Let’s suppose* for a couple of minutes that the health lobbies and the Prime Minister are correct that to deal with problem drinking you need to deal with the fact that alcohol is too cheap. You have two options:
1. An incredibly complicated (and therefore incredibly expensive to administer) system of forcing retailers to charge at least a certain amount per unit of alcohol served. On top of the complexity there are serious competition issues at stake here too. We got rid of things like retail price maintenance and the net book agreement for a reason. You are also ensuring that retailers and manufacturers between them suddenly become more able to earn super profits.
2. You put the duty on alcohol up.
I can see why industry lobbies and those who think that in Utopia everyone works for the state would want 1., but why does a “conservative” think that 1. is the right way to go when 2. is so much simpler and quicker to implement and cheap to administer? I don’t buy all the stuff about supermarkets selling booze at a loss to get people through the door. Maybe occasionally in a “sale” but in general I doubt it’s common. And if this is a problem it shouldn’t be hard to get the big players to stop without major legislation. We already tax booze, changing the rate requires only one line in a Finance Act.
I can’t think of a single advantage of 1..
Minimum alcohol pricing is an utterly stupid idea. We won’t even get into the egalitarian argument about making nice stuff more expensive for poor people. We won’t even get into the fact that it will almost certainly be illegal under the EU treaty. We won’t get into the question of whether it will be manufacturers/importers who will be bound to sell above a certain price or just retailers (would I be able to set up BE Retail Limited to buy booze in bulk at market rates and then fail to sell any on at the statutory price because I am not very good at running a shop?). The amazing thing is that this idea has been floating around for so long and has been taken so seriously by the nation’s leaders.
*anyone who has been to Denmark or France or Poland or seen that chart that shows that UK alcohol consumption is falling may wonder whether price has anything to do with it