Was there really a time when you could walk into your local boozer, order three pints of Youngs for you and your mates, and settle up with the words, “Put it on the slate, Charlie”? Did we dream that you could run up wine and whisky bills on credit? No we didn’t – but it seems there’s only one place in the UK where, today, a request for credit is not met by a smack in the mouth. It’s the House of Commons.
Some enquiring soul used the Freedom of Information Act to ask for a breakdown of MPs with outstanding food and drinks bills and elicited some top items of information. One is the number of places where our public representatives can get refreshed on tick, as we used to say: the Members’ Smoking Room, the Members’ Dining Room, the Strangers’ Dining Room, the Pugin Room, the Churchill Room… Another is the disparity between the tiny sums owed by some MPs before they were settled (Margaret Curran, £4.90) and the hefty wedges racked up by others – such as Neil Carmichael, Tory MP for Stroud, who had bills for £600 in five different bars (now paid). Another is the ruling that, if bills remain unpaid after 30 days, that’s the Member’s business and not “in the public interest”; but they’ll happily reveal the names of Members who haven’t coughed up after 90 days.
Imagine how life would be if we could all buy alcohol on credit. Drinkers would become even more recklessly sloshed, because if you can defer paying, you can defer admitting you drink too much. According to two new surveys by London University, most of us fool ourselves about how much we drink. Doing it on the slate would be bliss, but ruinous to our health. The only thing that might restrain us is the embarrassment of being named and shamed in public (“John Walsh, Pig & Whistle £448.96 and counting…”)