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Labour’s alcohol problem

Cameron had said he wanted to introduce a minimum price per unit for alcohol.  Now it l0oks like there will be a u-turn.  Ed Miliband says this is a sign of Cameron’s inability to organise things.

Miliband has, I’m afraid, got his reaction all wrong.

Had anyone from Labour HQ actually bothered to read the single piece of research behind the proposals, they’d have realised that it simply doesn’t say what everyone, in all parties, wanted it to say.  As I have set out in detail, the research doesn’t prove that minimum unit pricing will reduce binge drinking, and it acknowledges that very clearly in the main report:

The elasticity matrices [the method used in the research] on their own are not sufficient to reveal the likely behaviour of the population to price changes, since these also depend on the preferences for beverage, drinking location and price point that the different sub-groups exhibit. However they do form a useful starting point for analysis, and can be compared with existing results from the literature. (p. 50)

This acknowledgment, and the other deep flaws in the research, will be set out in consultation responses (including the one I submitted), and the Tories will simply point to those responses to explain their u-turn.  It doesn’t matter that the Tories’ real motivation for dumping the pricing proposal has nothing to do with the evidence, but is driven by a mix of electoral calculation and fear of taking on the Right of the part.  By May, the narrative already being set out by David Davis – that the research doesn’t stack up – will have been firmly established.

Thus, by effectively coming out in support of minimum unit pricing, Labour is getting itself on entirely the wrong side of the debate.  In a month or two, when the final government response to the consultation is published, Labour (and the SNP as a side effect) will be painted as the illiberal nasties who do don’t give a hoot about evidence but just want to punish the poor, while the Tories will have positioned themselves as the reasonable party, who consulted on the idea, listened to public opinion, and then took a mature, evidenced-based decision not to proceed.

In short, Labour is going to cop it on this one.  Miliband may have had some fun today at PMQs, but the Tories will have the last laugh, as Labour is tarred with the very ‘authoritarian’ brush Miliband had worked so hard to avoid.  The key lesson is that when Labour priorities media management over actual policy import, it does so at its peril.   It should already know this, from the time it abandoned sound immigration policy in order to look tough, but maybe this time around it’ll learn…….


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