Tax on wine: irreconcilable?

Understandably, the wine industry and the anti-alcohol lobby don't share much common ground. Never was this more apparent than two opposing stories that I read this week. It presents a conflict that needs to be taken seriously.

The first story emerged on Wednesday, when the Alcohol Health Alliance made headlines by proclaiming that alcohol could be bought for 'pocket money prices.' By identifying the cheapest available alcohol around the country, they argue in favour of re-instating the duty escalator, imposing minimum pricing and taxing all alcoholic drinks according to their strength, contending that cheap alcohol has a high social and health cost.

The second story arrived in my inbox yesterday, apparently coincidentally. The latest Grapevine newsletter devotes itself to the reasons why we should already start campaigning against a taxation increase in next year's budget. The argument goes that post-Brexit, the wine industry is facing a 10% increase in prices caused by exchange rate fluctuations, and that an industry which generated £15.6 billion in revenue to the treasury last year deserves a degree of protection.

Stripping away any sensationalist rhetoric, both arguments have merit. Neither side is wrong. But taking incompatible positions means that only one party can win. So what should the wine industry do?

Of course, we have to protect our livelihoods - but simply fighting groups like the Alcohol Health Alliance seems short-sighted. Is there no common ground on which to collaborate?

For example, the trade would agree that wine can be harmful, and that it must be consumed responsibly to avoid adverse effects. Whereas the health lobby cannot deny that wine has a cultural, social and historical value that makes it a valuable part of our society.

I would love to think a positive, constructive discussion could take place which would afford both groups a greater understanding of their opponent's standpoint, and which might allow us all to achieve a compromise which is mutually beneficial. Something that acknowledges the harm which alcohol can cause without unduly damaging our industry.

Based on the evidence I've read this week, that doesn't seem imminent. But that doesn't mean it's impossible.