By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.
With debt doubled and the deficit high – on one count, it hasn't fallen – cutting beer duty is a frippery. Furthermore, government must tax something and, this being so, I'd rather tax spending than income. In particular, there's a strong case for "sin" taxes on alcohol and tobacco, as long as they're not set at a level which encourages evasion and smuggling. None the less, I'm no longer a politician, and can see that there are benefits in the budget's beer duty cut not only for George Osborne, but for beer drinkers (a bit) and the brewing industry (rather more).
So congratulations to Andrew Griffiths, the MP for Burton and Uttoxeter, Chairman of the Parliamentary Beer Group…and seasoned, effective political campaigner. (He was Eric Pickles's Chief of Staff when the latter was Party Chairman.) I suspect that Griffiths didn't join the Beer Group just because he likes a pint. The brewer Molson Coors is based in Burton, and Griffiths will thus have been nursing his constituents' interests by pushing for the cut. He's given an interview to his local paper, the Burton Mail, about how the campaign was won.
Griffiths was lucky in two ways. First, Osborne will have been looking for populist measures in this year's budget, after last year's pasty and caravan tax disasters. Second, the Sun ran with the campaign, thus granting Griffiths a platform. The Burton Mail says that "cynics have laughed at the 1p duty cut, saying it makes little
difference to ordinary people’s pockets. But the industry estimates that
the duty cut, coupled with the abolition of the beer duty escalator,
will save thousands of jobs this year alone because brewers and pubs can
invest in employment rather than taxation."
The case for the cut is that since Alistair Darling introduced the beer duty escalator in 2008, duty has risen by 42% – and that the brewers passed on the duty rises to their customers, and that many pubs and breweries "then added on another 6p onto each pint sold to make up for the extra 6p they were having to pay in duty". In closing, I declare an interest. I was due to be in his constituency this afternoon. Burton Albion are playing Wycombe Wanderers. Or were due to. But a great while ago the world begun, with a hey, ho, the wind and the rain…