Salmond and the Sun. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: The Sun sets on Salmond

Plus: Why is Keith Vaz all starry-eyed?

The talk in Scotland’s Yes and No camps is of the Sun setting on Alex Salmond. The word inside News UK is that Rupert Murdoch would love the paper’s Glasgow edition to back independence but in London the Sun’s editor, David Dinsmore, calculates that destroying the UK would be commercially disastrous for his Union Jack-waving tabloid. The snout predicted that Dinsmore, a Tory and product of Strathallan, a pricey Perthshire school, will hold the line in September.

The Scottish Sun backed the SNP’s 2011 Holyrood landslide and the starry-eyed Murdoch once tweeted: “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in the UK.” Perhaps Murdoch would see Scotland divorcing the rest of Britain as revenge on David Cameron for all the arrests, Leveson and Rebekah Brooks’s trial. Wappingologists will note the loosening of the Sun King’s grip on his second-favourite red top.

Also starry-eyed is Keith Vaz. I hear he is hopeful of securing a part in a Bollywood take on the Bond franchise if it is shot in Westminster. The name’s Vaz, Keith Vaz. The poor man’s Daniel Craig is a busy man. He took time out from holding to account alleged dodgy coppers and pervert politicians to complain to the administration committee that strawberries and cream aren’t served on the terrace.

Ed Miliband is anxious to rebuild bridges with Dennis Skinner after a whipping operation backfired and the Beast of Bolsover was inadvertently voted off Labour’s governing National Executive Committee.

The intended target was the Scouse brickie Steve Rotheram, who had criticised Mili over that Sun photo, but it all went bacon sandwich and Skinner became collateral damage. Mili’s insistence that there was no whipping operation is undermined by the figures. The turnout in the NEC election was unprecedented, with 250 of 257 Labour MPs voting. A few hours later 22 fewer Labour MPs voted against George Osborne’s Budget on the Finance Bill’s third reading.

The source on this is well placed: a prominent MP was called by his local newspaper and asked what he thought about a beauty spot’s growing reputation as a “dogging hot spot”. “Marvellous,” he told the hack. “I’m delighted so many people are enjoying the area.” The reporter spared the MP’s blushes and, sadly, allowed him to change his quote after the unworldly fiftysomething politician was informed the practice involved group sex and voyeurism, rather than people walking their pets.

I’m informed that Nick Clegg believes the ex-Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock, who confessed to “degrading” a vulnerable constituent with mental health issues, deserves to be stripped of a CBE, awarded after he chaired the NSPCC’s southern region.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the red-top era?

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.