The Telegraph is carrying the stark warning today that the government is set to outlaw the discounting of bulk deals on wine by supermarkets, as part of a review on alcohol pricing. Ministers, they say, believe such promotions give customers a financial incentive to purchase more alcohol than they intended to buy and should be banned. It is said this is another measure being championed by the PM himself.
When this whole alcohol review was launched, the alcohol review was billed as all about trouble-making youths and other anti-social drinkers.
“The availability of cheap alcohol has been a key contributing factor in the development of this country’s binge-drinking culture. The government will no longer tolerate the sale of heavily discounted alcohol which leads to irresponsible behaviour and unacceptable levels of crime and health harms.”
To be clear I am totally against minimum pricing of alcohol, it is regressive, nannying, unfair and won’t work. We have laws to deal with “anti-social” behaviour and crime. But this latest proposal really is paternalism gone mad. Who, I wonder “preloads” with bottles of Merlot before hitting the night clubs? Since when did Chardonnay drinkers hang around the city centre on a Saturday night hurling abuse at passers by? I don’t know and I bet the government doesn’t know either.
So what business is it of government if a shop offers me a deal, that incentivises me to buy 2 botttles of wine rather than 1, indeed 24 bottles of wine instead of 12? Isn’t that between me and the shop? It doesn’t mean I have to drink it all in one session. I frequently buy 24 toilet rolls in one session. I probably only intended to buy 4, but the shop “incentivised” me. I have also been known to buy as many as 36 cans of Coke in one go because the price was great and frankly it is more convenient for me to buy in bulk and saves me precious time and money. I don’t rush home and consume them all at once, but even if I did whose business is it? Certainly not the government’s.
Bizarrely the Government appears to be leaving wine clubs untouched. It seems it is OK to plan to buy case loads of wine, just unacceptable to pick up a bargain whilst doing the weekly shop. Perhaps supermarkets have been added to the list of sinners, including bankers and energy companies on David Cameron’s hit list. Or maybe it is that wine clubs are the preserves of the rich middle classes who can be relied upon to decant their wine, sniff and sip, and behave in an altogether more refined manner.
I doubt there will be Shiraz riots any time soon. To be frank the supermarkets will just cut the bottle price rather than offer multi-buy discounts and life will go on. For now.
But the language being used here “the government will not tolerate ….” is very worrying. So too is the assault on the right of socially responsible people to buy a legal product in the quantities, and at the price, they choose without interference from government. Banning people from purchasing discounted wine from Waitrose or Tescos is clearly not about binge-drinking, anti-social behaviour or criminal activity – so why is this particularly bizarre proposal being seemingly led by the Home Office?
It is hard to tell how far the creeping influence of health lobby groups has actually reached – but it seems even to the Home Office. That combined with the paternalistic nature of a certain number of those in power, (Mr Cameron at the top of that list) who seem to say one thing (“individual responsibility”) but do something very different, has led us to this place.
There is a meeting scheduled next week between Mr Cameron and the Home Office. Here is hoping the likes of Damian Green and Jeremy Browne can remind the PM of what he said back in 2010
“…all these insights lead to one conclusion that is central to Conservatism: the more responsibility we give people, the more likely they are to make ethical decisions. “