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A tax on the drinking classes

I am not a champagne socialist. But that is solely because I do not actually like the stuff. Otherwise, I fully endorse the maxim of the late Christopher Hitchens that cheap booze is a false economy. Give me Glenmorangie, or give me death.

It is a pretty fair bet that David Cameron thinks along the same lines as the Hitch. The assumption has to be that £4.15 Tesco’s red has not been the vino da tavola of choice among the Chipping Norton set this festive season. There is a reason why fancy schmancy wine from Bordeaux is called Cru Bourgeois and not Cru Prolétarienne.

Given that so few posh folk are on the old purple tin or sit on street corners swigging White Lightning poorly concealed in a brown paper bag , the policy of imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol will hurt only the less affluent, while not having any impact whatsoever on those of us with more upmarket tastes.

It is almost as if the government wanted to send the message that it is perfectly OK to contract cirrhosis of the liver, so long as a chap has the decency to inflict the illness on himself with a decent single malt rather than supermarket own brand blended scotch.

There may well be a case for increasing the cost of alcohol across the price spectrum, as a genuine public health measure. By all means let such a proposition be debated. But that is surely not what is going on here.

The claim is that a minimum price of 50p a unit would prevent 2,000 premature deaths a year. But for those truly addicted to alcohol, a threshold that low is going to make little difference. Ask your local junkie for confirmation of that score.

What it would do is raise £700m annually for the Treasury, a fact that might offer some explanation as to why the proposal is suddenly finding a sympathetic ear.

Rightwingers often whinge that Labour’s ban on fox hunting was more about toff bashing then animal rights, and tend to say that like it’s a bad thing.

But setting a floor on the cost of getting drunk really is a surrogate tax on working class pissheads. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Scottish National Party has already been considering such a move for some time, I’d almost start to suspect that was pretty much the point.

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