Who takes responsibility?

11 June, 2010

I don稚 know if I should go public about this, but I知 going to anyway. Although neither the local nor national election went the way I voted (I知 now living in a freshly Conservative ward), I知 totally sucked in by the talk of a new era of politics. Maybe it will turn into an era of nothing getting done, but it seems to me this current coalition could do the opposite.

Their 田oalition document contains some interesting ideas (or 田ommitments as they are called not promises, because of course, you can稚 break a promise, but you can fail to meet your commitments). Not least the commitment to ban the sale of alcohol at below cost price, and to review alcohol pricing and duty to tackle binge-drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.

This last point set my alarm bells ringing because, of course there isn稚 really a clear way of changing pricing and taxation of alcohol without affecting everyone. I wonder what this might mean? I think the key phrase here is 途esponsible drinkers. What responsible drinking constitutes in the government痴 eyes is adhering to World Health Organisation-recommended daily limits, figures that were, let痴 not forget, pulled out of the air, with little basis in fact.

Of course, I have to be careful here, because that last paragraph sounds like a practising retailer with a journalistic bent talking down the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Of course those dangers are real. Of course there are problems linked directly and indirectly to excessive alcohol consumption. I知 a firm advocate of responsible drinking, in the same way I知 an advocate of responsible dog ownership as long as you池e responsible for what happens, and it doesn稚 make a mess or ruin anyone痴 day, then go ahead and do what you like.

I知 convinced it痴 perfectly possible to go to the pub (or stay at home), drink a bit too much, and put yourself to bed without causing the fall of civilisation, or even calling in sick for work. But governments don稚 think like that the guidelines need to be in place to supervise the visible minority, rather than the passive majority. It isn稚 beyond the realms of possibility to increase the price of alcohol and still say this isn稚 penalising responsible drinkers it痴 only those who exceed the guidelines who will feel the pain in their wallet (as well as their head and liver, presumably).

In the new climate of sensible and transparent politics, this couldn稚 be the case, could it? The emergency Budget, scheduled for June 22, is sure to hold a few surprises. What seems likely (at the time of writing) is an increase in VAT.

That is almost a given, and given the negligible effect that a 2.5% cut in the VAT rate had on spending, I知 not convinced that a 2.5% rise will have any adverse effect. My worried eye is looking out for duty increases on stronger beers, which from a government perspective are problem drinks, but from a connoisseur痴 perspective are where the interest lies.

And what of Progressive Beer Duty? It seems inconceivable that a government dedicated to promoting small businesses should tinker with this valuable tax break for smaller brewers, but it痴 hard to tell whether PBD falls into the business or taxation remits. One way or another, we may all need a stiff drink after June 22.

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