It is a sign of the times that politicians are reduced to trying to micromanage what alcoholic drinks individuals ingest into their system. Once British politicians concerned themselves with loftier things, matters of real moment, guiding as they thought best the affairs of the British people. Now the height of their ambition seems to be to arbiters of our taste in booze.

Thus the Tories seem bent on inviting ridicule by getting down to the business of trying to formulate a way to prevent the youth of this country getting themslves pickled on alcopops and strong beer. So we learn from The Sunday Times:

ALCOPOPS and other strong drinks will face higher taxes, under plans from the Conservatives to curb the binge drinking culture.

David Cameron’s Tories are planning to increase excise duty on a range of products associated with problem drinking, it was reported last night.

As well as alcopops, such as WKD, strong lagers such as Tennent’s Super, and White Lightning, the 7.5% alcohol cider, will be targeted in the tax rise.

However middle-class drinkers of wine or real ale would be exempt from any increased duty.

This strikes me as just as much ‘gimmick’ politics as anything Gordon Brown comes up with and does absolutely nothing whatsoever to address the core issue: why is it that people drink themselves silly in the first place?

That is before one gets down to the business of actually formulating legislation which would identify which alcopops, strong lagers and strong ciders are to be subject to a higher rate of excise duty whilst protecting the favourite tipples of middle-class drinkers. I have given some thought for a while as to how one might do so, but, notwithstanding some ability as a legal draftsman, have been unable to formulate anything which would do the trick. It is, in short, going to be a Parliamentary draftsman’s nightmare. Whilst an alcopop might be capable of specific definition in the light of the manner of its production, trying to define one beer made of barley, water, hops and yeast and being of 7.5% ABV as belonging to a high tax group and another beer made with barley, water, hops and yeast with 7.5% ABV as belonging to a lower tax bracket will defy construction.

And it will open the government up to all sorts of legal challenges concerning the application of EU competition laws so that the whole thing will end up by being decided and enforced by a lot of unelected foreigners who will have little interst in or sympathy for our problems with binge drinking.

Short of producing an enormous list of beverages for each category – the acceptable and the unacceptable – it is impossible to see how this might be achieved. And even then there will be enormous pressure from the industry for this or that beer included on the high tax list to be moved to the other list with all sorts of representations made as to the appeal to the real ale connoisseur of this or that beer, however spurious.


The worrying thing, though, is how much this betrays the limited ambitions and scope of those who would govern us. Once Parliament dealt with matters of great moment: the broad sweep of the ambitions of the British people and the great policies to advance their cause in the world. Now all that we seem to plan for is to make the decision between Bacardi Breezer on the one hand as being worthy of a deterrent tax and a Westmalle Tripel being on the low tax list.

So have we been reduced to an ignominy by handing over (without the leave of the British people) the right to govern ourselves concerning the affairs vital to the interests of the United Kingdom. Instead all our MPs can do is to stand mutely by as they nod through the next ten thousand pages of the Brussels Diktat. Talk about taking the gelding knife to oneself.

Thus a mighty nation is reduced to a grovelling irrelevant absurdity.

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