Tuesday 3 May 2011

Beer Duty and AV

I try not to let it, but my intense interest in politics encroaches into this blog from time to time. I'm not one of these silly political animals who think that Conservative policies are all twaddle just because Maggie shut our pits or that all Labour policies are crazy just because of a few social security layabouts. Neither do I think that Liberal Democrats are amateur politicians who wouldn't know what to do if they did end up running the country1. For that matter I have some empathy with the Green movement and I'm not convinced about Brussels taking over quite so much, so there is a little bit of me agrees with some of UKIP's ideas, even the BNP...... no, wait, they really are tossers, you're right.

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.


Phil said...

It might not be the perfect system, but I do not want the discussion on political change to end

That's precisely why I'm voting No. I support PR, but if AV passes I think the reaction from the powers that be will be at best "let's give it another couple of elections to bed in", and at worst "you wanted electoral reform, you've got electoral reform, now shut up". (Also I don't like AV as a system, for long and complicated reasons.) Yes to PR, no to AV.

Curmudgeon said...

See No to AV, Yes to PR.

Anyway, all the recent opinion polls suggest AV is dead in the water and will be defeated at least 60-40.

Unknown said...

Phil, my fear is that if we say "No to AV" we stand no chance of getting PR. I would agree that PR is the only real way to go.

I believe AV is better than first past the post.

But of course, as ever, I respect your opinion.

Unknown said...

Mudgie, I suspect that it will be defeated. If it is then I just hope it is not the end of the matter.

phil55494 said...

Unfortunately by saying no to AV, even if you're yes to PR it will be seen that you prefer a yes to FPTP. If the vote is to not go to AV as seems likely by the polls, you're unlikely to get PR for a very long time.

Neville Grundy said...

If the vote is yes, then the official view will be that electoral reform is now done and dusted, and that will be it. If no, then we will be deemed to have endorsed the current system. Either way, we are unlikely to get any say on further change in the near future. The failure to reform the House of Lords would seem to confirm this.

Dave: as for Labour and social security "layabouts", under the Tories, it was official policy in the 80s and early 90s to encourage people to transfer from unemployment benefits to sickness benefits to bring the down unemployment figures. It was Labour who reversed that stupid and costly policy.

Unknown said...

Nev, I am well aware that governments of all flavours have been guilty of policies that make statistics look better than they really are.

My point was that the Tories like to brand everyone who is claiming benefit as a lazy sponge on society. A minority probably are, the majority probably aren't. It is only right and proper in a caring society that we provide for people who cannot work. How we deal with that is something that I find a very interesting subject.

As for what you say on electoral reform, I'd suspect you might be right, which would be disappointing.

Neville Grundy said...

It wasn't the stats I was referring to, but the gap between Tory anti-scounger rhetoric and their encouragement of a scrounging culture. But I do realise you were referring to popular perceptions rather than hypocritical reality.

Yvan Seth said...

Since moving to the UK I've missed our AV system back home (Australia).

Here in the UK I vote for a party I'd rather not vote for just because I'd rather see them take the seat than the incumbent. If I voted for the party I'd rather vote for... well, there'd actually no point voting at all.

I'd rather take this chance now than risk not having the choice again for a decade or two... (or more!) If we get AV then politics may shift a bit, we're more likely to get another shot at better "democracy" with AV in place in my opinion.

Of course... next referendum needs to be #No2TheHouseOfLords. Really need to put the whole load of buggers on a ship and deport them. Not to Australia though please, they're not our kind of criminals!

Unknown said...

Yvan, and we were told the Aussies wanted to get rid of AV.......

Yvan Seth said...

The "Australian's don't want AV" thing seems a vague statistic. I haven't looked into it... I have no idea where it came from, what question was asked, nor who was asked. (Could "Google it" - not bothered.) I don't recall AV-vs-FPTP ever being being an issue in my lifetime.

Of course "the system could be better" is always a general issue discussed around election time. Most talk I remember was about making the Australian lower-house election system "more democratic".
I doubt that meant FPTP, and I don't recall FPTP ever being mentioned in the media (so while it probably was mentioned - it probably wasn't important...) Though I have some recollection of complaints about the size of the ballot papers - you should see an Australian senate ballot paper!

In my mind Australia seems a democratic utopia by comparison with the UK. There's even a kinda-democratically elected upper house! (Using a flawed STV implementation - but it could be worse;)

(Before anyone says "well, if you like it so much then move back!" I'll counter with: if I decided where to live based on politics I'd move to an uninhabited island;)