Westminster MPs need to stop drinking so much alcohol and join the rest of us in the 21st century – Stephen Jardine
There are a few things I miss from the time of the pandemic. The sound of birdsong over the quietened traffic, the self-righteous fury of those following the one-way system in the supermarket while others transgressed and the prospect of a cold beer as soon the laptop was shut.
Working from home suddenly opened up drinking on the job for us all. Stuck in the house and with the pandemic raging outside, a glass of wine at lunchtime was tempting. What held us back was the knowledge that work and booze really don’t mix. You start with an artisan gin and tonic to ease the pain of the Zoom meeting with Tony from customer relations and end up sitting in your pants, drinking Buckfast while being fired by the boss.
There is a time and a place for a drink and it’s not where you work... unless you are an MP. This week a watchdog set up to look into complaints about behaviour at Westminster blamed much of it on a booze culture. “Alcohol was a frequent factor in incidents in bars on the parliamentary estate,” said the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. Its work was made more difficult by the fact that witnesses often struggled to remember what had happened.
Westminster has always had a boozy reputation dating back to when Pitt the Younger threw up behind the Speaker’s chair. Then there was Prime Minister Herbert Asquith who used to fall asleep in the chamber after lunch. More recently, a string of MPs have been caught up in unsavoury incidents following drinking in Commons bars.
What they don’t seem to have noticed is the fact that the world has moved on. I well remember my first day working in TV news when we all gathered to watch the programme go out in a viewing room. Shortly before the show, a trolley laden with sandwiches and sausage rolls was wheeled into the room by the catering staff. On the shelf below there was a case of beer and bottles of whisky and gin. By the time the credits rolled, it was all gone and the real drinking could begin in the pub down the road. All that has gone and drinking in that environment now would be an HR matter, not a badge of honour.
The simple fact is that working requires skill and judgment on behalf of your employer. Both are compromised by alcohol. When it comes to Parliament, we are the employers but that seems to have been forgotten. Perhaps that’s not surprising when a Freedom of Information request revealed Westminster bars last year sold 46,562 beers, 16,019 bottles of white wine and 8,500 bottles of red. The great thirst is down to the fact that, thanks to public subsidy, a pint in the Strangers bar will cost you about £3.50, a glass of wine around £3.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has previously resisted calls to shut down parliament’s bars but this new watchdog’s report could finally mean last orders for the drinking culture. If elected politicians want to drink they should do it away from work and pay the same prices as the rest of us. “Order, order” should be a call to knuckle down and work, not lead a stampede to the bar.
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