Is something that's been floating around amongst the political classes for some time now, but only when David Cameron announced it recently is it likely to come into force. More's the pity.
For our colonial cousins, firstly, a bit of context. According to the powers that be in the UK, we are suffering not only an OBESITY EPIDEMIC but also a BINGE DRINKING EPIDEMIC. Allegedly, something has changed over the past couple of decades, and that people are constantly getting ratted, pickling their livers, and getting all borsant as a result and into fights. Go to any provincial town centre in the land and after chucking out time you allegedly will encounter a riot of bacchanalian excess (or maybe just a riot, let's be fair) and what is rather decorously called "anti-social behaviour." Indeed, in High Wycombe, the town I came of age in, the Police have taken to parking a divvy van in the middle of the town at chucking out time just to prevent it from escalating. This is not only a policing issue but also a public health issue. And it's not just the lower orders any more, allegedly - middle classes who have Australian plonk glass after glass at their dinner parties are also losing it to the demon drink.
If the wowsers (and I use this in its original meaning as temperance types) are to be believed, this is a struggle for the health of the nation against a Ruthless Cartel of Multinational Corporations (Diageo, Inbev, Scottish & Newcastle, Budweiser Budvar, and so forth), hereafter known as either Big Booze or the Forces of Evil. They are brainwashing YOUR children by having adverts for alcoholic beverages before 9.00 pm! They are promoting happy hour! They are selling their poison... AT LOW PRICES! This is drastic! Something Must Be Done! And the thing that must be done is to set a minimum price per unit (seriously, nobody I know counts their units, because it's totally arbitrary - more on this later) at 45 pence per unit.
I, on the other hand, and lots of people I know, am somewhat sceptical about all this. In particular, I do not think that setting a minimum alcohol price will be at all effective in reducing public drunkenness. And here's why.
Firstly, the inveterate soak will not care. To an alcoholic, as in one who is dependent on alcohol, the price is unimportant so long as he gets some. In his mentality, his alcohol is his first priority. Without it he degrades into a shivering, gibbering mass. He will even happily go without food and a roof over his head, in extreme cases, to fuel his habit. So whether his giant-sized tub of White Lightning costs two pounds more every day, he'll happily swallow that expense. I had a client in my old job who was a complete piss head. He would routinely down ten to twelve cans of cider every day, although towards the trial he cut down to eight to ten tins. Indeed, even after the first day of his trial him and his brother went up the offie and downed another load of cans on a park bench afterwards and then was too ill (read: hungover) to come down to Court the second day. The fact that the reason he was in Court was over eviction from his Council flat for failure to pay rent and for causing a nuisance to locals in the area didn't occur to him - clearly, his Strongbow ration was more important than his home. Incidentally, he lost, horribly.
Secondly, the alcohol use most associated with anti-social behaviour and other criminality is not caused by people buying a slab of Stella and getting on the outside of them one after another, or having a friend over to demolish a bottle of spirits. It is associated with so-called "vertical drinking" establishments. You can find these places in any town centre in Britain. They stay open till 2.00 am and serve lager, alcopops, tart fuel, and other beverages that are eerily reminiscent of making love in a canoe at an incredible rate of knots. They are vertical because they have a big open area rather than tables and chairs like a normal pub might have, so everyone stands and is packed in there. Combine this with bass-heavy loud music and the fact that the stuff that is served tastes of rusty water with 5.2% abv thrown in, and given that the clientele of these places is somewhat like walking into an issue of Viz, what with Sid the Sexist, the Fat Slags, and Biffa Bacon (not to mention Mutha and Fatha) all in evidence, and given that they usually stay there until chucking out time, and then are splurged onto the streets, full of alcohol and E numbers and blue balls from where they've failed to score with the local sorts, and you have a problem in the form of the town centre suddenly being packed with drunks. So it's no surprise that fights and public urination and wall to wall projectile vomiting then ensue.
Thing is, these vertical drinking establishments are not cheap. They routinely charge over three pounds fifty a pint, especially in London and the South East. Most of which, given that lager and alcopops last indefinitely, or as close to indefinitely as makes no difference, what with nitrokegs and closed systems and so forth, and given that same is brewed in ginormous industrial vats out of chemicals and suchlike, will be almost entirely profit for the brewery or the pubco. Besides, given that a pint of Stella is 2.3 units or something like that, at £3.50 a pint, that's around £1.52 per unit of alcohol. Which is already above minimum price. Even the promotions, happy hours and so forth, I'm sure they still average out to above minimum price.
Where it will bite, though, is in supermarkets. Now, I admit it, I'm a Real Ale Bore. My local watering hole has a variety of ales which it circulates on a weekly basis, as does my local supermarket. They often have promotions like four bottles for £3.99 on selected beers. This makes the price per bottle just under a pound each. Now I quite like this, because I can get four bottles and have them with four dinners over a weekend. However, I probably won't be able to any more if this comes in. This is because a lot of your better real ales are rather strong. Crafty is 6.6%. 1845 is 6.4%. Finger is 5.6%. This makes them close to three units per pint than just two units, which will render the minimum price £1.35 or thereabouts. So that's those offers down the drain. Similarly, once the supermarket, the wholesaler, and so forth have taken their cut, this will force the price up at retail since none of those worthies will want to sacrifice their profit margin.
Then there's just the sheer unfairness of it all. Why should responsible drinkers like me (The Incident with the Absinthe excepted) have to pay extra because a minority of asbonauts don't know how to behave.
And finally, let's have a wider perspective. When I was at the Sorbonne, the local Monoprix sold large 500ml cans of Grimbergen (6.7%), Kronenbourg Rouge (7.7%) and Koenigsbacher (ugh, Koenigsbacher. Protip: shun Koenigsbacher. Tastes like death.) for between 50 centimes and €1.00 each. Yet one never encountered clods of boozed-up Frenchies infesting the streets late at night and getting into brawls with each other. Similarly, you can get similarly cheap beer in Belgium, Germany, and Holland, yet they do not have this problem. So to my mind the idea that a minimum alcohol price will solve binge drinking is, quite frankly, not borne out by experience. (Besides, the French trampjuice of preference is, of course, vin plastique.) However, what I do know is that in continental Europe they aren't so awash with vertical drinking establishments. You go to a bar in France to sip and savour and converse, not to swear at supporters of opposing football teams. Similarly, one would do the same at a German beer garden or suchlike. The idea of drinking to get drunk is a peculiarly British conceit, for reasons that I do not know and are in any event beyond the scope of this writeup (I suspect that the promotion of lager over real ale had something to do with it. Most commercial lagers are so tasteless that the fact they get you wasted is their only advantage.) To my mind, if we're to defeat the BINGE DRINKING EPIDEMIC we've got to dispel the myth that you have to get drunk to have a good time. Granted, there's a time and a place to demolish a bottle of spirits and wake up with a brass band in yer head, but it's not every weekend.
And that's about it really. Cheers!