Monday, 17 October 2011

Clutching At Straws For A Silver Lining

I've signed the beer tax e-petition. I hope you have too.

I don't suppose that it will have any impact whatsoever, but, what the hell, we've got nothing to lose have we?

The trouble is, strong beer is a soft target. The bigger problem is that governments want to keep on being governments rather than shadow governments. In order to do so they must keep their voters on side by being seen to punish those core voters' "out groups" (psychology speak for subjects of bigotry or prejudice).

The core voters for the current government are Daily Mail readers (well, not for the Lib Dems, but let's forget about them, everybody else does). They're not a constituency known for letting facts get in their way of their opinions. Strong beer has no hope of gaining favour with these people; and it is these people to whom the government would have to justify a drop in duty on stronger beer. The Daily Mail would stir up a storm of wrong-headed indignation.

The problem is multi-faceted:

1) It's beer – this voter demographic is keen to be regarded as middle-class. They regard beer as a working-class drink and binge-drinking as a working-class habit.


2) It's strong – Binge drinking is spiralling out of control, is it not? (remember what I said about not letting facts get in the way of opinions?).


3) Al fresco drinkers are the public face of strong beer.


4) Much strong beer is foreign. The voter demographic is notoriously xenophobic.


Our defence has two facets, neither of which I fear will have much impact :

a) The duty rise affects beers favoured by connoisseurs who generally go home quietly, failing to trouble the emergency services. 

This is not likely to have much impact as connoisseurship is a euphemism for snobbery. In Daily Mail land snobbery is a very bad thing.

b) The new beer duty has a negative impact on Britain's new wave of craft breweries and pubs and bars. 

This is not going to create sympathy amongst Daily Mail readers. When the Daily Mail reports on binge drinking the comments sections fill up with suggestions that the breweries should be clamped down upon. Mired in a model that is at least thirty years out of date, the DM reader uses "breweries" to mean all producers and retailers of alcohol, any alcohol. Binge drinking is increasing so "breweries" must be punished.


All in all, I fear we are stuck with this stupid tax rise. The best we can do is to gird our collective loins for action about any further duty increases.

The only silver lining I can see is that higher priced stronger craft beer may induce the higher price = higher quality perception in more people.

This was the principal used so cleverly by the marketers of Stella Artois in their "reassuringly expensive" slogan. Psychologists and economists have repeatedly demonstrated that people prefer wine they are told is expensive to wine they are told is cheap, even if it is identical – or inferior. People want to be seen as demonstrating taste and discernment, and higher price is the biggest clue available that an item is superior.

This can only be good for beer. It may even draw more people into sharing our pleasure in beer. Beer may shake off some of its downmarket reputation.









5 comments:

  1. I am not sure that increase the tax on alcoholics will decrease the consumption of beers. I would rather tax cigarettes.
    In fact pubs are great places to keep borough alive, they actually act as watchdogs for unsafe areas.

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