Beer duty is an interesting issue. There is an argument for saying that it is a regressive tax, much more regressive than VAT. People on low incomes are paying a greater proportion of their alcohol costs in tax. People like me, and I'd consider myself reasonably fortunate, spend a little more on alcohol rather than being forced to depend upon cheap slabs of cooking lager for a fix of the most acceptable type of recreational drug. After all, if you work hard for a meagre crust then you deserve a cost effective form of relaxation. Just because you like a few tins of beer in the evening does not mean you are evil and should be punished with punitive taxation.
But, I've argued before that beer duty punishes The Pub less than the off trade. Surely that is a good thing? Also, if someone is a heavy drinker they are paying higher taxes than someone who doesn't drink a lot and so are paying for what we are told is the inevitable increase in costs to the NHS as a result of alcohol related heath costs. Costs of policing alcohol related crime and paying for damage to public property in town centres is perhaps another strong argument for alcohol duty in general.
Consider a drinker who is more discerning, one who is looking for a drink that has a higher value due to better quality ingredients - A drinker who is perhaps prepared to pay more for an artisanal product where more of the money paid goes to hard working people like us microbrewers and licensees, rather than into the back pockets of multinational brewers and supermarket shareholders. A smaller proportion of the money paid by such a discerning drinker goes to the government than for a drinker who is simply out to get pissed for as little as possible. Perhaps this is fair.
Whatever your thoughts are on beer duty, and of course I would expect the readers of this blog to be generally against the principle of beer duty, it is clear that neither the last nor the current government had or has any intention of reducing it. The previous government created the alcohol duty escalator and the current government have no intention what so ever of abolishing it any time soon. Indeed, the whole issue just gets lost in the current party politics based election system that we have.
Although, as stated above, I have a very keen interest in politics, I am very disillusioned with party politics. I like to take each issue on its merits. I get very frustrated at political rhetoric that consists of nothing more than trying to discredit the other party's ideas, irrespective of whether the idea has merit or not. Moreover, minority opinions have a right to be involved in the direction governments take, even when they are apparently wrong. I see no reason for them not to have a say in a democratic country.
We have a referendum this week. It is the first time I can remember that we have actually been permitted to have a significant say in what our government is going to do; Normally all we can do is put one simple cross on a piece of paper every once in a while. I don't feel very empowered by our present first-past-the-post system.
Moreover, if the "No" camp win I fear that not only will it stop the debate on political reform but it will also prevent further referendums. "We gave you a referendum on AV, you said "No", so clearly that was a waste of time" - I like the idea of referendums, I like the idea of us all being empowered and being able to choose on more issues more often. I like the idea of a voting system that gets more people to vote.
Running the country is complex, I do not think that permitting a single minority first-past-the-post winner to have complete control, and for them to stay in control, is the way to conduct politics into the 21st century. Hung parliaments, coalitions and power sharing is simply a grown-up way of doing things, I do not see it as political instability but as a means of being more intelligent and running the country on an issue based footing rather than the current ideology focused system.
For these reasons, and many, many more besides, I'm voting "Yes to AV" on Thursday. It might not be the perfect system, but I do not want the discussion on political change to end.
1...... yes, there is a case for saying they should have more say now they form part of our current government. But still, they are part of our current government, I see that as better than it being all Conservative, even if they are less effectual than we'd all like.