Paul Smith: We must not lurch from one bad relationship to the next

Related tags Conservatism

Yet more generally as a country we are coming to the end of a long and torrid love affair with New Labour. Not wishing to sound like one of those...

Yet more generally as a country we are coming to the end of a long and torrid love affair with New Labour. Not wishing to sound like one of those awful relationship gurus who pop up on Jeremy Kyle, at this stage, it is very easy to overstate the defects of our previous partner in favour of the novelty of a new Tory love.

At the recent Conservative party conference I was asked to speak at an event entitled, Alcohol: Who Pays? The event was awkwardly timed as it was scheduled for the day after Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling's pronouncements which made it pretty clear that, under the Tories, it would be our industry which should (almost singlehandedly) foot the bill.

I'm not naïve enough to think that politicians are always going to play it straight with our industry. To some extent we'll always be a political football. However, I was a little dismayed to find that the Tories were suggesting a late night levy for the on-trade.

Speaking to our members it is abundantly clear that anyone who currently operates in the late night sector already has to pay dearly for the privilege. On average 10p in ever pound made in the late night sector currently goes on security. In addition, our members routinely agree, as a gesture of goodwill, to help pay for taxi marshals and sometimes for additional street cleaning costs.

What the suggested Tory levy is actually going to do is further widen the massive differential between the below cost supermarket deals and the prices charged in late night premises. Will this help eradicate "Binge Britain"? I suspect not.

No doubt it will help in a small way to swell the depleted coffers of UK plc. Yet crucially it will also help drive even more consumption into the off-trade. This in turn will further exacerbate the growing issue of pre-loading.

We hear a lot from the Tories about "Broken Britain" so why come down hard on an industry which provides a regulated location for all sections of our diverse society to meet and socialise?

If this budding courtship with the Conservatives is to develop beyond the "holding hand stage" at Noctis we must use the coming months to make a stronger case for why we should be equal partners. Without this we will simply lurch from one bad relationship to another.

As an industry (again paraphrasing the daytime TV gurus) we should have more respect for ourselves than that.

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