky, and our opponents often foolish... John Grogan MP, chair of the all-party beer group, aligned sulking pub trade leaders with the health lobby to demand comprehensive legislation without exemptions for clubs.
And now we see many of the same players—albeit with many honourable exceptions, such as the British Beer and Pub Association—lining up to support a law which will allow the government to set the price of alcohol. It is true that the 45p limit currently proposed will not affect alcohol sold in pubs and clubs, but you'd have to be living on another planet not to realise that this limit will only go up. Indeed, the Sheffield model includes estimates of what would happen if the minimum price was 70p.
You would also have to be extremely naive not to see that minimum pricing of the off-trade will lead to minimum pricing of the on-trade. It is, after all, the on-trade that turns tipsy 'pre-loaders' into proper 'binge-drinkers'. Again, the Sheffield model includes estimates of what would happen if there was a £1 minimum unit price for pubs. All this is written down in black and white. What is wrong with these people?
Memo to the pub trade (and I should not have to tell you this): the temperance lobby is not your friend. They are concentrating on supermarkets at the moment because, as Willie Sutton would say, that's where the booze is. When people drank mainly in pubs, they went after pubs, because that's where the booze was. Feeding the crocodile in the hope that it will eat you last is not a sustainable business model. The medical temperance/public health lobby has about as much interest in protecting the 'great British pub' as it does in protecting the great British lard industry or the great British tobacco industry. You are the quarry.
If you are a discerning drinker and would prefer not to support the Neville Chamberlains of the temperance movement, these are the signatories...
Chief Executive, Greene King Stephen Glancey
Group Chief Executive Officer, C&C
Chief Executive, CAMRA
Managing Director, JW Lees Brewery
Managing Director, Bateman’s Brewery
Chief Executive Officer, Novus Leisure
Chief Executive, Luminar
Managing Director, Titanic Brewery
Managing Director, Mitchell’s of Lancaster
Managing Director, Head of Steam
Director, Kurnia Licensing Consultants
Previous posts about rent-seeking pub chains are here and here. See also the Pub Curmudgeon's recent article in Opening Times.