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When policies succeed

28 Mar 12 | Re: Beery daydream

The government decides to impose a minimum alcohol price of 40p per unit. Makers of cheap beer realise that the only way to continue competing on price is to cut the strength of their beers - otherwise they have to go for taste and quality. For the first time in recorded history, a lager ad dares to mention the taste of the product; this proves a mistake. Legions of drinkers around the country, after decades of making their drink decisions by weighing up the relative cheekiness of ad campaigns, turn a critical taste bud to their drinks for the first time. Result: a boom in sales of all other drinks.

Microbrewers all over Britain add extra capacity in order to meet demand for their tasty wares. Some prescient brewers had taken an early punt before the policy came in; they are richly rewarded, and over the next few years the House of Lords sees a steady intake representing the nation’s new fastest growing industrial sector. The red benches echo to cod-Shakespearean language and pronunciation-dependent jokes. New bills receive eccentric amendments. Sandal sales boom. Razor sales plummet.

Of course, lager sales don’t tail off completely and the big breweries are still left rubbing their hands in anticipation of the windfall in profits brought by the minimum price. Until, that is, they all realise that if even one competitor ploughs that money into marketing instead of shareholder dividends, all those who don’t will be left behind. Result: 99% of the windfall cash goes on marketing and brand one-upmanship, some notable ads giving young British directors their first experience of working with a Hollywood-sized budget. Twenty years later, this “beer generation” of UK filmmakers will be credited with catalysing a boom period of intelligent blockbusters; a few go back to Britain to work in a revitalised Pinewood studios. A nascent Wollywood industry starts in Devon and Cornwall, taking advantage of the superior light, abundant accommodation and exquisite cream teas.

Not all beer marketing goes on adverts, and the panicky spending also results in huge sums being poured into sponsorship of TV comedy and sports. Since most major sports already have their sponsors in place, the beer cos have to look further afield; money pours into British Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, handball, kendo, triathlon and moguls skiing, among many, leading to Team GB dominance at the 2018 (winter) and 2020 (summer) Olympic Games. Northampton becomes an international centre of excellence for minority sports. Iranian wrestlers going over for winter training make such a good impression on the locals that public opinion demands that the planned nuclear devastation of Tehran be cancelled, which it duly is, just hours before the button was due to be pressed. An international era of wrestling-based harmony begins.

Meanwhile, those beer companies unable to compete on quality have been cutting the strength of their products. A young, Durham-based entrepreneur realises early that tramps and simpletons trying to get loaded off two per cent beer will result in a five-fold increase in demand for 500ml aluminium tins. He opens a factory, and thanks to a few canny innovations becomes the world’s number one manufacturer, regenerating industry across the north-east. Durham itself is nicknamed Tin City, and generous endowments given to the university bring it up to Oxbridge standard. All the people who didn’t get into Oxbridge are no longer so bothered, as there is plenty of room for them at Durham if they decide against a career in handball. Left to get on with it without being barracked by the media, all English universities reach standards never dreamt of before. Medical breakthroughs in a Trevelyan College lab bring hope to millions, and literature breakthroughs at Castle College bring a new understanding of the human condition that will gradually permeate all of Earth’s population and lead to a 50% reduction in global crime and unnecessary suffering over the next 40 years.

Carlsberg Special Brew finds itself at a crossroads. Deciding that its current customer base cannot be expected to pay £1.80 a can, the potent beverage’s manufacturers boldy overhaul their entire brand image, pitching a strong drink for strong people and playing up the Churchill connection. This works: the beer itself remains rough as anything, but it now appeals to a certain kind of pompous, boorish half-wit, of which there are more than enough in Britain to sustain a premium beer line. Churchill himself would be proud, and the sight of a Special Brew in hand makes a useful early warning sign for the rest of us. Frosty Jack and White Lightning industrocider fare less well, although they retain a niche nostalgic appeal to moneyed types with fond memories of park benches in their teens. Buckfast Tonic Wine somehow swings itself a medical exemption and is available in bulk to those with biddable GPs.

In homes across the nation, hardworking members of alarm clock Britain drinking themselves into stupours on their sofas realise that this pastime no longer provides value for money. At these prices, they say to each other, you may as well be in a pub. So they go out: slowly at first, then faster and faster, Britons become sociable people. The change of environment brings a change of entertainment. No longer is a typical evening spent swallowing down whatever the major channels serve up - instead, it is spent meeting people, talking, exchanging ideas. Growth in the market creates room for diversification, so even small towns might have a sports bar, a live music pub, and one focusing on the beer. People get to know their neighbours. Links are forged. Ideas are had. Most people are happier, more motivated, and more optimistic. Conditions improve.

A country of bustling, lively pubs cannot go unnoticed internationally, and Ye Olde Ireland is swiftly deposed as the global byword for good pub culture. Tourists flood into Britain in search of “that unique British pub atmostphere”, and find it. They even want to bring a piece of it home with them, so sales of British-brewed beer take off all over Europe and in all the major cosmopolitan cities and territories. Guinness becomes primarily a world record arbitration company, although it maintains a small brewing arm for complicated tax-related reasons.

Ten years hence, the architects of the 40p unit policy survey a land with rejuvenated industry, a happy, diligent, healthy populace, a reaffirmed position in the arts, and sporting success unimaginable at any other time since other countries learnt how to play the sports we invented. A land at peace with neighbours far and near. A commemorative 40p coin is minted in honour of the foresight and inspiration of these noble men and women. Bone-chilling “What If...” documentaries and dramas on television conceive of nightmarish parallel presents that might have come to be, had it not been for minimum pricing. But nobody much watches them. They are all in the pub, enjoying this golden age together.

Posted by ATKINSON at 19:18

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