Friday, 23 March 2012

Can I have a small glass of chardonnay…

SO, the momentum is building for a minimum alcohol price to stop binge drinking morons etc etc.

In England and Wales the target is 40p minimum price per unit, which would mean, for example a cheap bottle of a cheeky red would shoot from £2.99 to £3.75 according to the BBC.

Now we know why there was no increase in the duty on booze in the budget: increase the price and the duty earned will rise accordingly.

No doubt the politicians here will join in this stupidity tax, for it is a stupidity tax on two levels. It is firstly designed to stop stupid people getting stupidly drunk. It is also stupid because it does not address the problem - it is tackling the symptom not the disease.

Heavy drinkers will always drink heavily. Teenagers will always try and get booze illicitly. Alcoholics will always manage to get hold of alcohol.

The minimum unit pricing may not really address the problem of pre-loading, but may open yet more booze cruises and access to illegal sources such as the belovedly dangerous poteen.

Is this a populist tax? In all probability, yes. Alcohol consumption has actually been falling.
Once a perception has been ingrained it becomes reality.

The so-called city centre lager louts…are they really any different to traditional Norn Iron booze fuelled rioting; or any different from booze fuelled rioting at the start of the 20th Century? Or worse still, is it any different from domestic violence by an alcoholic husband on his partner?

Alcoholism is a terrible disease, and alcohol has a dramatic effect on even the most stable of people.

The minimum pricing argument appeals to the soft centre voters who will never be in the city centre after 1am, and rarely have occasion to be in A&E departments. It is the politics of being seen to do something as opposed to addressing the issue of city centre infrastructure, treatment resources, education programmes, and diversionary activities.

There is this supposed aim of creating a café culture with us all sipping lattés and maybe once in a while sipping a glass of chilled chardonnay or a full-bodies merlot.

Before Norn Iron’s moral core (the MLAs) jump on the bandwagon they should institute a full examination of the issues. We know that’s not likely, but we live in hope.

Alternatively they should go the whole hog and make off sales state-owned with maximum purchase limits and arrest on the spot anyone in possession of more than one tin of weak beer.

After all the Rev Dr Ian Paisley did warn us about the evils of “the devil’s buttermilk”…

Monday, 19 March 2012

Here comes the reality check...

THERE are lies, damned lies and statistics, according to anyone who needs a cliché to throw around at the right time in the wrong place...

Hence we have the First Minister and deputy First Minister appearing on camera to tell us all how wonderful Norn Iron is doing and how their plans for the next three years are going to make it better.

Here in Norn Iron we're below the UK average of this and that - especially when it comes to employment statistics. No mention about the statistics for economic inactivity. Norn Iron doesn't compare quite as well in this category.

However, one must understand (as far as a sane person can) the mindset that chooses to ignore this set of statistics.

From the DUP view, as represented by Peter Robinson, economically inactive means those damned statisticians and their compatriots in the media are determinedly ignoring the economic impact of the stay-at-home mum in the "traditional" family, the plucky farmer's wife cooking up the chow for when her man comes back from the field and the dedicated l'il lady devoting her time to voluntary work in the church.

From the Sinn Féin perspective, as voiced by Martin McGuinness, it means those damned statisticians and their compatriots in the media are determinedly ignoring the voluntary community 'workers' who appear as rent-a-quotes on demand, the ex-combatants who are pursuing degrees in an "-olgy" in their spare time, and the l'il lady who is hosting those kitchen cabinet meetings loosely called "constituency" meetings.

If enough of the party faithful/deluded (please delete which one fits your belief system best) reinforce these views then it is likely that forever and forever, amen, the view will not change.

Goodness knows that it would be a shock to the system if either of our 'leading' politicians were to step outside the confines of 'high office' and attendant advisors, press officers and party officials, hangers on and visit an area which has multiple indicators of deprivation. Occassionally they do visit such areas, with TV cameras, picture opps and a media release. One wonders what the people in those areas must think after they have gone? Did the sun shine better that day when these political deities granted them a few minutes of their time? Will they now, like the Polynesian Cargo Cults, start to construct spurious projects to encourage the deities to visit again with their media largesse?

Should Peter and his compadré Martin ever go incognito and unaccompanied into the estates and ghettoised neighbourhoods then they may receive a shock to the system. For here people may offer uncensored opinions on giving MLAs a pay rise; Peter and Martin may then decide to grab the paper offering a pay rise to MLAs and rip it into shreds before it reached the light of day.

It would be a fool who argues that MLAs don't work hard. For the most part they are hard-at-it as well as doing some constituency work. It's a long week for them with only about 18 weeks when the Assembly is in recess each year. They deal with vital matters of scrutiny and help many an "ordinary person" with difficulties.

But is this more deserving than a nurse juggling the bloodshed and waiting times of an A&E department, or a classroom assistant whose role might help a child with special needs live a fulfilling life? Of course, the argument goes that Peter and Martin's decisions affect a greater number of people.

The efficacy of a Government is not just in what it delivers in terms of policy and legislation, but in the confidence of the populace, not some spurious statistical notion called an "electorate" has in that Government.

How will the confidence of the electorate be judged when there is an extra £100 or so a week being trousered by MLAs? How many of the MLAs gurning like media sluts actually turn down the pay hike? How will the electorate feel that 11 MLAs claimed 'expenses' of more than £60,000? Were the other 97 MLAs just not as good as filling their forms in?

Peter and Martin should have waited in a corridor in Parliament Buildings with a crack team of policy officers, special advisors and press officers ready to ambush the 'independent' people who proposed this pay rise, lock them in a darkened room in the basement and instead claim that the report called for a pay freeze for five years on MLAs pay...

Seeing as the rest of the population have been putting any significant expectation of a pay rise in the realms of fantasy fiction for a number of years now they might, just might, have been pleased to see the men and women of the benches to share the pain.

After all, when there is justice for all, all can feel equally aggrieved at the common enemies of evil bankers and Westminster mandarins...

But here is the cruellest cut of all...where are the MLAs getting that extra £5k a year from? Their constituency expenses. Oh, you remember that service where these public servants are meant to support their constituents...

To recap: independent bunch of people appointed by MLAs says MLAs should get more money; MLAs howl and say this is "bad" but there is no indication of how many MLAs have written to say 'no thanks'; the constituency services to the populace may be cut; and we are to believe that in the words of Bob Marley "Everything's gonna be all right".

On reflection there is a certain logic to that...we're just trying to figure out what it is.

Always and never should we reflect on the messages we're being given: always to see where the spin and airbrush has been applied; and, never because reality might be more frightening than a dark fairy tale read at bedtime...