As the next general election approaches, pressure groups around Britain are taking the opportunity to publish manifestos of their demands of the next Government.
The various organisations, which range from trade unions to pensioners’ groups, hope to influence Gordon Brown and David Cameron’s own manifesto commitments.
Their intentions may be honourable, although for politicians, reconciling the demands of competing special interest groups is nigh-on impossible.
The Labour Party tried it in the 1980s, and the manifesto which resulted, for the 1983 general election, was infamously described by Gerald Kaufman as the “longest suicide note in history”.
All these “manifestos” have one characteristic in common. Their main objective is to urge the Government to provide a benefit for a special interest, with someone else picking up the bill.
Those benefits are almost always partial, and not based on a disinterested assessment of the facts, or an acknowledgement of public interest.
What the “manifestos” fail to take into account is that good Government is not about intervention, but the effective allocation of scarce resources.
That’s why the Federation of Wholesale Distributors is focusing on a campaign that is genuinely in the public interest and does not require more public spending.
I am referring, of course, to our ongoing campaign against alcohol duty avoidance. This is not just a sectional demand.
We estimate that duty fraud costs £500m per annum in lost excise duty. Grey market trade is undercutting prices and is having a severe impact on the economic viability of many FWD members, in addition to the loss of much needed tax receipts.
Our continuing dialogue with HMRC has not prompted the level of response which is required to tackle the issue.
We have now opened up a battle on a second front, in Westminster and Whitehall, building a persuasive case that there has been a growth in duty fraud to relevant Government departments, and harnessing backbench MPs, policy-makers and other influencers as advocates promoting the cause, so duty fraud is taken more seriously.
Things are moving quickly and we are seeing real engagement with the issue, thanks to our practical and effective campaign, far removed from the arrogant demands of a “manifesto”.