Still The Poor Wot Gets The Blame - And The Taxes
Watch the drinks industry squeal as the Chancellor raises duty by a modest amount.
Yet for 10 years, there had been no increase in duty on spirits. This was always the subject of one of the few jokes in Gordon Brown's budgets, e.g., "this will benefit the Scotch whisky industry in all parts of the United Kingdom!"
Oh, how we laughed.
Meanwhile, tobacco had been subject to raised duty every year for ten years.
I don't want to get into a bidding war on which is most dangerous - tobacco kills more people (although alcohol is catching up fast) but alcohol causes social disorder, domestic violence, road accidents and millions of lost working days.
But I have strong reservations about whether it's acceptable to use taxation to change behaviour. It's a point that is seldom made these days but all taxation on purchases is regressive - it hits the poor more than the rich.
Whether it's tobacco, alcohol, vehicle licensing, petrol duty or airport taxes, the wealthy can comfortably absorb these increases without changing their lifestyle.
Is it morally right to say that you will use the price mechanism, through taxation, to force the poor and those on average incomes to change their behaviour while those on higher incomes can afford to continue to smoke or drink themselves to death, drive gas-guzzling cars and jet around the world as frequently as they wish?
No, it's not. But it's disappointing that almost nobody today will question the age-old double standards and class-based hypocrisy that continue to underlie our politics.