As sure as night follows day, there’s another article along from a right-winger telling us that the “Left’s cultural ascendancy” has led to the incorrect and unfair allocation of fascism to the right-hand side of the political spectrum. This time it’s Daniel Hannan MEP‘s turn:
One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty. You expect this level of analysis from Twitter mobs; you shouldn’t expect it from mainstream commentators.
Hannan doesn’t actually indicate who these “mainstream commentators” may be, but he seems sure enough of his assertion, so let’s go with the flow.
A key part of this regular leftie-baiting ritual is to say that fascists are really just socialists, and that socialists trying to tar right-wingers with the fascism brush is all part of the clever plan to get away with. Cue Hannan:
‘I am a Socialist,’ Hitler told Otto Strasser in 1930, ‘and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow’.
No one at the time would have regarded it as a controversial statement. The Nazis could hardly have been more open in their socialism, describing themselves with the same terminology as our own SWP: National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers’ councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, ‘capitalism has run its course’.
It always strikes me as odd in these circumstances that Adolf Hitler, who in general doesn’t have a tremendously good reputation for rigorous self-analysis and intellectual honesty, should be seen as such a trustworthy guide to his own ideological leanings. It is, after all, just possible that the Nazis used socialism as their key descriptor in an attempt to win votes from the Social Democratic Party, much as the BNP now seek to gain votes from Labour by claiming, as Hannan indeed notes, that they represent Labour values of old*. (Possibly the best contemporary representation of this dynamic is to be found in Hans Fellada’s semi-autobiographical A Small Circus, published in 1931 before the final rise to power of the Nazis.)
Further, the idea that being opposed to capitalism, and claiming that it has had its time, automatically makes you a socialist is really quite bizarre – it’s as though other forms of social structure had never existed. Hannan’s inability/unwillingness to see beyond a simplistic historical bipolarity - if the Nazis weren’t capitalist, they must have been socialist – is precisely the error he now claims “lefties” are making when he talks about the ‘far-right’ epithet applied to the BNP (for the record, I don’t think the BNP have any particularly fascist features).
In fact, almost any basic reading about Nazi ideology will tell you that it was primarily rooted in a weird anti-modernist, anti-materialist mysticism, a jumble of 19th century Romantic yearning for a return to nature with a bit of Sun worship thrown in. As GL Mosse set out right back in 1961, the so-called ’socialist’ elements around centralised planning, and even the growth of the military industrial complex, were a later addition, given the dawning realisation that for a glorious Aryanism, based on quasi-feudal social relations, to win out, ideal needed to be translated into action.
In his first book, H. F. K. Gunther, later to become the chief racial expert of the Third Reich, sketched such a social ideal. Human rights have today pre-empted the place of human duties. These duties, formerly expressed in the loyalty of the knightly gentleman to his king and generalized throughout society in the web of reciprocal loyalties between landlord and peasant, must once again become the cement of social organization. To Gunther, ” the community, the public good, demands that every profession fulfill the work which is its due.”
Manifestly, such a social ideal found in all these men, continued the impetus of romanticism. It was reminiscent of that Bavarian deputy who earlier in the XIXth century believed that ” Love ” would cure the tensions between laborer and employer. In an immediate sense it was a part of the ideal of an organic society which reflected organic man. Langbehn was explicit in his insistence that true individualism could only be realized in such a social order. He considered liberal individualism a part of materialism, dissolving society into incompatible units rather than knitting it together. Paul de Lagarde summarized this in one of those phrases which made him so popular: ” That man is not free who can do as he likes, but he is free who does what he should do. Free is he who is able to follow his creative principle of life; free is that man who recognizes and makes effective the innate principles which God put within him.” Such freedom led to an organic view of man and the state. Not only was liberalism mistaken, but socialism as well. Social democracy, Diederichs claimed, was mechanistic; a true people’s state was viable only if it reorganized society in a more meaningful manner, according to the aristocratic principle, the only environment in which men could unfold their real inner selves.” Langbehn concluded that this corporate structure not only fulfilled the aristocratic principle but was also in tune with the Germanic past.
Significantly, this ideal urged these men to advocate only one concrete social reform: each worker should be given his own plot of land. Again, the reform’s justification was sought not in terms of material welfare within the framework of the movement’s general ideology – factory work removed man from the all-important contact with nature. Yet these men desired the transformation of their ideology into deeds. It is of great significance that while Diederichs used the word ” theosophy ” in the first prospectus of his publishing house, he came to be critical of that movement-not because it was spiritualist, but because it was too purely speculative in nature. The feeling about infinity must lead to deeds, and to his important journal, he gave the name Die Tat, ” The Deed.” Paul de Lagarde had already made it plain that while something was accomplished through the understanding of true ideology, it was even more important to transform such ideals into serious practical action. It was an ” idealism of deeds” which such men desired, deeds which helped to create a nation resting upon this idealistic foundation. Through such a concept, ideas of force came to play an important role in this ideology. For Langbehn, art and war went hand in hand. His proof was by a method representative of his whole work. Shakespeare’s name meant, after all, shaking a spear, and this for him was proof of the connection between art and war. Moreover, in German spear (Speer) and army (Wehr) are words which rhyme. Thus in the Germanic past, true individual development had gone hand in hand with war.
The fact that Nazism as it was played out was a cocktail of bizarre belief and latterly borrowed practice may be hard for us to get our heads round at this remove, but it doesn’t make it any less real as a phase of history. For Hannan now to claim that Nazism was simply an extreme form of socialism, simply because the Nazi party bought in some centralised (though chaotic) planning and Mefo bill spend-and-lie economics to make its weird vision a reality, is quite simply wrong.
Similarly, the idea that simply because Mussolini and other Italian fascists had bought into some revolutionary socialist activity before the first world war doesn’t mean that the Italian fascism that emerged post-war was simply a continuation of that trajectory. We know that Mussolini, for example, was influenced by the turn of the century, Nietszche-influenced ‘counter-culture’, a reaction to the modernity of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ i.e. the antithesis of Marxist thought. Further, as Philip Morgan sets out, Mussolini and his fascist colleagues (like Hitler) were heavily influenced by their experience of the trenches:
In the sublimation of the war experience was rooted one of the most powerful myths of the war, that of ‘combatantism’….[The] idealised relationship between junior officers and their men. comradely yet elitist, was the basis of the hierarchical organisation they wanted to impose on their own societies. The point was that the hierarchy was new. Based on performance, the merit earned by self-sacrificing service to the nation, it replaced the conservative hierarchy of birth and wealth (p.25).
Again, Hannan’s claim that fascism emerged as a linear consequence of socialist doctrine and pre-war practice, with no other material or ideational influence, is simply wrong.
Having got history quite wrong Hannan makes his call for reconciliation:
Whenever anyone points to the socialist roots of fascism, there are howls of outrage. Yet the people howling the loudest are often the first to claim some ideological link between fascism and conservatism. Perhaps both sides should give it a rest.
At least we can agree on this, though a call for us all to calm down a bit coming at the end of a piece dedicated to doing just the opposite does jar a little, I have to say.
When I wrote my somewhat controversial piece on the potential for the rise of a 21st century version of fascism within Hannan’s own Conservative party, I did so explicitly on the basis that fascism and Conservatism have no core ideological linkage, though there may be some operational method crossover. While Anthony Painter of the Extremis project and I disagree on many things, we both see a real danger of a nasty extremism emerging within the Conservative party post-2015 – an extremism alien to Hannan’s own liberal/free market tradition (I’d argue there’s a tendency to the exclusionary within liberalism, but that’s another blog).
Whether or not any such emerging extremism might come to be defined as fascistic – that will depend on the precise form in which it emerges, and I am not implying that Anthony agrees with me on this - any danger of its emergence, under the leadership of the Tory party’s darker forces suggests that Hannan might be better employed at home, not engaging in attacks on the Left which are both historically ignorant and hypocritically framed as calls for peace.
* I am reminded by @sohopolitico that Hitler also said in 1930: “Our adopted term ‘Socialist’ has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true Socialism is not. As noted, Hitler may not be a very reliable source on Hitler.
I’m not blogging much at the moment, but I still abide by my golden rule of blogging: if I happen to come across some twat misusing PISA results in defence of Gove, then I will always make a point of calling her/him out, if I can be arsed.
So there’s a total twat, Toby Young by name, misusing PISA results in defence of Gove, and I can be arsed.
Young says, in a piece ‘fisking’ the apparently “hysterical” Suzanne Moore*:
Ah. Here we go. Her [Moore's] views are “evidence-based”, Gove’s are “ideological”. Odd line of argument for a former employee of Marxism Today to pursue, but there it is. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to support Gove’s policies. Here’s evidence that standards fell during Labour’s 13 years in office. Here’s evidence that free schools have raised standards in Sweden. Here’s evidence that increasing school choice has raised standards in England. Here’s evidence that the academies programme is raising standards in England.
The first link is to the wikipedia entry on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
And this is what the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority had to say about the blatant misuse of PISA data by Ofsted and the DfE:
While I understand that some users of these data would like to make comparisons between the first PISA study in 2000 and the most recent in 2009, the weaknesses relating to the response-rate standard in earlier studies should not be ignored. The validity of comparisons of national rankings as a result of an increase in the number of countries covered by the PISA study, and the degrees of uncertainty in country scores attributed to sampling and measurement error are also important in this regard.
That is, Young is totally and utterly wrong**. More on why he’s wrong here***, here, here and, just for completeness sake, the National Foundation for Educational Research review of the PISA 2009 study:
England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last Pisa survey in 2006.
* Readers may wish to note James Delingpole’s delightful metaphor on twitter for Young’s attempted fisking of the “hysterical” Moore. I can’t remember where I put it though. Anyway, it’s bound to cause a twitterstorm so you may see it before I see it again.
** Of course, it’s not just that he’s deliberately misusing the PISA data. His logic is also utterly at sea. Even valid evidence that England may have fallen down the international ranking wouldn’t be proof that standards have fallen. It might be as easily explained by other countries getting better (oh, and the huge increase in the number of countries in the rankings).
*** , I note that I asked, in this post about the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority’s October ’12 letter:
Will they continue to peddle the same untruths, secure in the knowledge that the “plummeting down the international league tables” is now well entrenched as a result of lies to date, and much more likely to gain press coverage than a letter from the UK Statistics Authority?
I think we now know the answer.
Alex Massie at the Spectator thinks the government may be gilding the high speed lily:
I suspect the economic case for the proposals is weaker than its proponents allow.
The governnment ‘s Economic Case for HS2: Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits, published to justify the London-Birmingham stretch says )para 3.5.4)
There may also be significant local effects; for instance, a new station can act as a magnet for economic activity and drive regeneration in deprived areas.
You’d have thought that for a £32bn scheme there might be a bit more than a ‘may’, and some actual research into its possible and likely consequences for the areas concerned.
After a few paragraphs of vague wish lists about what ‘wider economic impacts’ (WEIs) the scheme might bring in the form of business clustering and labour markets, we get this at 3.5.8 of the same report:
The WEIs guidance is carefully designed to measure national impacts. However, at a regional and local level the effects of HS2 on the distribution of activity could also be very significant.
Is “could” better than “may”?
Then, finally, we get to the nub (para 3.5.9-10):
[A]lthough there are many examples where growth and regeneration has been delivered around a high speed rail station, there may be balancing effects across the wider area. However, the circumstances in which, and extent to which, this happens is not clear….
These local impacts are considered more fully in the Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability report.
But if you’re anal enough to go to the Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability report, it runs out that no such consideration has been given (para 1.3.1):
In undertaking this assessment account has been taken of the socio-economic impact of transport schemes including other high speed rail schemes. It is commonly accepted that the main impact on land use, of new stations or improved services, is located within a 10-15 minutes walking distance of the station, which equates to a catchment area of 1km.
Thus, the report is not by, any stretch of the imagination, an assessment of wider impacts. That’s not what 1km from a station is. That’s a local impact assessment. Indeed the report acknowledges this when at para .1.3.5):
The next steps in developing the socio-economic appraisal may be to……investigate the wider regional impacts of high speed rail, for example, how the Black Country region would be affected by the introduction of High Speed Rail to Birmingham (para 1.3.5.).
In summary, then the wider regional impact investigation recommended in the previous report has not been undertaken, but the final report published by the government pretends that it has.
Call me old-fashhioned, but I think that’s lying.
And this is not simply an esoteric point about what is and isn’t in what DfT document.
This is about the spending of £33bn on a scheme which has the real capacity to wreak havoc on people in towns and cities – most likely some distance from the new stations but close enough to see economic activity “sucked away”.
As I set out here, such concerns are summed up in a 2009 paper ‘High Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad’, in which the authors study the actual post-construction impact of schemes in Japan, France, Spain and Italy:
[F]or regions and cities whose economic conditions compare unfavorably with those of their neighbors, a connection to the HST line may even result in economic activities being drained away and an overall negative impact……Medium size cities may well be the ones to suffer most from the economic attraction of the more dynamic, bigger cities. Indeed, Haynes (1997) points out that growth is sometimes at the expense of other centers of concentration.
Time will tell whether my concerns are justified, but what we can already be certain of is that £32bn of public money is to be spent on a scheme which has not been properly research, and the justification for which is underpinned by quiet, but important, lie in the small print.
Meanwhile, the £60m it would cost (about 1/500th of what’s needed for HSR) to build a rail link to Skelmersdale’s 40,000 residents to any railway at all is still not forthcoming.
Cameron will be giving his big European speech this Friday, then.
In anticipation, Kev Peel at Labourlist has set out the five questions he’ll have to answer. It’s quite good. Kev’s one of the relatively small bunch of Labour insiders who’s bothered to get to grips with the detail on Europe, and it shows.
However, in assessing Cameron’s likely answer to “Exactly which powers does he wish to repatriate?”, he’s missed the possible rabbit out of the hat. Mind you, so has everyone else. Media memories are so short…….
Go back to Spring 2012, and this was aTelegraph story:
The Government is drawing up plans for emergency immigration controls to curb an influx of Greeks and other European Union residents if the euro collapses, the Home Secretary discloses today.
As I set out at the time, the mainstream response to this – that it isn’t possible to do this under European law – was plain wrong. Article 45 of the Lisbon Treaty said then, and continues to say, that there can be exceptions: to freedom of movement:
1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.
2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.
3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:
(a) to accept offers of employment actually made;
(b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;
(c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;
(d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.
Cameron’s team has had months now to think through the logistics on this one, and while I doubt there’ll be an announcement on its immediate of this get-out clause in the Treaty, I would n’t be at all surprised if Cameron makes an announcement about a big step forward towards its use, under the guise of repatriating powers.
Unless of course this blogpost is read by Labour policy types, and they get in ahead of the speech. Here’s hoping.
Clearly I’m not going to comment on the Rotherham fostering case as I don’t know the what, the when, the how, the why of it.
Clearly Mr Gove knows all these things. He is already sure that what happened is “indefensible”, and he’s going to found out exactly what went on:
“It is entirely wrong for this couple to have been treated in this way. That’s why I believe we need a full explanation from the local authority as to why this decision was allowed to be taken.
What strikes me as odd is that, when major concerns were raised over GCSE grading this summer, Mr Gove felt he had no business intervening, and that to do so would be deeply irresponsible:
Ofqual is an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament. If Ministers were to interfere in Ofqual’s decisions, they would be meddling where they should not interfere. It is deeply irresponsible, cynical and opportunistic for the hon. Gentleman [Twigg] to make the case that he is making.
Michael Gove wants children to get the poetry beat, perhaps with the emphasis on beating if they’re too terrified to succeed:
From Year 1, at the age of five, children will be read poems by their teacher as well as starting to learn simple poems by heart and practise recitals.
The programme of study for Year 2 will state that pupils should continue “to build up a repertoire of poems learnt by heart and recite some of these, with appropriate intonation to make the meaning clear”.
That’ll teach ‘em. Much more effective, I’m sure, than the goal set out in the current Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (i.e. for 3-5 year olds), which includes the lily-livered concept of enjoyment:
Listen with enjoyment, and respond to stories, songs and other music, rhymes and poems and make up their own stories, songs, rhymes and poems.
I’m director of a social enterprise nursery. I just do the money and the grass-cutting, as I’m not competent to do the real work, but I’m in the nursery three or four times a week, and can assure Gove that poetry, songs and rhymes are a big part of what the children do.
I’ll wait for the formal consultation on what Gove is proposing, but the prospect already fills me with slight dread.
On 29th May, Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab) damaged the government to the core when he asked in the Lords:
My Lords, is the noble Lord [Strathclyde] aware that yesterday HMRC increased the tax on skips depositing in landfill sites from £2.50 per tonne to £64 per tonne, with no notice? That is an increase of nearly 2,500%. I thought that those sorts of figures were from wonga.com, not HMRC. Is he not aware of the great risk to business that causes and that it should therefore have been brought to Parliament and announced here?
Labour MPs have been quick to jump on this little heralded change, which the skip hire industry says may drive many firms out of business.
Within 48 hours, Siobhain McDonagh MP had organised a meeting at parliament with representatives of an emergency industry committee set up just 24 hours before that, and big hitter Rachel Reeves was there too. By the end of the meeting, Treasury officials were promising ‘urgent consideration’.
In the twittersphere, #skiptax may not yet be trending, but with MPs Bill Esterson, Graham Jones (with immediate constituency research corroborating industry concerns and others on the case, that may not be long.
No wonder Labour have been so quick to seize on this. It has all the ingredients of a massive hit on the government.
The #skiptax may, technically speaking, the removal of a tax exemption in the wake of an HMRC victory in court, but it’s still a massive, ‘overnight’ hike in what skip hire firms have to pay (actually 13 days between HMRC guidance and implementation).
#skiptax comes, of course directly in the wake of #pastytax. This time, though, it’s serious.
This isn’t a consumption tax, which may have medium to long-term effects on sales, but doesn’t close a business overnight; it’s an immediate hit on the viability of firms, and the industry’s concern about job losses, and even the capacity of firms to pick up skips already out on streets (with consequent flytipping concerns both now and in the future) is very real.
Moreover, as news spreads, it will come to be seen as an unfair tax. Skip hire firms don’t, after all, produce the ‘trommel fines’ waste they’ll now be taxed to dump; they just move it. Of course they’ll need to pass the tax on in increased hire charges, but that doesn’t help them now.
Overall then, #skiptax may be a bigger disaster for the government than #pastytax and #grannytax combined, whether or not the Treasury makes yet another u-turn (I suspect it will). [Update 12.28 MPs/Lord K on twitter now saying there has been a u-turn. It's almost certainly because of this post. TCF has saved thousands of jobs...... Update 13.57 Or maybe not. The Treasury now denying a u-turn].
It reeks not just of serial incompetence, but of a total ‘out of touchness’ with the realities of industry and working life, especially if Labour can tie it in people’s minds to the other ’overnight’ decision: to slash solar power feed-in tariffs, which also damaging that industry massively, and which was found to be illegal by the courts.
The government increasingly seems simply unable to work out what effect its Whitehall policy decisions on real people. This inability to connect to real life, now clearly associated with the Cameron/Osborne posh arrogance factor, is what’s hurting the Tories even more than the Hunt/Coulson corruption whiff. Labour knows this now (and should have known it two years ago when I was first setting out why and how this could be the Tories’ downfall).
Support for the Tories is already down to 22% amongst C2DEs. If Labour gets this right – and it looks like it will – this latest display of out-of-touch, arrogant incompetence could dump them in the mid-teens.
Forget Mondeo Man. Labour is after Skip Man.
Matthew Barrett has an interesting piece up at Conservative Home introducing the work of Fresh Start, the initiative of three Eurosceptic Tory MPs, including one Chris Heaton-Harris:
The Fresh Start Project is in the process of comprehensively researching the different options for renegotiating and reforming – ie taking back – the areas of competency Britain currently cedes to the EU.
So far, so normal. Studying how best the UK can freeload on Europe as-it-is-now, rather than contribute to ‘research’ into how European institutions might be reformed/renegotiated so it benefits the whole of Europe, is a traditional Tory stance.
But then we get this :
The wider campaign for a new relationship with the EU takes the form of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for European Reform, which is open to all MPs, and which was set up in order to ensure that pro-reform voices from across the parties could be heard…… The pro-reform European think tank Open Europe acts as the APPG’s secretariat (my emphasis).
Regular TCF readers will remember Open Europe, and its relationship to Chris Heaton-Harris:
He [Chris H-H] doesn’t like regulation. Especially EU regulation. Especially things to do with workers’ rights. His main source of evidence is the not-entirely-unbiased Open Europe:
“Based on over 2,300 of the government’s own impact assessments, an Open Europe study (2010) found that regulation has cost the UK economy £176 billion since 1998, a sum roughly equivalent to the UK’s entire budget deficit.”
It looks like Chris H-H may have got as far as the press release on this report. Otherwise he might have seen that this is a study of benefits/costs, not just costs:
“We estimate the benefit/cost ratio of the regulations we studied at 1.58. In other words, for every £1 of cost introduced by a regulation since 1998, it has delivered £1.58 of benefits” (p. 1).
Put simply, Open Europe is a rightwing attack job, happy to send out misleading press releases on the basis of twisted reports. Just look at the website.
Why, then, would a solid leftwing MP like Kelvin Hopkins agree not just to sit on this All Parliamentary Working Group (alongside the odious Frank Field, naturally), but also accede to Open Europe as its ‘secretariat’; surely Labour MPs sitting on this group simply legitimises Open Europe’s pernicious policy influence within Westminster.
There is a whole leftwing rationale out there for the reform of the European Union: rebalancing power between the Council of Ministers and Parliament, challenging neoliberal assumptions built in the EU treaties, ensuring that free trade development takes human rights into account, and so on. In advance of any EU Referendum, it is vital that the left rises to this challenge.
Unless I’m missing something, allowing Open Europe free reign in parliament is the opposite of seeking to achieve this.
Today the Scottish government is passing legislation leading to a 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol. The legal provisions have the support of all parties. The UK government is set to follow suit, though at the moment 45p per unit is the figure being bandied around.
All this would be fine, except that the research on which the legislation is singularly dependent doesn’t actually say what the legislators in England and Scotland say it does. I do wonder if any of the legislators have actually bothered to read the research. If they had, and if they’d appraised it honestly, the legislation would not have been passed in Scotland, and would not be in hand in England.
The research both governments depend on is from the University of Sheffield Alchohol Research Group. The Scottish Government commissioned research and “modelling” from the Group, with its most recent report delivered in January 2012, and research for England in 2009. The England report contains a more detailed methodology, but both studies are similar in design and the data used.
Here the crucial bit of the England 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)
My rough (and I admit slightly mean-spirited) translation:
The researchers don’t know whether the results the legislators want will be achieved or not through a minimum unit price, but they’ve gone out of their way to provide some mathematical modelling which suggests it might because, after all, that’s what the legislators want and they paid for the research.
The research depends for its findings on a complex set of mathematical modelling, with log-log analysis of the relationship between price and consumption, changing over time, at the heart of this. The data comes from five years of the annual Expenditure and Food Survey and, in the case of the more recent Scotland report, the Scottish Health Survey. This is sample data based on respondent completing diaries of what they purchase and consume over a two week period.
The principal outcome of the modelling is a set of ”elasticity matrices” in which the relationship between increase in minimum unit price and change in consumption is modelled for various population types, including moderate and heavy drinkers. The model suggests that a 50p minimum unit might decrease overall consumption by 5.7% (Scotland research, Jan 2012).
It’s an impressive piece of work in its own terms, but it simply doesn’t find what those desperate to find a ‘solution’ to people drinking too much say it does. Indeed, there is a strong indication that the real rationale for the mathematical modelling is to provide a fit with other research into the relationship between alcohol price/tax and consumption (not, note, minimum unit pricing):
Recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses by Gallet (2007) and Wagenaar et al (2008) found, respectively, a median elasticity for alcohol of -0.535 and a mean elasticity for alcohol of -0.51. By comparison, our elasticity matrix for all of England shows broadly similar results, with own-price elasticities ranging from a least elastic estimate of -0.2350 for on-trade higher-priced spirits to a most elastic estimate of -2.9386 for on-trade low-priced spirits.
The problem is that these meta-analyses don’t really show what the researchers and legislators want them to show either, even though they are meta-analyses of the general relationship between price and consumption (where you might well expect an inverse relationship)
Price/tax also affects heavy drinking significantly (mean reported elasticity = -0.28, individual-level r = -0.01, P < 0.01), but the magnitude of effect is smaller than effects on overall drinking.
This is the opposite of what the legislation is aimed at: heavy drinking leads to anti-social behaviour and increased health problems.
The Wagenaar report also recgonises that not all may be as it seems from the 112 studies it analyses:
[P]ublication bias(or, more generally, small-study bias) is always a threat to the validity of a meta-analysis. Statistically significant findings are more likely to be published than those that are not significant with one estimate suggesting that the odds of publication are 2–4 times greater when results are statistically significant. Thus, it is possible that a substantial number of studies with non-significant effects remain unpublished.
So what’s going on? Why are the English and Scottish governments apparently so keen to push through legislation which is wholly based on wholly spurious evidence?
Why, on the other hand, is the Scottish government apparently so keen to overlook the research ‘findings’ that a 70p per unit price would lead (p.5 of report) to a 16.9% reduction in consumption, while the 50p price actually adopted will read to a 5.7% one? Does it not have the courage of its public health convictions? Or is is, perchance, that a 70p unit price would put the price of ‘decent’ wine up, while the 50p one only affects the really cheap alcohol that the poor people drink?
The answer to these rhetorical questions is simple enough.
There is a problem-drinking problem – that can’t and shouldn’t be denied. The respective governments are desperate to be seen to be doing something.
Doing something genuinely effective about it is beyond them, because that would mean putting in place policies (and government spending) which lead to people having realstic choices other than blotting out – at least for the night – what they have to live with. That’s not a new, or British cultural problem – re-read the Paris bit of George Orwell’s Down and in London and Paris to remind yourself of that.
So the easy option is to put in place legislation aimed (almost certainly ineffectively) at a certain type of person most in the public eye. Owen Jones calls them ‘chavs’. They’re probably called something else in Scotland.
And when the minimum price measure fails – and it will fail - at least the problem-drinking problem will be set out clearly in terms of the ‘target population’ (those chavs who got round the law by spending more on booze/buying it illegally), and the need to control it more effectively. That’s even written into the ‘sunset clause’ provisions of the new Scottish Act.
The Scottish and UK governments perverting the role of science for short-term political ends at the expense of social cohesion. Who’d have thought it?