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Commons Confidential: Is the EU fobbing off Nigel?

Plus a guest appearance from the bicycling baronet.

The deputy speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, is a mild-mannered chap until riled. The Chorley cannon came out all guns blazing after the BBC oop north broadcast an investigation claiming that Rugby League was bust. Hoyle, whose father, Lord (Doug) Hoyle, is chairman of the Warrington Wolves club, was incandescent. “They’d never dare show a programme saying that about the chaps of Rugby Union,” Hoyle, Jr announced in the Strangers’ cafeteria, his Lancashire ire interrupting many a lunch.

The 13-man league game in northern England brings out the chippiness in fans, who resent the money and attention lavished on a 15-man union code played in the country’s private schools. As we approach the 110th anniversary of George Orwell’s birth, perhaps Hoyle should seek comfort in the Old Etonian’s apocryphal remark that a bomb placed under the west stand of Rugby Union’s Twickenham HQ would have set back British fascism by 50 years.

Are Eurocrats taking revenge on Nigel Farage for his Little Englanderism? My Brussels snout whispered that the Ukip leader’s pass was demagnetised during a recent EU summit. Poor Nigel had to be escorted by a security guard to an early-morning interview with ITV’s Daybreak in the Justus Lipsius building. Britain’s chief Europhobe moaned that this had never happened to him at 23 previous summits. An unfortunate, random glitch, Nigel, I’m sure.

The bicycling baronet Sir George Young’s stripping of the Tory whip from Nadine Dorries is backfiring on the Cameroon high command. Local party bigwigs in Mid Bedfordshire unanimously passed a vote of confidence in their MP and she’s never been so popular on the rubber-chicken circuit. The Peterborough MP, Stewart Jackson, is flogging tickets for an I’m a Celebrity-themed fundraiser in his constituency next month, at which an unrepentant Dorries will talk about crushing creepy crawlies. She’ll also discuss her week in the jungle.

Aidan Burley’s discomfort continues on the Commons workless and pensionless committee. The Nazi stag party MP was well and truly Glenda’ed when Ms Jackson channelled Elizabeth I to deliver a slap-down worthy of another Oscar to Hurly-Burley over single parents. The imperious member for Hampstead and Kilburn did so on a rare point of order and was heard sighing, “I enjoyed doing that,” as her target sat in stunned silence. Burley, I’m told, looked like a glum, scolded boy.

Your correspondent suggested to the lefty Jeremy Corbyn that he resembled a priest taking confessions as he squatted in a passport photo booth, the curtain half-pulled across the entrance. “I’ll hear yours now,” he said, “but tell that chap Blair to come tomorrow when I’ve a whole day free.”

Kevin Maguire is 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 18 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: ten years on

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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.