Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Minimum Alcohol Pricing Folly: Meal Deals

Look, we all know minimum alcohol pricing is a pretty stupid idea which will have little or no effect on binge-drinking while punishing responsible drinkers along with 'irresponsible' ones. It is also incredibly regressive considering one of the features designed specifically into the policy is for it to aggressively attack the less well off.

These are all givens unless you're paid to come up with absurd 'science' - peer reviewed by your chums - which is about as grounded in real life experience as a lion, a witch and a wardrobe.

However, if you shop at Marks and Spencer, the Scottish government wants to assure you that you won't be affected by minimum pricing or a ban on drinks promotions. You see, their 'meal for a tenner' deal offers wines usually in the region of six or seven quid accompanied with a main meal, side dish and dessert for just ten roundel nuggets. That could be seen as a discounted drinks promotion and/or selling alcohol beneath the minimum price, no?

Well, no. Because, fearing the headlines, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon boldly stepped in to protect M&S customers (who, a cynic might say, tend to be more likely to vote than those who shop at Aldi).
I also have concerns about the part of the amendment that relates to meal deals, which we know are available from some prominent supermarket chains. We have all taken the view that we should encourage people to eat when they drink. Indeed, when the cabinet secretary was questioned in the chamber, she said that she did not expect meal deals to be captured by the bill. 
I am on record—and I will go on record again today—as saying that it is not our intention to ban the Marks and Spencer’s meal deal, for example.
So that's all right then. If you offer food with the alcohol, Bob's your uncle, you're exempt!

Since there is no law on minimum food pricing (yet), you can imagine the consternation if other supermarkets began to sell one of their store-made deli pizzas along with a slab of Carlsberg for 1p over the minimum unitary alcohol price, can't you? It will handily bypass the regulations, as would substituting the pizza for a microwave spag bol ready meal or two.

Likewise, if Cameron is to head off the inevitable 'Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells' criticism which would result from a ban of the M&S meal deal, his wrong-headed crusade to install minimum pricing will have to involve intricate and absurd policy exemptions and loopholes (and junk science, natch) of heroic proportions. I dunno, perhaps the food may be required to reach a fixed level of nutrition. Tuscan mixed bean risotto is encouraged, but a not pack of Birds Eye burgers . Or maybe only certain alcohol will be 'acceptable' to be offered with it? Chablis OK, Strongbow not? The mind boggles.

It's almost like they're storing up future legislation to busy themselves with - paid for by our taxes - in the unlikely event that the EU allow them to proceed in the first place.

Well, they're going to have to blame something when it makes bugger all difference, aren't they?


moonrakin said...

re: your last sentence.

Nope ... they'll totally ignore any questions and change the subject ...

These gits are so far beyond their legitimate mandate that they think themselves omnipotent and beyond all accountability.

Unless we jerk their chains with P45s for serial incompetence or haul them in front of the courts for fraud or worse - they'll be proved right.

Carl Phillips said...

What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to interfere with free-market prices.

You will appreciate this, given your interest in transport: In the early 1970s when US air fares were government controlled and everyone was making above-market rents, they naturally tried to compete for customers somehow. So they did it with ridiculously fancy meals. Then came a rule that on some flights they were only allowed to serve a sandwich. The result (or so I hear -- it was before my time, of course) was the "sandwich wars", featuring such innovations as a whole lobster between two pieces of bread.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Glorious! :)

Carpe Zytha said...

now that Gideon has seen the fall in revenues it is going nowhere. but I was quite looking forward to getting a free four pack of Calsberg with my packet of Scotch eggs

Dick_Puddlecote said...

If my blog stats this month are anything to go by (biggest month ever apart from Stony Stratford July), perhaps their excesses are becoming more widely recognised. ;)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

A lunchtime meal deal! The possibilities are endless. ;)

moonrakin said...

As an aside.... we know the're at it... it is heartening to see how inept some of "them" are when it comes to tinkering with Wikipedia:

5428 episodes of tinkering - what a busy boy.

Ivan D said...

Not just more work for them Dick. The junk science required will guarantee work for the otherwise unemployable psychology graduates who will be needed to produce the absurd statistics to support whatever twaddle the politicians concoct. Virtually nobody outside the weird world of public health believes a word that they say but the effluent just keeps on coming thanks to our "caring" government.

prog said...

MacDonalds in California reacted it in a similar way when the bansturbaters banned free toys with Happy Meals. As I recall, they kept the price of the meal unchanged but offered toys for something like 5 cents . I think Dick covered the story.

Dr Evil said...

Cameron has no chance. It's illegal in the EU and you can bet the wine producers will compain to the European Council et al.

Sam Duncan said...

Yeah, it wasn't the Blair government's “intention” to boost hunt memberships to unprecedented levels or shut half the pubs in the country. Laws have unintended consequences. Stupid ones doubly so.

Are meal deals going to be explicitly excluded from the Nats' price controls (which, as you say, will lead to a frenzy of pizza-and-Special-Brew offers) or is it going to be left to “discretion” - undermining the rule of law on a nod and a wink - again?

JonathanBagley said...

Brings back memories of Sunday trading laws. Free sofa with this carrot. Only £499.99.