In early 19th Century Britain, life was hard in the countryside, but in the cities it was worse. If you were a labourer in the country, you had your own one room house, albeit small and often filled with three generations of your family. You could grow your own food, get clean air and your health was, generally, ok. Sure, if you got a serious illness, due to the complete lack of medicine, you were dead. A good outdoorsy life made you tough though, so you were less likely to get ill in the first place. There were problems, landlords increasing rent, bad harvests, modern machinery reducing the need for workers and so on, but you could forage for food, barter and scrounge out a living somehow. Oh, and you could poop away from your house in a designated 'poop hole' that you dug yourself. Things in the city were not so rosy.
You were stacked up in tenement housing, families living on top of one another, going to work in mills and factories where safety was non existent and machinery was dangerous. Exploitative factory owners making you work long hours for a pittance, and no trade union to even try and protect you. Unlike in the country, there was medicine available in case you were sick, but it was too expensive to buy and so when you did get ill, which was more likely due to your upstairs neighbour, Mrs McLafferty throwing her Feces out of the window, you were just as dead as you were in the country. So for all the bad that the corn laws did, there was an up side to them - better health and a better environment for the lowest paid.
|from BBC Website|
The reason I mention this is that there are two products that various trade bodies are debating price 'fixing' at the minute, the drinks could not be more different. Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are wanting the public to boycott supermarkets who are cutting the amount they will pay farmers for milk to below cost. According to Farmers Weekly, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose pay a decent price, whereas, according to the National Farmers Union (NFU), Asda and Morrisons pay below cost, and it is threatening the dairy industry. If you asked anyone on the street, everyone would want British farmers to be paid a decent amount, but they also want cheap milk. The chefs, NFU and Farmers Weekly want protection for the farmers instead of a few extra pennies in the public's pocket, and that is perfectly understandable. To sum it up, the people supporting this are pro-corn law.
The other beverage that is going to war is the whisky industry who claim that the government's planned 50p minimum pricing per unit will damage the industry and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is going to court to try and stop it. The SWA say that 85% of blended whisky will have to go up in price (likely to £14 per bottle), and this is apparently 'punishing those that drink responsibly'. The whisky industry is the anti-corn law camp.
There are reasonable arguments for and against each. You could argue that milk should be able to be available cheaply - milk is good for you and essential for bone and teeth development- and if all our milk has to be imported as British farmers can't afford to compete than tough luck for them. Nobody gave a hoot about the farmers in the 1840s when the corn laws were repealed, so why should we bother about the dairy farmers today? Similarly, you could argue that alcohol is not an essential and can be bad for you so you should be expected to pay more for luxuries. If it prevents a few people drinking themselves to death, then imposing a minimum pricing is a good thing. But what is clear is that two industries that employ thousands of people are convinced that their livelihood is threatened and everyone agrees that this is not a good thing.
So hows about this for a solution. Put a tax of 10p for every bottle of alcohol that goes under the £1 per 2 units threshold, and give that money to milk farmers. Everyone wins - the consumer doesn't get the price hike that would make their £10 bottle of vodka cost £14, farmers get the money that they are losing by selling to Morrisons, children continue to get cheap milk and everyone keeps their jobs. The spirits industry could also give all of their spent grain to farmers for cattle feed, thus reducing the costs of feeding the cows and make the farmer a bit more money too. The only people who would suffer are lactose intolerant whisky drinkers, and I think we all agree that those few people can be sacrificed for the good of the masses!