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Archive for March, 2009

There has been much comment, most of it against the suggestion of the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, that fixing a minimum price for the sale of alcohol at 50 pence per unit, would be a significant help in cutting down on irresponsible drinking and the ‘binge drink culture’.

At first glance, and as a libertarian, perhaps I too should be against it. What right has the governnment after all to intervene in a straightforward commercial arrangement between citizens and publicans or shops. And yet I’m not – against it that is.

More often than not issues are rarely black and white and there is always a balance to be struck. This is no exception. For once the government has been given a lead and opportunity to do something which would benefit society in general, but as so often Gordon Brown seems to have a blind spot. Critics, and I even heard Ken Clark on the BBC Question Time program, describe the suggestion as a tax. It is nothing of the sort. No revenue would accrue to the government, it is simply a measure to impose a minimum selling price.

Critics also seem to miss the point that for the large majority of people it would have no impact. A normal strength pint of beer contains about two units of alcohol and would have to be sold for a minimum of £1. In a pub I guess the current average is probably £2.50. The measure is clearly aimed at the binge drinker and the supermarkets who are selling high strength lagers at loss leader prices.

If the anti-competitive nature of the supermarkets’ loss leaders were curtailed, it might also assist in slowing down or even hopefully stopping the trend of closures for the traditional British pub. A double bonus in my opinion.

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I wonder if all the people who are now complaining about the new Google Street View web service, are the same people who, when asked about the escalation in the growth of CCTV in the UK, blithely respond that, “if you’ve got nothing to hide why should you be concerned that you’re being watched?’ This response has become one of life’s cliches and one which I always find incredibly shallow. These same people never think of asking the question the other way around.

Maybe, just maybe, people will now begin to recognise the insidious nature of all CCTV, and the implications for civil society in the breakdown of the relationship between the citizen and the state.

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