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13 August 2007

Politics and alcohol

One Tory backbencher of my acquaintance always made a better speech after he had consumed a bottle o

By Brian Coleman

Having been brought up and remained a practising Methodist I have always had a healthy suspicion of the power of alcohol. Rather like the Methodist Church (which it seems these days stands for not much that John Wesley would recognise) and unlike my Octogenarian Mother I have long since abandoned my teetotalism and enjoy good champagne when someone else is paying and a glass of port or two after your average City Corporation Dinner. However never underestimate the influence of alcohol in the Political World.

Ignoring Party Conference week where every Politician worth his salt drinks far too much and no one worries about it, except one Tory Activist who objected rather loudly to a very drunk Conservative MP putting his hand down the young man’s trousers.

Threats of a complaint to the Party Chairman ensued.

Alcohol is playing an increasing role at times when in my view it should not.

I vividly recall going on an official trip to Cyprus when one Labour MP had to be physically helped off the plane by a colleague when he arrived at Larnaca as he was too drunk to stand and on a previous trip one corpulent now former Scottish Labour MP who failed to attend any of the official meetings but somehow managed all the dinners!

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There are of course well known tales of alcoholic overload in Politics stretching back to George Brown as Foreign Secretary and encompassing infamous incidents involving Alan Clark and Sir Nick Scott.

One Tory backbencher of my acquaintance always made a better speech after he had consumed a bottle of red wine at dinner. Indeed it is debateable whether Brandy assisted Winston Churchill in winning the Second World War.

However things have changed, the advent of a 24 hour media has meant politicians are required for instant comment and woe betide anyone who tries a live interview after three gin and tonics.

In emergency situations where office-holders, spokesmen and women are required to give instant responses or make key decisions the fact that certain politicians are unapproachable after lunch does not inspire confidence.

The Governance of London is a case in point. It is well documented that the former Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley is an alcoholic and indeed his ineffectiveness and ultimate removal were not unconnected to his patronage of off licences in Victoria.

The Met Commissioner has appeared somewhat the worse for wear at a number of official functions, most notably the London Mayors’ Association Annual Dinner where he needed assistance from his protection officers to manage the stairs.

These indiscretions reflect the alcohol-fuelled administration of City Hall. Mayor Livingstone’s’ two well documented run-ins with the Standards Board (the Party incident at Tufnell Park and the Evening Standard Nazi jibe) have both involved significant amounts of red wine and those of us on the inside of City Hall know that abstemious is not a word in the Mayor’s dictionary .

Gordon Brown has promised to the relief of local councillors across the Country to review the liberalisation of the licensing laws.

Perhaps he should bring his Scottish Presbyterian views to the attention of some of those closer to home.