Want to reform Westminster’s drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work


by Jim Jepps    
7:32 pm - January 1st 2013

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Fears over the drinking culture reached a head this year when some impromptu fisticuffs hit the headlines, but it has been an ongoing issue for years with late-night voting merging into a boozy macho culture among some MPs and their staff.

In the Commons bar an MP can get a pint of Guinness at £2.20 or an eight-year-old whisky at £1.35, down to a substantial taxpayer subsidy to the tune of £5.8 million.

Speaker John Bercow is the latest would-be moderniser who, according to reports this week, seems to have hit a brick wall in his attempts to cut costs and clean up the culture a little.

However Bercow’s moves still reflect the feelings of entitlement rife among MPs as his proposals have amounted to little more than ‘at receptions and events where alcohol was served, glasses would be topped up less frequently’ and for staff, but not MPs, to be banned from drinking in working hours.

The argument for subsidised, on-site, bars and restaurants is that MPs may be called upon to vote in the middle of the night or hang around for the Commons bell to signal a vote and so can’t leave the premises. This doesn’t seem to be an argument for conducting Parliamentary business half cut, nor does it explain why these premises have to be subsidised.

I would not suggest that we make them eat Burger King as visitors to some of our hospitals are encouraged to do; some decent canteen facilities and pleasant places to loiter is all that’s really necessary.

However, the real answer to modernising Parliamentary culture is to go beyond questioning the need for subsidised boozers and tackle the bizarre conduct of business.

Waiting around for bells to ring, MPs “talking out” motions, queuing to vote “aye” or “nay” without being able to register abstentions and a host of Byzantine rules make Westminster an insiders club, and an inefficient one at that.

Caroline Lucas MP made a serious contribution to reforming Parliament with her 2010 paper (pdf) which called for, among other things, electronic voting, holding over votes to a specific voting period each day, a systematic modernisation of Parliamentary language, and an end to night shifts that make family life extremely difficult for MPs, which is seen as particularly hard on women MPs.

The examples of the London Assembly, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament show that serious decision-making does not have to be conducted in such an ossified environment. While I’m aware that many members of these institutions make substantial contributions to the profits of the drinks industry in their free time, the creation of a more professional environment means the weird culture of Westminster is all but entirely absent during business hours.

It’s simply not necessary for voting to be conducted into the night, and unhelpful to have rules that the general public often find it difficult to understand, let alone engage with. Drinking on the job is simply one aspect of an institution that has not kept up with the times leaving it far from fit for purpose.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Westminster


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Reader comments


for staff, but not MPs, to be banned from drinking in working hours

Grrr. What a bunch of arrogant bastards. If I drive while drunk, I could fuck up someone’s life. If MPs legislate while drunk, they could fuck up millions of lives. Which is worse? Obviously the latter.

2. Matt Wardman

I’d actually start with the culture of bullying, as being harder to defend than flexible hours etc.

I think they could probably do less damage pissed than sober.

4. Richard Carey

The only thing I object to is subsidising the bars. It’s the kind of thing which screams hypocrisy, especially when so many of them call for puritan controls over the rest of us.

Without ‘bloody revolution’ there is absolutely no hope of reforming Westminster.
Zero.
Parliament has nothing but utter contempt for the milch cows that continue to fill their trough with largesse.
If we didn’t vote, they’d rig it, as in the past, there’d be no shortage of constituents casting their ballot from beyond the grave.
Prior to the expenses scandal I wrote to my M.P. to ask him about the ever increasing costs of running Parliament.
His reply stated that he was not my “unpaid researcher” and if I wanted to know those things I should find them out for myself.
That same man (a serial house swapper) currently lives in a grace and favour apartment and will leave Westminster with a fabulous tax payer funded pension and a lifetime annuity, the latter he would have qualified for had he remained in post for a day.
If IDS wants to find benefit scroungers he only needs to look around him – they are legion.
The potential of 650 odd ars#holes, drunk at our expense is the least of our worries.

“The examples of the London Assembly, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament show that serious decision-making does not have to be conducted in such an ossified environment. While I’m aware that many members of these institutions make substantial contributions to the profits of the drinks industry in their free time, the creation of a more professional environment means the weird culture of Westminster is all but entirely absent during business hours.”

This, this and this.

I would place far more confidence in a mature decision being reached by the scottish or welsh parliaments than by westminister. The culture is entirely different – more minor parties, women and people who have done other things prior to politics. It’s why ATOS would never have happened. Almost every positive policy now going UK wide is likely to have been initiated in a devolved institution. This year we’ll see a presumed consent system for Organ Donation in Wales. Would never have happened in Westminister.

I totally agree with the above. I have been to the HoC quite a few times in the past years. The place is a fossilised mausoleum, quite incompatible with good decision-making. After the meetings I was at had finished (9pm +)I observed some late-night debates from the public galleries where the few MPs and Lords there were half-cut.

In any case I don’t think late hours are conducive to good judgement.

If a bus driver or doctor were to be found drunk while doing his/her job, they’d be fired – yet of course a lower standard is required of MPs/Lords who are actually capable of doing more harm with their decisions than the above. It doesn’t need just a new culture, but a new building (along the lines of Portcullis House) because the current layout provokes the sort of infantile behaviour that most people detest when they see it on TV. We could keep the old one as a museum.

8. James from Durham

Yes, keep the old parliament as a museum and build a new purpose-built legislative centre in the middle of the country. Depending on whether Scotland is going or staying, that might be in Birmingham or Newcastle. Not London.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Want to reform Westminster's drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work http://t.co/O5A7sqEe

  2. Jason Brickley

    Want to reform Westminster’s drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work http://t.co/65cAnMLz

  3. Daibhid Ceannaideach

    Want to reform Westminster's drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work http://t.co/O5A7sqEe

  4. Simon Grover

    Late-night, rowdy, subsidised drinking culture persists at Parliament http://t.co/HJjGopN7 Wonder how many MPs have signed up to @dryathon

  5. Daddacool

    Late-night, rowdy, subsidised drinking culture persists at Parliament http://t.co/HJjGopN7 Wonder how many MPs have signed up to @dryathon

  6. Daddacool

    Late-night, rowdy, subsidised drinking culture persists at Parliament http://t.co/HJjGopN7 Wonder how many MPs have signed up to @dryathon

  7. Daddacool

    Late-night, rowdy, subsidised drinking culture persists at Parliament http://t.co/HJjGopN7 Wonder how many MPs have signed up to @dryathon

  8. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Want to reform Westminster’s drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work http://t.co/T3wU0sZc

  9. Jim Jepps

    @shivi_ita voila! Here it is, as requested http://t.co/qN7khERg

  10. Jim Jepps

    It will take more than tackling drink culture to drag Westminster into the 21st century http://t.co/qN7khERg

  11. Sunny Hundal

    It will take more than tackling drink culture to drag Westminster into the 21st century http://t.co/qN7khERg

  12. Zoe Sharman

    It will take more than tackling drink culture to drag Westminster into the 21st century http://t.co/qN7khERg

  13. Liza Harding

    It will take more than tackling drink culture to drag Westminster into the 21st century http://t.co/qN7khERg

  14. Exsugarbabe

    http://t.co/BRjNfEKX More prof parliment is a boys club with it's own rules.

  15. Tristram Wyatt

    It will take more than tackling drink culture to drag Westminster into the 21st century http://t.co/qN7khERg

  16. Peter Pink

    Want to reform Westminster’s drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work http://t.co/xba5QqNm via @zite

  17. Bali Community

    Want to reform Westminster's drinking culture? Focus on its conduct …: Fears over the drinking culture reached… http://t.co/El8pzsf7

  18. Richard

    Want to reform Westminster’s drinking culture? Focus on its conduct of work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jS9xeNFg via @libcon

  19. Mark Carrigan

    Drinking on the job reflects an institution that has not kept up with the times leaving it far from fit for purpose http://t.co/zjkobVLr

  20. Steven Roberts

    Drinking on the job reflects an institution that has not kept up with the times leaving it far from fit for purpose http://t.co/zjkobVLr





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