Monday, 15 December 2008

Is your MP sober?

I see that the Australian Parliament is planning to introduce breathalysers to make sure their MPs are sober in Parliament. Now I don't know if the Aussie Parliament has more bars than the 19 in the Houses of Parliament but is drinking in Parliament such a problem down under?

With the Australian Members of Parliament being stuck in Canberra I can see nothing wrong with a few tinnies of Fosters or more preferably a few stubbies of Little Creatures to make the business of legislature run easier.

Wonder what the bar or bars are like in the Australian Parliament? No doubt based on the Oz Theme bar we have in this country, but a bit more upmarket, there being 2 spittoons on the floor Down Under, “One for the Sheilas”. We don't see any coverage of the Australian Parliament here in the UK and for some reason all I can think about when I hear it mentioned is the Monty Python sketch of a certain outback academic centre. The only differences is that Members would be referred to as “The Honorable Bruce”

If there is one Legislature in the world where alcohol should be compulsory then it is in the Welsh Assembly, where debates have reached a new level of tedium. I've tried watching it, but without any success in the debates interesting me, it is proving difficult. Now if an Assembly Member was, for instance , to use Parliamentary language, say “Tired and Emotional”, during a debate then the glorified Parish Council of Cardiff Bay may succeed in raising the interest level in the electorate who did not vote for it in the first place. Even the AMs look bored during the debates, but at least they have computers to use, no doubt one of the AMs biggest decisions is which iTune to download to their publicly-funded iPods.

There is a bar in the Welsh Assembly, or “Tea Room” as it has to be called. When it first opened the best alcoholic drink it served was Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic with no Welsh products on sale at all. That has now changed and Welsh beers are available. Now the Tea Room is on an upper floor of the old building, when it first opened the view was of a building site, today the view is the back end of Millennium Centre, the expensive Slate Slug. No sprawling vista of Cardiff Bay, not even a view of the debating chamber is to be had from this Tea Room which a resembles an airport departure lounge, though not as good as Munich airport and its brewpub. In fact it is quite a depressing place, one of the reasons why the pubs surrounding the Welsh Assembly do so well, both with hacks and politicians.

The one advantage of Welsh beers being available in the Welsh Assembly Tea Room is that it is the one place in Cardiff Bay where you can be assured of finding some Brains.

But back to the question , should MPs be breathalysed? Definitely not due to the entertainment value a MP always gives when “Tired and Emotional”. Alan Clarke famously presented a bill to the House of Commons after a serious wine-tasting. That was back in 1983 when the licensing hours of the Palace of Westminster were as long as the House sat for. But how many other debates from 1983 does anyone remember?

With all-night sittings the various bars Press, Strangers, Annies etc would carry on serving as long as an MP or Lord was still drinking there. Now they normally shut at eleven and the Palace is strangely empty at night. Even the smoking ban has had an effect on the Strangers Bar, for some reason it looks smaller. Okay in the old days you could not see the end of the room for the smoke from the Honorable Members cigarettes, now the wood paneling, old etchings, old pumpclips from the guest beer pump, including an old Reckless Eric pumpclip from 12 years ago and even the Members themselves are visible . Honorable and Right Honorable Members now have to go out the door and onto the Terrace to have a ciggie. No great hardship there then, as the Terrace in the summer is one of the best places to have a drink in London. I do know of one hack who, when he is waiting for an MP on the Terrace, always waves to the boats of tourists going by. Sometimes they wave back but nearly all of the tourists shoot away with their cameras. No doubt when those tourists get home they try and identify the photos of this MP they thought was waving to them! It's a great game to play and with the subsidised bar adjacent to the Terrace can get quite fun.

So if we breathalyse MPs then they would cut down on their drinking and this would cut down on the amount of alcohol drunk in Parliament. Our MPs would be up in arms as the bars in the Palace of Westminster start closing down to be converted into coffee parlours and smoothie outlets. Politics would get less interesting, its bad enough at the moment with the teetotal Jockocracy we have running the country (Brown, Darling etc). But if all of our MPs had to remain sober all of the time?

Some MPs are unbearable when sober and drinking is the only thing that can give these non-entities a personality. There is one story about one Labour member, who lost his seat at the following election, who was so drunk that he was hardly able to stand and blurted out about who had been contributing to his election campaign locally. One of these donors was the landlord of a Welsh pub who was applying for change of use to private accommodation, despite objections from the regulars. When this appeared in print the Labour MP and his cronies threatened libel action against the publisher and the writer of the article. The libel action never came into fruition, for two reasons, one the MP was too drunk to remember the even meeting the author and two, it was true! That did not stop the New Labour bullies from issuing their threats though. At the next general election this MP lost his seat by thousands of votes and scuttled off back under the rock he used to share in a biblical manner with a similar disgraced badger-loving former MP.

Many an “off the record briefing” has been given to journalists over a drink in the bars of the Palace of Westminster and surrounding area. Nothing is ever off the record, if someone tells you it is then why are they telling you that! Even today, pubs close to the Houses of Parliament are wired up to the Division Bell. It is always a good sight to see MPs rushing off to the lobbys from the Red Lion on Whitehall when the bell rings. Even more fun is watching the tourists traipse out as they think the fire alarm has gone off!

It was Winston Churchill who said “I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me”. And if that is not a good enough reason not to breathalyse MPs then I don't know what is.

Breathalysers for MPs? Whatever next? Intelligence tests for MPs ? And then where would be?

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