If proof of the effectiveness among brewing lobbyists were ever needed, it was on full view at the 20th annual dinner of the All Parliamentary Beer Group in Westminster last week. Senior MPs rubbed shoulders with brewers in a resplendent display of back-slapping over the successful abolishment of the beer duty escalator.
To say there was a palpable sense of excitement in the room would be an understatement. Here was an industry positively basking in victory for all its worth.
You can debate the value of what the 1p cut was actually worth to the fortunes of beer sales all you like, but you can’t deny it’s been a long time since the trade has been in such a euphoric state in relation to government policy.
Brigid Simmonds, the boss of the British Beer & Pub Association, embodied the resolve of all those gathered in the room when she said that the duty escalator win was just the beginning in influencing alcohol reform.
Days later there’s another ruckus brewing. The government’s climb-down on pricing marks a return to Westminster’s previous stance that a curb on below-cost selling is the best route to tackle antisocial drinking – not the introduction of a minimum unit price doggedly supported by health chiefs.
Now the method they so vociferously championed has been dropped, health lobbyists are walking away from the government consultation table in anger.
Their participation in the Responsibility Deal, working alongside the drinks industry, was crucial in demonstrating it was possible to find a voluntary route without the need for more regulation. But with health groups withdrawing from negotiations, the deal’s future looks distinctly shaky.
Where this leaves the industry and confidence in its ability to work with stakeholders over future policy remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure: with David Cameron now under pressure to clarify his vision for alcohol and address concerns about the practicalities of banning below-cost pricing and the public health benefits it could deliver, the lobbying efforts are entering another round of feverish activity. Health bodies are certainly unlikely to miss the opportunity to wade into the argument with renewed vigour.
But, keen to prove they can wield as much influence as anyone else, you can bet that this is one round where the wine and spirits boys will be punching just as hard.