Andrew Allison: The nanny state walks into a bar... it’s beyond a joke

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THE Government’s plan to restrict the strength of house wine served in pubs and bars in order to curb binge drinking has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese. Of course it is restricting our freedom of choice and is yet another extension of the nanny state, that goes without saying. But on a practical level it is a policy that simply won’t work.

Under an agreement struck with the industry, pubs and bars will stock house wines below 12.5 per cent and “promote lower-alcohol products to customers” as part of a bid to cut the amount of alcohol drunk in Britain by a billion units a year.

For starters, the alcohol by volume of most house wine doesn’t get above 12.5 per cent. In my local pub, the house white is 11 per cent, and the house red is 12 per cent. It is only the more expensive wines that contain more alcohol – especially red wine. Under the Government’s plan, these wines would not be affected.

I doubt the average binge drinker goes into a pub and orders the most expensive wine on the list, so this policy is hardly a panacea to cure alcohol-fuelled violence. If any of us want to walk into a pub and drink a bottle of wine at 13.5 per cent, that’s our business. It has nothing to do with Theresa May, and considering the vast majority of wine drinkers are not the type to start a fight at the Dog and Duck, the Government’s plan is pointless anyway.

The Government also wants pubs and bars to encourage us to consume drinks that are lower in alcohol. Anyone who has tasted low alcoholic wine will know it tastes nothing like normal wine – the taste is completely different. The same can be said for many low alcohol beers too. They simply don’t taste like normal strength beers. Both of those options are non-starters.

Then there is the issue that if you water down the strength of a bottle of wine, the net result will be people drinking more of it. Those who currently drink house wine that is stronger than 12.5 per cent (not many of them, I know), may decide that if you can’t get a kick out of two glasses, why not get yourself a third? It’s no wonder the drinks industry appears to be supportive of this measure – it’s in their interest.

Many Government plans and initiatives start off as seemingly innocuous and perfectly reasonable proposals, but this one doesn’t even fall into that category. My main concern – as with all nanny state legislation – is not where it starts, but where it ends. As this policy will not work, what will the Government do next? Will it start banning all wines above 12.5 per cent in pubs and bars? Will it start trying to prevent beer being sold above a certain strength? Will it try and push through plans to force all licenced premises to serve smaller measures of spirits? Will it try to ban double measures?

All of these are possible, as it doesn’t seem to make any difference if we have a Conservative or a Labour Government, they all seem to be nanny statists at heart. They all seem to want to ban things or restrict usage, rather than educate. They prefer to use a big stick rather than a carrot to get messages across, even though the vast majority of adults are more than capable of taking responsibility for their own actions.

I am sure, however, that expensive restaurants frequented by Ministers would be exempt from any future plans to restrict the strength of our drinks – as they are now under this current plan – and it goes without saying that any such restrictions would not find their way into the Palace of Westminster. If they did, the House of Commons Merlot at 13.5 per cent would have to come off the wine list, and some of the great real ales from Yorkshire that have been served in Strangers’ Bar would never arrive. That’s not going to happen.

There is a certain snobbishness about this policy. It implies that those who can afford to buy expensive wine and dine in expensive restaurants are responsible drinkers, and those who can only afford to buy house wine at their local pub or dine at a cheaper restaurant are somehow irresponsible and need the protection of the state.

Ministers, their special advisers, and the civil servants who surround them, are supposed to be intelligent people and have attended some of the finest universities. Why then did not one of them put their brain into gear and realise what a mind numbingly stupid, back-of-a-fag-packet, nanny state idea this is?

Andrew Allison is Campaign Manager of The Freedom Association.