By Tim Montgomerie
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The Daily Mail is one of a number of newspapers to report this morning a range of measures that the Coalition will be taking to tackle alcohol-fuelled social disorder:
- "New powers for hospitals swamped with drunks to shut down pubs and clubs causing trouble;
- A late-night levy on licensed premises to pay for extra policing in rowdy town centres;
- A ban on buy-one-get-one-free alcohol deals; and
- An industry push to reduce alcohol content in a wide range of products."
The most controversial proposal is, however, a minimum price for alcohol. The policy reportedly opposed by Michael Gove, Andrew Lansley and certain Treasury ministers will potentially see a minimum price of 40p for every unit of alcohol. The price and whole policy is being put out to consultation.
The Coalition insists that the policy is aimed at heavy consumption of cheap booze rather than moderate drinkers. A 40p minimum unit policy would, for example, double the price of a two litre bottle of cider from £3 to £6.
Mr Cameron makes the audacious claim that the policy "could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol-related deaths over the next decade” (Times (£)). Tory MP Philip Davies calls the policy "completely idiotic" but on this morning's Today programme Theresa May, the Home Secretary, defended the change. She claimed that there was significant historical evidence that price was the best way of tackling excessive consumption. She said that too many town centres were places of "drunken mayhem" in the evenings and something needed to be done to address the huge cost to law-abiding people and businesses. She insisted that a minimum alcohol price was legal although the drinks and supermarkets industry is expected to take action against it through the European courts.
I doubt that this policy will do much to address Britain's ugly binge drinking culture but it will increase tensions within an already unhappy Conservative Party. I always favoured the policy put forward by the Centre for Social Justice a few years ago. Under that policy more taxation of alcohol would fund treatment programmes for alcoholics and other addicts. That policy was very unpopular with ConHome readers too.