MPs should give up the bottle - maybe
One has a certain sympathy with ex-Tory MP Teddy Taylor in the light of the recent Department of Health report on problem drinking amongst British adults. Nowhere is this problem more apparent than the Palace of Westminster, which is seemingly filled with reeling, vomiting, incapable binge drunks - at the taxpayer's expense.
"The Commons chamber remains empty most of the time, while the multitude of drinking dens are crammed full," said Taylor in 2002. "The problem is that MPs are not finding the debating chamber at all interesting but they have to stay in the building to take part in votes, so, in increasing numbers and with increasing regularity, MPs are dropping into the many bars at Westminster. I have noticed that there are now more people than before who find difficulty in walking along the corridors in a straight line. There is no doubt that beer-drinking in the Commons has gone up by leaps and bounds. The number of teetotallers in the Commons seems to have fallen to me and two ladies, whom I cannot name and perhaps one or two others."
There has been an intermittent correspondence for some years past in the pages of the British Medical Journal debating the merits of compulsory occupational health screening for sitting and would-be MPs; those drinking above the recommended limits could be forced onto rehab programmes, or be suspended from the House. If the Health Secretary is serious about this issue, perhaps this is where she should start.
Of course, such a policy would deprive us of a future Churchill, whose eighty-plus units of alcohol a week was somewhat in excess of the recommended limit of twenty-one units a week. And George Brown and Alan Clark without alcohol may have been just sad mediocrities, like so many larger-than-life figures who when sober seem to deflate like wrinkled balloons.
But if the nation is to take Hewitt seriously, she needs to address the intemperance of her own colleagues first.