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For Ed, it’s Prim up north

The Londoner has a Yorkshire rebellion on his hands.

Londoner Edward Miliband has a Yorkshire rebellion on his hands. Trade union tykes on the party’s national executive committee, led by Unison’s speaks-her-mind Wendy Nichols, gave him a reet ear-bashing over the exclusion of White Rose county folk from the controversial Rotherham by-election. Nichols complained of anti-Yorkshire discrimination, citing Doncaster where one of the town’s MPs is a leading light in the capital’s Primrose Hill Labourati: Ed M himself. Mili waffled nervously, my informant recounted, as half a dozen on the NEC had a dig. Sarah Champion from Derbyshire duly won the potentially tricky Rotherham contest for Labour, but not before the hospice manager, a member of the party for all of two years, was ordered to change her script. Telling voters that “Rotherham needs respect” was judged risky when George Galloway’s Respect was standing a candidate of its own.

Who is David Cameron more afraid of – Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan or Paul Dacre and Tony Gallagher? No 10’s calculation, whispered a Tory snout, is that the Prime Minister needs the Daily Mail and Torygraph on his side more than he does a couple of hacked-off actors. Raw power made Leveson a Downing Street no-brainer.

I see onetime chorister Chuka Umunna is hosting a “Festive Media Reception” in place of the usual Christmas drinks and nibbles. Sounds very One Nation Labour. I like to think this column’s leg-pulling, after he invited an elite few to a summer soirée, persuaded the shadow biz sec to issue a general Decembrist welcome to Her Majesty’s Disloyal Lobby. Some things, however, never change. The Ambitious One is staging the glitzy event in the grand Smeaton Room of the Institution of Civil Engineers. And he’s persuaded a City firm to sponsor his wine and canapés. Ed Miliband, perhaps next-generation Rachel Reeves too, should beware.

Coincidentally, junior political scribblers uninvited to Umunna’s summer bash have formed a dining fraternity of their own. The young pens call it the Lower Rung Club after a suggestion of Future Political Editors’ Club was judged both vainglorious and provocative to the lobby boss class. To underline the belowstairs status of members in hierarchical Westminster journalism, hacks face expulsion from the club if Cameron’s Miss Moneypenny, Gabby Bertin, ever deigns to return a telephone message or Dave calls them by name at a press conference.

Tory chief scaredy-cat Michael Fabricant took some stick after waving his Europhobic white hankie in the direction of Ukip. Labour MPs exploited mercilessly an opportunity to wig Mickey for what resembles a mannequin’s head dressed in one of Barbara Windsor’s luxurious hair pieces. Hansard stenographers dutifully turned a deaf ear to a Labour barrage about fringe politics, partitions and partings. Fabricant grinned and bore it, doubtless eager to prove he’s an authentic Tory not a Whig.

Deepening austerity and desperation is forcing supermarkets, an MP with a seat in northern England assured me, to relabel food. On shelves, sell-by dates are replaced with steal-by limits.

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 10 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Greece: a warning for Britain?

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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 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.