That’s got the statutory disclaimer out.
Now to business.
On the one hand, in the present climate, Malcolm can see the reason (if not the overall merit) of the “sin taxes”: duties on booze and baccy.
He can also, just about, see that cider should be taxed on a par with beer. But then — since Malcolm believes cider should be a cooking ingredient and nothing more — that’s understandable.
What doesn’t make joined-up sense is the way Budgets over the last couple of years have impacted on pubs and clubs, but (largely) by-passed the main source of cheap-booze supply: the supermarkets.
The real joy of a pub is supping in agreeable company, in a pleasant environment. Often accompanied by food … and that means (in Britain today) rapidly improved food. Since the smoking ban, also in a far more improved atmosphere. For that, most civilized folk expect to pay a reasonable premium.
Take a book into a pub (or indeed a wine-bar), find a corner, and you’ll be left alone. Go looking for a conversation and you’ll soon find one. It’s sociable, with a bit of drinking on the side. Yes: there are exceptions, the individuals who are there simply to get tanked up at excessive cost. A good publican quickly has them sussed, and sent on their way. Such institutions need to be treasured.
The heavy-drinking culture is largely elsewhere. It involves the quickest way to a skinful. That means:
- (for the dedicated liver-burner) quantities of the cheap offer, the loss-leader, from the local supermarket;
- (for the third-form beginner toper or the hopelessly-destroyed) the park bench, none too far from a complaisant off-licence;
- (for the trendy Wendies and their lechers) a club where teenies are induced to part with their gelt in exchange for luminous high-octane knicker-droppers.
All involve a lack of adequate commonsense, management, sanity and policing.
So, whichever way one approaches it, the problem lies at the supply end.
Therefore, Malcolm wholly approves of the excess duties on strong cider. He would suggest such a noxious substance should be available only on prescription, along with all those weird and wonderful alco-pops.
He further believes that the six-packs of nasty mass-produced wife-beaters should be banned. If not, as an alternative,why not put a stamp duty (say £5) on the plastic tie binding them? It’s practical: none too long ago (starting in 1711 and continuing until 1960), packs of cards were taxed, simply because there was a duty on the Ace of Spades.
However, “craft” beers (and, all right, since Malcolm has a soft heart, ciders) could be exempted though an Appellation d’origine contrôlée. Provided the brew comes from a particular location, and is produced in a modest quantity, it enjoys a lower taxation. Result! It immediately becomes attractive for pubs, clubs and even supermarkets to vend niche products, thus widening the choice for the consumer (and even educating their palates). If the product becomes too popular, the cut-off of quantity production applies. Brew-pubs prosper, mass-produced fizz pays the taxes. It would even qualify as a job-creation scheme.
Sooner or later (and the sooner the better), a strong-minded government has to take on the Problemo Uno. That is the whole mess of distortions in the retail market, deriving from the end-customer increasingly being dependent on a small oligopoly of supermarkets, who can then do BDSM on the primary producers.
So, start with the drink trade: that way there’ll be some public support (and the Daily Mail won’t instantly go ape). If it works for Real Ale, then it might also for Real Food.