"Pre-Reform Act elections were week-long boozy carnivals where candidates poured beer down voters’ throats."by Ian Irvine / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking
by Ben Wright (Duckworth Overlook, £16.99)
Across the road from Prospect’s office in Westminster is a pub, The Two Chairmen. Ben Wright’s entertaining book identifies it as one of the premier plotting pubs in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster. Menzies Campbell’s downfall as Liberal Democratic leader was planned in its upstairs room by Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne in 2007; here Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s hitman, would whack the PM’s enemies by dropping poisonous gossip in the ears of journalists. For as long as parliamentary politics has existed, its overwhelmingly male culture and pack-like behaviour has been bonded by the regular and often excessive consumption of alcohol. Pre-Reform Act elections were week-long boozy carnivals where candidates poured beer down voters’ throats.
Though all this is much diminished since the arrival of substantial numbers of female MPs, the end of regular late-night sittings and the arrangement of its business into more normal office hours, Parliament still has within its bounds more than half a dozen bars (in one of which in 2012 a drunk Eric Joyce ended his parliamentary career after head-butting a Tory MP).
This is not an academic history, but an anecdotal one, often funny, though not without sombre appraisals of many curtailed careers and damaged lives, not least that of the late Charles Kennedy.
Winston Churchill is here, of course, as are the other famous boozy PMs of the past—Robert Walpole, Pitt the Younger and Henry (“Squiffy”) Asquith. Also the lesser lights such as George Brown, Alan Clark and Nigel Farage, for whom his image as an unrepentant boozer played a major part in his un-PC appeal….