27 May 2014

How alcohol and politics mix in the corridors of power

Nigel Farage likes being pictured with a pint in his hand, while his wife says he drinks too much. But the Ukip leader is not the only politician to enjoy a drink.

Nigel Farage likes being pictured with a pint in his hand, while his wife says he drinks too much. But the Ukip is not the only politician to enjoy a drink (Getty)

For Mr Farage, it is a thin line to tread between hail-fellow-well-met and the pub bore, moaning about the country going to the dogs.

Alcohol is part of our national life – most adults in the UK drink – and Nigel Farage is keen to foster an image of a convivial bloke who knows how to relax when he is not pounding the streets looking for votes.

His success in the council and European elections was celebrated in the boozer, pint of English bitter in hand. It is not the first time he has chosen the pub to show off his credentials as a man of the people.

Sinking first drink

It was a theme highlighted a year ago by Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon, who wrote in his blog: “Nigel Farage sank his first on-camera drink of the day with great speed. For those monitoring when the first drink tends to pass the Ukip leader’s lips (the Spectator spotted him nabbing a red wine off the train drinks trolley the other day at 1108) this particular pint of bitter slipped down at 1130 am.”

Now Mr Farage’s wife Kirsten has waded in, saying in her first interview, published in the Daily Telegraph, that “he smokes and he drinks too much”.

In pictures: politicians and their pints
Nigel Farage likes being pictured with a pint in his hand, while his wife says he drinks too much. But the Ukip is not the only politician to enjoy a drink (Getty)

David Cameron is another politician who is good at relaxing/chillaxing. His favourite tipple is Doom Bar, but he is not that fussy, as this picture of the prime minister downing (that is the only word) a Guinness shows.

A biography published in 2012, Cameron: Practically A Conservative, quotes a Cameron ally as saying: “If there was an Olympic gold medal for ‘chillaxing’, he would win it. He is capable of switching off in a way that almost no other politician I know of can.”

This ability to relax apparently includes having “three or four glasses of wine” at lunch at the weekend. But being laid back has its disadvantages: after all, there was that embarrassing moment David and Samantha mistakenly left their eight-year-old daughter in a pub near Chequers where they had been enjoying Sunday lunch.

Beer-swilling bonhomie

Unlike Messrs Farage and Cameron, Nick Clegg is not one to pose with a pint. After Mr Farage’s comments about Romanian neighbours, the Lib Dem leader said his “beer-swilling bonhomie mask” was beginning to slip.

Ed Miliband, who has been photographed with a half-pint in his hand (be fair, he was working), was asked on BBC Radio 5 Live which political leader he would most like to have a drink with.

“I’d have a pint with all of them,” he answered. Best not to tell shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who told ITV’s The Agenda that he had known the Labour leader for 20 years, but had never been to the pub with him.


Tony Blair’s candid musings about alcohol were much commented upon when his memoirs, A Journey, were published in 2010. Particularly his use of the word “toper” to describe someone partial to a drink.

Writing about his time in office, he said: ”By the standards of days gone by I was not even remotely a toper, and I couldn’t do lunchtime drinking except on Christmas Day, but if you took the thing everyone always lies about – units per week – I was definitely at the outer limit.

”Stiff whisky or G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it. So not excessively excessive. I had a limit. But I was aware that it had become a prop.

”I was never sure. I believed I was in control of the alcohol. However, you have to be honest: it’s a drug, there’s no getting away from it.”

The former Labour prime minister also revealed that his predecessor John Smith was a “stupendous toper” (that word again).

Olympic medal for drinking

“He could drink in a way that I have never seen before or since. I don’t mean would ever be in drink when he needed to be sober – he was the complete professional – but if there was an Olympic medal for drinking, John would have contended with such superiority that after a few rounds the rest of the field would have simply shaken their heads and banished themselves from the track.”

No article about political leaders and drinking would be complete without mentioning Winston Churchill, whose love of champagne and brandy is well documented. Like Mr Farage, he was a smoker (cigars, not cigarettes) and in any drinking bout, would surely have given the Ukip leader a run for his money.