The government’s expected U-turn on a minimum price for alcohol avoids a Cabinet revolt which would have included Home Secretary Theresa May. It’s good timing for May as she enjoys the spotlight on her apparent jostling for a future leadership bid as it shows that she enjoys power at the top of the Tory machine, and will again make her a rallying figure for libertarian Conservatives.
But the U-turn is also, in the long-term, good for the Chancellor, too. George Osborne is under pressure to deliver a cost of living budget, and raising the minimum unit price would do the opposite, even for squeezed shoppers who drink responsibly. The last thing the Conservatives want to appear to be doing is punishing the responsible majority by making life even more expensive for them. Their success in the polls on the economy depends as much on whether voters feel their quality of life is improving or declining as they see the total on the supermarket till and the figures on their gas bill as it does on GDP (and figures yesterday suggested people are unlikely to cheer up a great deal when the next set of GDP data comes out).
There’s a furious debate between politicians and doctors about whether this policy would have worked (and the Adam Smith Institute suggested on Coffee House that it wouldn’t), but one MP who is furious at a very unhelpful time is Sarah Wollaston. She told the Today programme:
‘I feel devastated, I mean we know whenever alcohol is too cheap people die and when you’re selling alcohol for 22p a unit, when people starting to run into problems with their drinking that’s the alcohol they target.