Under the influence: 4. Election prospects triumph over public healthBMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f7610 (Published 08 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:f7610
- Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
- 1Colchester, Essex, UK
After the government’s consultation on the level at which minimum unit pricing should be set closed in February 2013, there followed a long and increasingly unnerving silence, punctuated by a steady drip of articles in the media that seemed to indicate that a battle over the policy was being fought at the heart of government.
On 18 February, the Telegraph reported that Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, had attacked minimum pricing as a regressive measure that “hits poorest people hardest,” one of the key arguments put forward by industry.1
The prime minister, added the Telegraph, was also facing opposition from some senior Tory and Liberal Democrat colleagues who saw the measure as “illiberal.” As a result, “even though Mr Cameron has publicly backed the policy, it is still possible that the price per unit could be revised downwards or scrapped entirely and replaced with voluntary agreements with industry.”2
Over the next weeks the pressure mounted, with a series of stories suggesting that minimum unit pricing had become a political liability to Cameron.3 4 One commentary in the Telegraph noted that former health secretary Andrew Lansley, now leader of the House of Commons but still with a seat in Cabinet, had “long voiced his opposition to minimum pricing and [had] now apparently been joined by Theresa May at the Home Office and Michael Gove at Education . . . the most powerful opponent of all, George Osborne, the Chancellor, is worried his tax take will fall.”5
In fact, well briefed political insiders seemed to know that minimum pricing was a dead duck as early as March 2013—within a month of the consultation closing—and why.