May defeats PM on alcohol pricing: it's enough to drive him to drink
Even Cameron's ally Michael Gove could see this was bad Tory politics - though the doctors are furious
THERESA MAY appears to have defeated David Cameron over his plans for a 45p-per-unit minimum alcohol price by convincing the Cabinet it would be unpopular and would never work.
The last rites have yet to be read over the plan, but all the signs are this morning that it is as dead as a parrot, thanks to May's intervention.
She had the backing of Leader of the House Andrew Lansley and Education Secretary Michael Gove. Gove is Cameron's biggest ally in the Cabinet but even he could see that pushing up the price of a voter's pint or bottle of Beaujolais in order to tackle binge-drinking by teenage girls would be daft politics.
And what's a Tory government up to anyway, interfering in the rights of its middle-class supporters to a tipple? It was never in the Conservative manifesto and would have given them an even worse result in 2010 if it had been.
The coup de grace for minimum alcohol pricing is expected to be delivered by George Osborne, the Chancellor, in his Budget next week, with big rises in alcohol duty above the two per cent already pencilled in each year up to 2015.
The Treasury feared minimum alcohol pricing would actually cut the revenue it receives in duty by curbing drinking by Middle England. Hence the anonymous Treasury source telling the Daily Telegraph the PM's proposal had been "a remarkably stupid idea".
David Davis, the former leadership challenger, was on the sidelines, cheering for a bit of Tory commonsense on Radio 4's Today programme this morning.
Though he's no cheerleader for Theresa May, Davis denounced minimum alcohol pricing as a "blunderbuss policy" that would hit core Tory voters. "It won't affect the price of Chateau Lafite at Chequers. It will hit the poor.”
He went on: "What is interesting is the Home Secretary, the past health minister and Michael Gove, the ministers for children, they all think this is a bad idea.”
Downing Street is likely to reject suggestions that it was May's latest play for the leadership, following her wide-ranging speech at the weekend to the ConservativeHome conference setting out her vision for "Victory in 2015".
But it comes amid rising tensions over her naked ambition to replace Cameron. The Daily Mail reports today they led to a bust-up in Cabinet when Gove "tore a strip" off May for rocking the boat. He did not name May, but everyone around the table knew who he was talking about.
"Embarrassed colleagues watched on as Mr Gove, who is fiercely loyal to Mr Cameron, said he had been ‘shocked' to see some ministers apparently positioning themselves for a future leadership race."
Gove may not like May's style, but even he has had to concede she is right about the potential political damage that would be done to Cameron and the Tories by minimum alcohol pricing.
However, May's line takes no account of the physical damage that will be done to the kids who are boozing themselves to an early grave on cheap supermarket booze costing 22p per unit. The BMA and GPs like Tory MP Sarah Wollaston this morning appealed to the Prime Minister to stand firm. Wollaston said she was "devastated".
BBC political editor Nick Robinson rightly pointed out that Cameron had left himself no "wriggle room" on minimum alcohol pricing. Humiliated by members of his Cabinet, jeered by angry doctors, it's enough to drive him to drink. ·