Tuesday 28 July 2015

Good riddance to bad sock-puppets

I'm pleased to able to bring glad tidings for a change. DrinkWise North West, the taxpayer-funded lobby group, has had its state-funding withdrawn. Since nobody in their right mind would give it money voluntarily, this naturally means that it has been closed down with immediate effect. Its Twitter feed has already disappeared.

You may recall DrinkWise as the Department of Health front group that used public money to campaign for alcohol advertising bans and minimum unit pricing (MUP). For the latter, they set up a sock-puppet website - anonymously, at first - which made the ludicrous claim that MUP would reduce the price of some drinks. The rest of its campaign literature had a similarly uneasy relationship with the truth.

There is no doubt that DrinkWise were a lobby group (how nice it is to speak of them in the past tense). It's difficult to find any part of their website that was not devoted to encouraging people to 'join the movement', 'act now' or 'write to your MP'. Despite being 100 per cent state-funded, they were proudly and openly engaged in political campaigning.

Since most of their income came from local authorities, they would have been in breach of the Department for Communities and Local Government's new 'anti-sockpuppet clause' which states:

The following costs are not eligible expenditure: payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action.

Presumably this was a large part of the reason for its funding being withdrawn. We must also presume that DrinkWise's counterpart across the Pennines, Balance North East, will soon also be consigned to the dustbin of history. Balance North East's room-mates at FRESH should be heading for the door shortly afterwards, as should FRESH's state-funded colleagues at Smokefree South West. The recently formed Give Up Loving Pop (GULP) must also be on thin ice. There are others, of course.

It is probably too much to hope that the rinky-dink governments of Scotland and Wales will stop throwing money at the likes of Alcohol Focus Scotland and Alcohol Concern, but England is certainly ready to save a few million quid by burning some leaches off the taxpayers' skin.

It can't happen a day too soon.

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