It is hard not to imagine yourself as a film star when you enter BAFTA’s plush headquarters in London’s Piccadilly and tread the same carpet such distinguished thespians as Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis and Helen Mirren have previously graced. A place that celebrates the finest achievements in acting is a fitting setting for the Wine & Spirit Trade Association’s annual conference.
Its leader, Miles Beale, is paid to take a starring role in the industry’s very public war with the health lobby, and he must regularly rehearse his lines and display the boldness of Brando, the versatility of Day-Lewis and the charm of Mirren if he is to succeed.
At last year’s conference the baby-faced Beale was three months into the job and looked slightly nervous as he stood on stage before the glut of greying industry doyens he is tasked with representing.
He delivered an assured performance, but the jury was still out.
But over the past year he has grown into the role. It was a case of rotten tomatoes when the chancellor scrapped the duty escalator on beer and not on wine and spirits earlier this year, leading 44% of wine suppliers OLN polled to declare they were unhappy with the performance of lobbyists such as Beale. Yet this was followed by a roaring success when the government scrapped minimum unit pricing.
It may have owed as much to Theresa May flexing the muscles on her drinking arm as Beale’s lobbying, but he can justly be proud. The WSTA’s Why Should Responsible Drinkers Pay More? campaign gained extensive coverage, and the government paid attention.
This year Beale gave an excellent performance and did not look out of place on the grand stage. He hailed the success of the MUP campaign, but what was more impressive was his vision for the future of the alcohol policy debate. His declaration that the industry must be more proactive, unified and willing to big up its economic contribution hit the perfect note.
Going on the offensive by shouting about the £16.3 billion the industry pays annually in taxes and demanding a fairer deal is the right way forward. He should also talk up falling alcohol consumption rates more.
And if his Be Fair George campaign results in wine and spirits being freed from the escalator, he will become a star – but if it fails he will become the villain of the piece.