Big Beer's spirited alcohol tax reform falls flat

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THINGS have really come to a head for the Polish Beer Lovers' Party. Flushed with success after last October's elections, when it won 16 seats and became the 10th biggest of 29 parties in parliament, it soon got into a froth and split into two factions, Big Beer and Little Beer, writes Tony Barber.

Now parliament has rejected the main plank of Big Beer's programme: lower taxes on beer because it has a lower alcohol content than vodka. Anyone familiar with the variety of super-strength Polish vodkas could sympathise with the Beer Lovers' jingle: 'One, two, three beers, and you walk a little queer/But vodka makes you fall right down, so pour and pour the beer]'

However, the brew favoured by the Beer Lovers' leader, Janusz Rewinski, was not the dark Zywiec brand from southern Poland, or even the Pilsner Urquell of neighbouring Czechoslovakia, but Guinness. A large, jovial and bearded former cabaret star whose demeanour suggests he may prefer the bar stool to the debating chamber, Mr Rewinski repeatedly hammered home his message: 'If you get up in the morning having drunk vodka the night before, you have a very different view of life than if you've downed a few beers.'

Amen to that, said thousands of voters, who detected a degree of truth in the assertion that Poland's former Communist rulers had promoted the consumption of vodka to doom the population to an eternal political hangover. Sober-minded, pro-European Poles, on the other hand, may have found more reason to chase the Beer Lovers out of politics, for Mr Rewinski once opined 'it is better to go into Europe tipsy than in a drunken stupor'. Conscious that its parliamentary performances might be considered a bitter joke in Western Europe, Big Beer has changed its name to the more temperate Polish Economic Programme.