Calamity Clegg goes up north

Dave's fall-guy endured a rough ride in Scotland.

How Nick Clegg, Britain's most disliked politician, must yearn for the days when he was treated with respect. Hoping to secure a favourable hearing, Dave's fall guy travelled 580 miles for a town-hall meeting in the Scottish Highland fiefdom of his Harry Potter-ish colleague Danny Alexander. But in beautiful Boat of Garten, a ten-minute drive from Aviemore, Calamity Clegg discovered that they, too, read newspapers and watch TV. He endured a rough ride: the role of haranguer-in-chief was played by a local resident, Philippa Clark, who is the partner of one Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's former hitman. My snout swore that a grin creased the face of another Charlie, the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, when he heard that Calamity hadn't enjoyed his visit north.

I gather that George Osborne has Boris Johnson's sister, Rachel, to thank for an avalanche of bad publicity after she revealed that the City fat cat Caspar Rock played mein host for the Chancellor's skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps. M'Lady Johnson defended "Sir" George, arguing that the break cost only "the price of a small car". With Notting Hell friends like Johnson, Ossie earns a lot of new enemies.

The departure of that Dreyfus of Downing Street, Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson, an innocent spokesman forced to quit first the News of the World and then No 10 despite, as the PM insists, a phone-hacking-free career, has caused collateral damage. Tory-friendly lobby journalists mutter that Cameron's personal spinner, Gabby Bertin,has lost her Anne of Green Gables reputation by denying that Coulson was about to quit. She was either out of the loop or economical with the resignation letter - both things judged unsympathetically by the Conservative press.

Gordon Brown's request to the Met to investigate whether his growls were hacked by the Screws reminded your correspondent of advice that the then chancellor received from the French finance minister. He suggested that Broon should be careful with what he revealed on mobiles, leaving the distinct impression that French intelligence was eavesdropping on a European ally's leaders. I wonder if, to maintain the spirit of the entente cordiale, GCHQ returns the compliment.

Tracey Crouch, right-winger, isn't afraid to kick a Labour man when he's down. After scoring a penalty against the shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, in a parliamentary footie match, Crouchy completed the humiliation by standing over the sprawled keeper and jeering. Perhaps Sky's Richard Keys and Andy Gray should try telling Crouchy, a qualified FA coach, that ladies don't know the offside rule. One of her two-footed Tory tackles would let them know who's in charge.

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.

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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.