Review published on August 20, 2017.
Reading this book I was at times amused and at other times horrified. When you hear just how much drinking went on, particularly up to the 1980s, by the people in power it is quite frightening.
It is certainly a lively book, full of anecdotes. In the first chapter we have stories about two notorious tipplers – George Brown, drunk on television while commenting on the death of President Kennedy and for whom the phrase “tired and emotional” was coined, and Alan Clark, making a slurred, rambling statement to Parliament while “incapable”. There are chapters on the bars in the Houses of Parliament and their history and on those Prime Ministers – Pitt, Asquith and Churchill – who seem to have been reliant on alcohol. The book also covers other countries. In the US perhaps surprisingly many recent presidents have been teetotal. And then there is Russia. Stalin apparently drank vodka for breakfast and I’m sure many people remember the pictures of Yeltsin in the 90s. Reading about the heavy drinking of Yeltsin and Nixon is scary when you think how close we could have been to nuclear war.
The sub-title is “The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking” and the author covers the change in drinking culture from whisky and wine to water in the Blair/Brown years. 24 hour news, more women MPs and changed working hours have all made a difference. Ben Wright also considers why some heavy political drinkers are celebrated while others are mocked and ridiculed. Perhaps we like our politicians to drink as a mark of ordinariness but condemn them if their consumption is seen as excessive.
It is a good book for dipping into for entertaining anecdotes but I did also learn a lot about historical events and the characters of politicians. I’m also pleased to know that both Putin and Trump don’t drink!
Berwyn Peet 4/1
Order, Order! by Ben Wright
Duckworth Overlook 9780715651858 pbk Jun 2017
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