Luke Blackall: Crisis time for members' clubs

Man About Town: Younger people don't seem to want, or perhaps can ill afford, to pay for the privilege of having somewhere to drink late at night

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A report last week suggested the House of Commons could one day be home to "the most exclusive member's club in London".

What with its occupants falling asleep in finely upholstered leather seats, discounted bars and its attitude towards women, some might say it already is. But this idea – from a report exploring ways for Parliament to "sweat its assets" – would mean that no longer would the tiresome business of elections or large party donations be the path to the hallowed palace.

Now for a mere £2,000 a year (£20,000 a year for companies), anyone could join them.

The potential for further loss of dignity (which might have previously seemed impossible), comes as members' clubs are suffering from an identity crisis. For the past couple of weeks, they may have been full of festively ruddy-faced members, coming up to town for an end of year celebration (or to spend what's left of their annual account), but the future remains uncertain.

One club this week was reported to have been caught in a conflict between a house rule of "no ties" and a Christmas party of City types who wanted to keep theirs on. It's this sort of story that could be the reason that, in recent years, some clubs have tried to reduce the number of neckwear-loving bankers (journalists are still safe for the time being, but as the Leveson Inquiry rumbles on, it's surely only a matter of time).

Elsewhere, other places are trying to freshen up their look and attract younger members. The clubs that snapped up bright young things in the 1990s are now looking their members' age. Younger people don't seem to want, or perhaps can ill afford, to pay for the privilege of having somewhere to drink late at night away from the hoi polloi.

At the club where I am a member, my being just the right side of 30 is a good thing, in their eyes. Most venues are increasingly striving to appear relevant and fashionable, rather than second homes for the under-employed and the over-fed.

What these places fear, of course, is a return to the stuffy culture of the Bertie Wooster days, where status quo was maintained, however unequal, and where outsiders were put off by bloated, self-important members. The sort, as it happens, who would invariably become members of the House of Commons club. Who would want to belong to any club that accepts them as members?

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