Christ but I hate the BBC. This morning – probably out of some masochistic urge – I had the BBC Breakfast News channel on. I suppose my only defence is that I wanted to see those goals that England had contrived to score against that footballing colossus, Switzerland. Anyway, one item that came up was the issue of a proposed nationwide minimum drinking price for booze. There is already one in Scotland . There is a very high chance that such a minimum price, which flagrantly breaches the rights of sellers to flog their stuff at whatever price they think fit, will come into law.
Now it is no surprise, really, that the BBC tends to act as unwitting or even witting voice of government-favoured conventional wisdom, but the interviewer on this morning’s show who was giving a representative of the alcohol retailing industry a hard time was particularly bad. This is the guy I mean, by the name of Simon Jack. His biography states he worked as a decade as an investment banker, so presumably the BBC thinks this gives him a terrific insight into the world of business. Well, I don’t know about that – it may be that if this guy was any good at that job he’d be still working in the financial sector and earning zillions. Or maybe he realised that his heart was not in it and preferred to act as early-morning interrogator of businesses instead. This character seriously gets up my nose: a lot of his questioning is hectoring and demogogic, with questions such as: “But how can you defend your profit margins, Mr Evil Banker?”
This morning, he asked about how can the booze industry justify selling product at below cost of production. Surely, he said, this is designed to entice us poor moppets into buying lots of liquor and drinking ourselves into a stupor? Well, if Mr Jack had been awake during his college days while studying some economics, he’d realise that firms routinely sell some items at such cheap prices, even below production costs, to encourage a new market, whether it be for booze, cars or whatever. Free samples and all that. But obviously such pricing policies could not occur indefinitely: firms wish to make a profit. It was particularly weak for the industry lobby man not to state as much, and to assert that the industry is entitled to set its prices how it wants, and that anyway, why should not people be able to buy at prices mutually agreeable to them and the sellers – the vast majority of alcohol consumers do not turn into George Best or Oliver Reed and do not vomit over the pavement. But of course the BBC now endlessly repeats the charge that cheap drink is turning our city centres into beery nightmares and therefore, the rest of us should have to pay more for whatever is deemed to be causing the problem.
The BBC is leading the way as a news organisation that constantly hammers the booze industry, just as, in times past, happened to the tobacco industry. And the BBC Breakfast show, with its mix of hard news and what is a lot of fluffy, lifestyle features with lots of chats on the sofa, is a particularly persistent channel for this sort of temperance advocacy. In some ways, with its red sofas and pretend air of jollity in the morning, it is far more dangerous in this regard than snarling Jeremy Paxman in the evenings. At least you can usually switch channels to a late-night movie and watch Clint or whoever blowing bad people to glory.