Words by Simon Difford
Some very unlikely candidates have won political office – despite dubious economics, ridiculous hairstyles and reckless campaigning. It seems the electorate will vote for just about anybody. So, with that in mind, here's my manifesto.
I'm not sure any of the UK's present political parties conform to my ideals so perhaps it's time for a new political party – I do like a party! But what to call it? The Caring Capitalist Party sums up a lot of my ideals (see below), but the Discerning Drinkers' Party seems more apt. And so, with drinking fabulously and drinkers' wellbeing at the forefront of this new party's agenda, and with the UK National Election on 12th December, I propose:
The Discerning Drinker's Manifesto
Non-alcoholic 'spirits' is a deliberately misleading term. The definition of a "spirit" is a volatile liquid and there's nothing volatile about the plethora of products that are actually flavoured waters but masquerade as being "spirits". Hence the DDP will enact legislation ensuring the word "spirit" can only be used on the packaging of products with a minimum strength of 30% alc./vol..
Transparent and honest labelling of alcoholic products and their ingredients. People want to know what they are putting inside themselves and where that comes from. Food labelling laws should be extended to all alcoholic products to show ingredients, declare residual sugar levels and calorific on their labelling.
London dry gin should be just that, so from 2020 any gin labelled as such must be distilled in London to be legally sold in the UK. Gins produced elsewhere, presently labelled "London", will in future need to be labelled "London-style". This also applies to all villages, towns, cities and counties. I.e. a Sevenoaks gin must be made in the town of Sevenoaks and a Kent gin made somewhere in the county of Kent. Sadly, this legislation won't affect how gins are labelled in the rest of Europe or beyond, but the UK is the home of London dry gin so what happens here may have some influence elsewhere in the world.
Any spirit labelled a "gin" should be a gin and not some other botanical spirit pretending to be a gin, i.e. a spirit in which juniper predominates. Laws will be introduced specifying a minimum quantity of juniper oils per litre of gin with the predominance of juniper also assessed by the gin commission – a regulatory body to be established to ensure products such as Brockmans no longer taint the good name of gin.
Scotch whisky must be made and bottled in Scotland regardless of what type of Scotch whisky it is or where in the world it is to be sold. Presently, only single malt whisky must be bottled in Scotland while single grain and blended Scotch whiskies can, and are, shipped in bulk for bottling overseas. The same should apply to all other styles of spirits produced in the UK such as English brandy, English whisky, Welsh whisky and Irish whisky.
Vatted malt whisky and simply "vatted malt" to be reintroduced as the legal term for a blend of malts from a number of different distilleries is now confusingly termed "blended malt whiskey". The word "blended" should be confined to blended whisky, whiskies that are a blend of single malts and single grain whiskies.
Minimum legal drinking age to be increased to 21 years old, but from the age of 17 teenagers may apply for Provisional Drinking Licences which will be issued after passing a discerning drinking exam and practical test. This provisional licence may be revoked for flagrant breaches of discernment or unsociable behaviour. From a drinker's 21st birthday a drinking licence will no longer be required.
Duty parity across all categories of alcohol. Present UK spirits duty is discriminatory against spirits compared to wine, the next highest-taxed category, and beer the least taxed category per litre. This, despite the fact that spirits are one of the UK's most important and successful exports with comparatively little beer or wine being exported. It's hard to argue that countries such as India should reduce their punitive duty rates against Scotch whisky when the same is true here in Scotch whisky's own domestic market. Ethanol alcohol is ethanol alcohol regardless of what category of drink it's in. Alcohol is equally as good or potentially bad for you however you consume it, be that wine, beer or spirits. Any off-licence/liquor store licensee will tell you that alcoholics (those regulars who visit their store several times a day in an attempt to regulate their drinking) are as likely to consume high strength beers or wines as they are spirits. Duty should be set at the same rate per litre of pure alcohol across all categories of alcoholic beverages. This rebalancing should be achieved over an extended period, initially by freezing spirits duty.
A legal requirement for free tap water to be served with all beverages above 8% alc./vol. with premises failing to serve water alongside alcoholic drinks fined.
Legal requirement for any "service charge" on a bar/restaurant or other bill, whether added automatically or at the request of the guest, to be split between all staff working at that premises and added to their wages without deductions other than tax and credit/charge card handling fees.
Minimum of one pub in any village with more than 800 residents over the legal drinking age. Government grants made available to aid the provision of pubs in villages. The village pub should be at the heart of every British village, ideally, open throughout the day offering morning coffee through to nightcaps.
Subsidised late night minibus service for village pubs offering rides home at closing time. As drink driving thankfully becomes more a thing of the past, this has impacted village pubs, and so village communities. To help alleviate this and the sad demise of these pubs, part of the tax receipts from alcohol sales will be used to subsidise local late-night bus services. These village pub-based minibuses should also be used by local sports and social clubs. Along with the provision of fast internet, such initiatives could help stave the move of young people from villages to towns and cities. Come on Google – surely you can save the great British pub with driverless cars.
As part of a balanced and responsible manifesto, I am duty-bound to address other, non-related pressing issues. So completely randomly and thought-provokingly I propose the following, perhaps one day to be debated at a party conference (hopefully more 'party' than 'conference').
Cannabis and some other recreational drugs made available for legal purchase by those over the legal drinking age. Such drugs only to be available from specialist licenced alcohol retailers (but not general stores or supermarkets). No form of advertising, promotion or branding will be permitted. Prohibition doesn't work but education does, so the taxes raised by the sale of these drugs to be ploughed back into drug education and rehabilitation with government required to at least match funding raised from these taxes. Profit on the sale of these drugs will also help the profitability of pubs.
Elimination of annual car tax with revenue to be made up from increased fuel duties. Fairer as those who drive more and so use roads more with associated emissions, pay more, but tax rates set to be broadly revenue neutral. If, as is hoped, in future years the use of electric vehicles results in the need for alternative taxation to deter the over-reliance of motor vehicles, then car tyres and other motor consumables will be punitively taxed.
Minimum mandatory surcharge for using self-checkout options in retail shops to help protect retail jobs and encourage a continuation of human service and interaction. Initially set at 2.5% in food retailers and 5% in non-food retailers. In future, similar initiatives will be introduced to tax driverless taxies and other situations where technological advances threaten mass employment.
Fines for hogging middle and outside lanes of dual carriageways and motorways. Undertaking (overtaking using a lane to the inside) to remain illegal (a strange concept to Americans and others who over and undertake legally).
TV licences scrapped and BBC funded from general taxation. The TV licence is a tax that is too expensive to collect and doesn't account for changes in technology or how BBC services are consumed. Some BBC enterprises to be sold off with a general separation of state-funded free programming from unfair state-funded competition against other publishers.
Simplification and regulation of rail ticket prices, train fares with set percentage discounts for buying 24 hours, one week and one month prior to travel, with added discounts for season tickets purchased in at least three-month blocks. Maximum 24 hours before travel capped to be at least 33% cheaper than comparable costs for the same mileage costs in average family petrol or diesel saloon car.
Increase provision of public conveniences by requiring the provision of toilets for public use by new food outlets, visitor attractions, museums etc. (without the requirement to be a patron) as a condition planning consent. To be phased in to include existing outlets over a 10-year period where space ad floorplans make practice.
Business rates and corporation tax to be abolished and replaced by a new percentage tax on UK sales with varying rates according to type business. This would penalise those businesses presently paying little or no tax on profits due to offshoring while also dramatically reducing the tax burden on small businesses as well as equally taxing dotcoms and bricks & mortar retailers. Taxation should not encourage companies to participate in offshore tax avoidance but should properly tax corporations profiting from UK sales which are only possible due to the infrastructure such taxation helps fund. However, such a realignment of taxation would encourage more companies to headquarter in the UK to benefit from the zero-corporation tax on off-shore profits, so aiding the economy and employment.
Local property rates to be abolished and replaced by new local amenity tax per head for all those over 17 and earning more than 17,000 per year. Broadly revenue-neutral and applied at the same rate for every adult and paid alongside income tax. Empty properties to be taxed heavily with rates set regionally per square meter to detour investment property banking.
Employee's National Insurance to be phased out and rolled into income tax. Set to be revenue neutral for most salaried workers but impacting those with investment incomes on which NI is not presently applicable.
No income tax payable on first £17,000 with income tax set at straight percentage without present banding against salary levels. Long term ambition to eliminate income tax altogether and replace with new levels of purchase tax (VAT) banded by product type with food, children's clothes etc. remaining zero-rated. Taxation should not be a disincentive to work.
Property Stamp Duty to be a straight percentage of property cost rather than banded. To begin at present level and set to be broadly revenue neutral. Tax banding causes banding of property prices which is unfair to property owners. Introduction of 20% surcharge on Stamp Duty for overseas buyers to help compensate for lack of previous contributions to UK infrastructure supplying the property they are buying.