Thursday, 23 February 2012

Should We Close the Bars In The House Of Commons?

If you, as a matter of course, are supplied with subsidised alcohol as you work, then you may wish to stop reading now.
It will only upset you.

The Unacceptable Drink
Ah – so you’re still reading!
Of course you are – because for most of us ordinary people the idea of drinking alcohol on the job (never mind drinking subsidised alcohol on the job) is unthinkable.

Can you imagine what you would say if you found out that your children’s teachers were routinely drinking alcohol as they worked in the classroom? Or if the surgeon giving your wife a caesarean had had a bottle of wine with his lunch?
In factory after factory throughout the country, being drunk in control of machinery would be a sacking offence. Alcohol makes you careless and sloppy. It clouds your judgement and slows your reactions. Even if you don’t have an accident, there is every likelihood that the quality of your work will suffer.

Those great entrepreneurs of the past – the captains of 19th century industry – knew this full well, and made every attempt to drive ‘the demon drink’ out of their workers’ lives, never mind their factories.
When Lord Eldon developed Eldon as a coal mining village, he did not allow any pub to be built in the village at all. Up Weardale, the lead mining companies encouraged Methodism, partly because they knew that Methodists signed the pledge; and the renunciation of alcohol, they appreciated, had a radical effect on the attitude and productivity of the employee.

There is a lovely story of a group of miners mocking a man who had recently ‘got religion’. “Could your Jesus turn this water into wine?” one of the men taunted him. “I don’t know about water into wine”, replied the miner, “but if you come home with me tonight, I’ll show you how He turned beer into furniture”.
Although the story is probably apocryphal, what is apposite, of course, is that ALL the miners were drinking water, in so dangerous a work environment as a mine.

A privilege for the posh
Of course, even in the factory, there was one place where the drink survived … in the boardroom. While alcohol was frowned upon for the workers, a mark of the manager’s status was to have a drinks cabinet. It was a sign that he was ‘the boss’.
In the same way, drinks accompanied ‘high society’, the hunts and the balls.

And, where it still exists, ‘drinking on the rates’ is usually accompanied by a totally inappropriate attitude towards the electors: the feeling that political office puts you above the electorate … makes you ‘the boss’ … gives you the right to privileges such as subsidised alcohol
Whereas, of course, those of us who know, realise that election makes you the servant of the people, not their superior.

A number of years ago – before I became a Councillor – my own local council abolished drinking on the rates. It was a hard-fought reform that attracted heated vitriol. Those who believe they have the right to a privilege, however unsupportable, rarely give it up without venom.
But give it up they had to, and we found that – not only was it the end of drinking – it was the start of a new spirit of integrity amongst the councillors. Stopping the subsidised alcohol cleaned up the politics… perhaps because it involved the breaking of that attitude which made the councillors feel that they had the latitude to benefit personally at the taxpayers’ expense.

Eric Joyce
Yesterday, Labour MP Eric Joyce was arrested for an (alleged) attack on another MP in the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons. No report stated that he was the worse for wear for drink, but in 2010 he resigned as shadow secretary of state after pleading guilty to failing to provide a breath test.

Even if he was stone cold sober, however, I am unhappy about MPs brawling in a bar in the seat of our democracy. It is not right that MPs should so demean themselves and their office – they are called ‘the honourable member’ and I would prefer their behaviour to be honourable.
Nor is this the first time it has happened – according to The Metro: ‘Labour MP Paul Farrelly was involved in a brawl in an unrelated incident at another Commons bar in 2010’.

ANOTHER Commons Bar!
For goodness sake! Just how much drinking on the job is going on here?
I am not very happy that, apparently, some of our representatives feel they can drink in the place where they also make the decisions which determine the whole of the rest of our lives.
I wonder how many MPs had a drink, for example, before they went to vote in the debate on the Iraq War?
And how many of those MPs voting on the Welfare Reform Bill the other day did so with their wits and their judgement impaired by alcohol?
I find this an abomination.

And it is linked, of course, with the corrupt attitude that their political rank means they should command this manner of life at our expense.
According to Wikipedia, Eric Joyce was the top-claiming MP in the House of Commons for 2005–06, claiming £174,811 in expenses. He hit the top of the expenses list again in 2007–08 with £187,334, and was the first MP to claim more than £1 million cumulatively in expenses.

He is a man who apparently drinks deep and often at our expense.

Any MP proposing to close the bars in Parliament would immediately become a pariah in the House. And I appreciate that there will be many people reading this who simply cannot see what I am bothered about.
Indeed, what MPs do in their private lives is no business of mine – I am not a teetotaller.

But show me an MP who thinks they have the right to drink on the job, and I will show you an MP who is not fit to make our laws.


  1. This article thinks that things are getting better:

  2. Speaking as the Councillor who stopped drinking on the rates Yes we should ban all bars from the Houses of Parliament at the very least there should be no subsidy