The House of Commons is, in principle, a workplace. MPs turn up, debate, sit on committees and propose motions. This isn’t normal work, but it is their work and it is vital. It’s for this reason that it’s worth asking why MPs have access to subsidised alcohol and 8 bars.
These bars vary in tone, from the bawdy sports and social club (Sports and Socialists according to some Tories) to the more restrained Stranger’s bar. However, they are united by two things: They are the cheapest place to drink in Central London and they would be inappropriate in almost any other workplace.
A pint of Stella Artois will cost you £3.70 in the Stranger’s Bar, across the road it would cost you close to £4.60 for a 330ml bottle. If you prefer Ales then you can find one of the guest ales for as little as £2.80, across the road this would be £4.50. Gin is half the price it is across the road and wine is around a third.
All of this is possible because we are subsidising our MPs food and drink to the tune of around £6m a year. This was the figure for 2014. More recent figures suggest MPs have reduced their consumption, spending only £3.7m of taxpayers’ money.
This is money that is apparently spent getting drunk at work- something that most of us would get fired over.
It does help explain part of the culture within Westminster. In the “dodgy dossier” several MPs who are alleged to have alcohol problems and the recently disgraced Michael Fallon has been linked to a few alcohol-fuelled outbursts.
The tragic death of Charles Kennedy failed to change the commons relationship with alcohol. The true scale of the problem is also impossible to know given that the Speaker, John Bercow, suppressed a report into the problem.
This does not mean I have no sympathy for people with alcohol problems, help must be made available, but that I am angry at the culture that’s been allowed to develop. Several women journalists have made similar points in the past week. They have explained that the hard-boozing culture in Westminster is a problem, and a problem that enables the abuse of women.
Admirer of Fallon says alcohol is a power drug which turns some into a Jekyll & Hyde
— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) November 1, 2017
When you have figures like Michael Fabricant using alcohol as an excuse, and a sign in one bar explaining that “what happens here stays here” it’s hard not to criticise our MPs. They have voted themselves to spend our money enabling their bad habits.
This sign plagued the sports and social bar in the House of Commons for far too long pic.twitter.com/ceRDWjHB9G
— lewis bassett (@le_bassett) November 1, 2017
Whilst Fabricant has been criticised and the sign has been pulled down, progress is achingly slow. MPs need to admit that the House of Commons has an alcohol problem – a problem that fuels an incredibly toxic lad culture.
When a number of MPs are accused of sexual assault and hide behind drink, when David Davis can allegedly assault Dianne Abbot and laddishly laugh it off, and when a much respected veteran like Kennedy is killed by alcohol, it’s time to ask serious questions:
Would we accept it in our workplace?
Would we allow bars in our office?
Would we encourage drinking at work?
Of course not.
Westminster needs to change.
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