Raise booze prices to save lives


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The Independent Online

By nature I'm a libertarian – give me a set of rules and regulations and my gut instinct is to ignore or work round them. When the Government launched the daft "five-a-day" fruit and veg campaign, I mocked from the sidelines, and was vindicated when research revealed that the advice was ignored. We now eat less veg than before all that money was wasted. Our cannabis laws are ludicrous, and the sooner soft drugs are legalised the better. It would save precious hours of police time and thousands of pounds in pointless prosecutions. Given that, why do I support David Cameron's determination to enforce a minimum price for alcohol? I should side with those who say that a hike in prices will also hit sensible drinkers and penalise those who can't afford it.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reckons a minimum pricing of 45p a unit will cost an average couple up to £100 a year. On the other side of the fence, the medical profession is campaigning for the change, claiming it will cut hospital admissions by 24,000 and save 700 lives every year. I'm all for free choice, and the right to live your life with the minimum of governmental intervention, but when it comes to booze, a large number of us lack the "sensible" gene. When Labour brought in extended licensing hours and claimed that Continental-style drinking would reduce bingeing, how wrong it was. When supermarkets used cheap booze (at below cost price) as key weapons in their price wars, we lapped it up. Now people preload on booze at home before they go out. I want alcohol taken out of supermarkets and sold only in off-licences, as in the days when last orders were called at 10.30pm and the nation drank a fraction of what it does today. The inane desire of successive governments to protect our "human rights" means that all they have done is pander to our weaknesses, resulting in massive health bills and A&E departments like battlefields.

Why are our politicians so in thrall to supermarket chains? Our health must be paramount. We can educate kids on how to drink sensibly (and the signs are that a younger generation is starting to drink less). But right now, we have a national crisis, requiring draconian measures. The alternative is that heavy drinkers are blood-tested every week and made to pay more for healthcare. The booze industry will fight these proposals all the way through to the European Court of Justice, but it is concerned only with profit, not our livers.

Hunt the letters

Marsha Hunt, who starred in the London production of Hair, had an affair with Mick Jagger that ended in 1970. It produced a beautiful daughter Karis, whose privacy Marsha has always fiercely protected.

Marsha was quite a character; my first husband met her in San Francisco in the Sixties, and when she arrived in the UK she briefly stayed with his parents – the hot pants and afro caused quite a stir in sedate Blackheath. She went on to share a flat with another friend, and everyone was sworn to secrecy over the paternity of her child.

I'm sad she's decided to sell 10 of the dozens of letters from Jagger containing song lyrics and declarations of love. Sotheby's reckons it could fetch up to £100,000. Marsha says they are culturally important– but they can't be published as the copyright remains with the writer. Marsha says she needs the money. But Jagger, who set up a trust fund for Karis, must feel his privacy has been violated. I actually feel sorry for poor old Mick.

Force feeding

Alan Titchmarsh says that the Tories not longer represent country-dwellers. It's true that Planning Minister Nick Boles seems obscenely keen to concrete over our precious green belt and enable homeowners to enlarge their houses without the need for planning permission – which will mean the loss of garden habitats for birds and wildlife, not to mention a proliferation of ugly extensions.

Where I part company with Alan, though, is over his insistence that the countryside plays a vital role in growing our food. He says: "We have to look after horticulture: growing things. This is how we feed ourselves."

Piffle. Go to any supermarket and the vast majority of our food is imported, because we won't pay for British food costs and refuse to eat seasonally, We are addicted to choice and sod the air miles. To feed our ridiculous desire for summer crops in winter, the Isle of Thanet in Kent is now covered by huge greenhouses, each one the size of 10 football pitches, where cute little tomatoes, peppers and courgettes are grown, fed nutrients robotically. Huge swathes of the UK are hidden by repulsive polytunnels protecting salad crops and soft fruit.

Farmers keep beef cattle and dairy herds indoors for most of the year, in barns that don't require planning permission and are as vast as aircraft hangers. Sadly, most food production is nothing to do with aesthetically pleasing green fields and everything to do with low cost and volume.

Boring Bennett

Watching Alan Bennett's new play People at the National Theatre is a bit like listening to Hampstead talking to Barnes. The elderly middle-class audience is so utterly uncritical, so determined to love the production (ie anything by Alan B), that they laugh in the wrong places and exude a self-satisfied complacency that renders the whole exercise toothless and cosy.

The play sends up the National Trust, with the wonderful Frances de la Tour playing Dorothy, a penniless aristo, former model and good-time girl, reduced to renting out her pile for a porn movie. Can National Treasures still surprise? Hockney's huge show at the Royal Academy proved he can, but Bennett is resting on his laurels.

Carla's gaffe

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy boasts in the latest French Vogue: "I'm not an active feminist.... I'm bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day."

Born into a wealthy Italian family, Carla was a successful model, who embarked on a series of affairs with high-profile men (some of whom were married at the time), including Mick Jagger. The former first lady's singing career has been an embarrassment (tiny voice, giant ego). Would record companies continue to take her seriously if she hadn't been married to a president?

On Twitter, one activist ranted, "75,000 adult women raped in France per year are sufficient to convince me that my generation needs feminism." In a damage-limitation exercise, Carla has given an interview to Elle's French website, waffling about her charity work, but hostile comments continue to flood in. Female politicians have weighed in too, and the minister for women's rights has scorned Carla, who claims her words were "clumsy" and she expressed her thoughts "poorly". But isn't this a woman who writes her own lyrics?