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The politics behind the minimum alcohol pricing plan

There was much scratching of heads in the Pulse newsroom this morning, as we worked out how best to cover the Chief Medical Officer’s minimum alcohol pricing plan.

By Steve Nowottny

There was much scratching of heads in the Pulse newsroom this morning, as we worked out how best to cover the Chief Medical Officer's minimum alcohol pricing plan.

The problem was this – no sooner had Sir Liam Donaldson set out his plan (introducing minimum pricing as an ‘immediate priority', with a suggested minimum price per unit of 50p), the Prime Minister shot it down.

At Gordon Brown's press conference this morning, even as Sir Liam was elsewhere explaining how the heavily-trailed proposals would actually work, the PM appeared to put the kibosh on the idea. ‘We do not want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more or suffer as a result of the excesses of a tiny minority,' he said.

In fact, while the BMA and the Liberal Democrats sort-of-kind-of liked the idea, Mr Brown seemed to be speaking for the majority when he dismissed it as overkill. He even, whisper it, agreed with Dr Rant, surely a first.

But the question then arose – and hence the collective scratching of heads at Pulse – why would one part of the Government suggest such a controversial solution to rising levels of binge drinking, if another part of the Government was going to dismiss it out of hand just 24 hours later?

Well, there are lots of possible reasons, of course, and just because Sir Liam Donaldson is the Chief Medical Officer doesn't make him the puppet of Number 10. But the BBC's Nick Robinson reminds us that under the Government's booze duty escalator duties on alcohol will go up by 2% above inflation in each of the next four years. And the budget is, of course, due next month.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But as Robinson puts it:

'Do you think, just possibly, that a rise in the tax on alcohol might make it into the Budget speech given that it can be presented as a measure with all-party support designed to improve health and combat anti-social behaviour and not merely a tax rise?'

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Setting a minimum price for alcohol will help curb binge drinking, the CMO claims Setting a minimum price for alcohol will help curb binge drinking, the CMO claims

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