Home   Contact Phil   

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  

Hear about the latest on this site at Twitter ... Read Phil's weekly pub news update on Fancyapint.com ...   
Phil on
Posterous ...    Phil's blog on the CPL Training website ...

        The politics of drinking

January 20, 2011



Vampires, victims and minimum pricing

If the government keeps putting up tax and VAT as it’s been doing, we might eventually have to take seriously its decision to ban below tax and VAT alcohol pricing. As it stands, though, the measure is such an ineffectual and tokenistic response to the widespread call for a minimum unit price that it has inevitably brought accusations that it is siding with the drinks industry.

This is no surprise, of course, from a coalition led by Tories and Orange Book LibDems. Yet what is this ‘industry’? There has been no unified position on minimum pricing, certainly not between the on-trade and off-trade, nor even within the two wings of alcohol retail.

As usual, the ‘industry’ is all over the shop on the question. As it is on many other questions, a fact much regretted and agonised over, yet with little success in bringing everyone together in one voice.

Now, at last, we have an academic take on it. The February issue of the Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy journal includes an essay by geographer Clare Herrick that makes a strongly argued and nearly exciting case for the alcohol policy debate to take a more ‘nuanced’ view of a fragmented drinks industry.

No, I don’t know why geographers have got involved in this. Herrick is not alone among in her discipline taking an interest in alcohol policy. I think they must be playing playing the part anthropologists take in the drink question in other countries – making sensible points against the medical temperance orthodoxy.

Anyway, Herrick takes issue with the habit of describing the drinks industry as ‘tainted’ by a single-minded drive to sell more and more booze, and the conclusion that it should therefore excluded from the policy debate.

At the extreme, there is the view that the industry has a free hand to manipulate the public into drinking more than it should. There’s even a course on it.

No one is trying to say the industry isn’t out to make a profit, and that fact compromises its approach to alcohol policy. But Herrick’s point is that demonising those selling drink as being like reverse vampires forcing booze down our throats implies that drinkers are helpless victims.

“For policy to move forward,” she says. “It is also essential to appreciate that drinkers are more competent than victimhood discourses suggest.”

Drinkers make conscious choices, based on pleasure, mainly. They don’t just sit there believing all the adverts as those wanting to ban alcohol marketing seem to believe.

I think this is what I was clumsily groping towards in my previous post.

As Herrick suggests, focusing on this relationship between predatory drinks industry and vulnerable drinker distracts us from the underlying, social causes of alcohol problems – conveniently enough for government aggressively cutting public spending.

And there’s something mildly offensive about the idea that people who drink are so easily manipulated, whether by marketing or low prices. The Daily Mash headline got it about right, I reckon:

Government still thinks you drink like a bastard because it's cheap

Back to diary archive



Writing... Journalism... Research... Awards Judging... Pub Business Advice... Pub Crawls
Contact Phil