John Penrose MP...

This week's serialization of Charles Kennedy's biography in a national newspaper will, we're promised, include sensational allegations about his problems with booze in the corridors of power. The surprising thing is that there aren't more politicians with

This week's serialization of Charles Kennedy's biography in a national newspaper will, we're promised, include sensational allegations about his problems with booze in the corridors of power.The surprising thing is that there aren't more politicians with drink problems. Not only has parliament got dozens of bars which, since I've only found a couple so far, means I've got loads more to track down. But the business of politics naturally lends itself to drink. There's no alcohol in formal meetings and debates of course, but, like any large company or organisation, a lot of Westminster's most important decisions are made when people meet for a quiet word in the bar the night before. Politics is about changing people's opinions, and an informal chat in the pub can be just as effective as a tub-thumping speech.The working hours encourage boozing too. Debates and votes go on until 10pm or later several times each week, so the temptation's always there. I'm told the problem was even worse in the past, when attitudes to drink were different and debates lasted all night. Churchill was famous for drinking steadily when he was Prime Minister, without any obvious problems. But Alan Clarke's ministerial career came to an end when he gave a speech while under the influence.Most MPs, of course, are very careful. You can't do a good job if you're tipsy in any walk of life, and Westminster is no different, so most people make a pint of beer or a glass of wine last a very long time. I'm sure we all hope Charles Kennedy will win his battle with the bottle. He isn't the first MP to suffer from booze but, given the way Westminster works, I fear he won't be the last either.


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