Terence Blacker: Ken's thoughts on alcohol? I'll drink to that ...

It is absolutely pointless being censorious about this national affection for celebrity boozers

Share
Related Topics

It is generally accepted that there are two types of drinker. On the one hand, there is the acceptable recreational tippler who lowers stress levels at the end of a busy day with stiffener or two. Then there is the unacceptable binger who punches people, or vomits or falls asleep in the gutter or has inappropriate sex on a Saturday night.

But now something rather surprising has been revealed. The division between the good boozer and the bad boozer is, it turns out, less clear-cut that had been assumed and has less to do with the amount of alcohol that is drunk than the social class of the person who drinks it. According to the Office of National Statistics, male professionals knock back an impressive 15.1 units a week, while men working in what is carefully described as "manual and routine" employment are on 11.6 units. Among professional women, 19 per cent had drunk "heavily" at least once during the previous week, compared to a mere 11 per cent in the manual and routine crowd.

These statistics, designed to make us all feel rather worse about ourselves, are something of an annual ritual and tend to be published at the key moment between Christmas and Lent when abstinence is in the air. Some of the assumptions on which is the survey is based seem distinctly suspect. That heavy drinking: how is it defined? For many of us, it would probably be the intake of a normal, quiet night. The statistic, reported in scandalised tones, that one in five men and one in 10 women drink at least five nights out of seven is equally unconvincing. Alcohol Concern has gravely announced, that "over the last 20 years, middle-class families particularly have moved alcohol from the fringe of their lives to the centre of it", but neither part of that claim, the innocent past and the corrupt present, seems entirely reliable.

The mood of self-mortification will soon pass. Once Lent is over and middle-class livers are under assault once more, the old, traditional division between good and bad drinking will re-assert itself among politicians and in the press. The truth is that, far from being ashamed or embarrassed about boozing, middle-class culture rather respects it.

The ONS statistic which reveals that, as a group, bosses and company directors out-drink all other professionals is not a reflection of the stress managers are under. Those at the top often drink because it is expected of them. For example, an unflattering light has recently been cast upon the Mayor of London, with allegations of financial dodginess, cronyism and a dangerous contempt for opponents, but the one charge which has caused King Ken least worry, and indeed might even earn him votes, is that he is an office boozer, sometimes knocking back whisky as early as 10am.

Like any politician, Mr Livingstone has scolded those binge-drinkers who give alcohol a bad name. He produces a regular Agenda for Action on Alcohol, listing the number of deaths caused by booze and the millions of pounds lost to the economy. Drink "exerts a heavy toll on individuals, families, communities, key public services and businesses", he has pointed out.

Good drinking, though, is just fine. The commentators, normally quick to carp about other forms of self-indulgence, have been amused and supportive. Our most cunning politician, Mr Livingstone sensed that, for many voters, his drinking at work would be endearing. He certainly was concerned about the amount he was drinking, he joked to one interviewer – it was nothing like enough.

The British like public figures who booze. A glass of whisky suggests power, strength. It was an essential part of Winston Churchill's image and did absolutely no harm to Margaret Thatcher's. The writer Jeffrey Bernard built his later career around sitting in a pub, drinking himself silly. The more unsteadily his columns weaved about the place, the more his readers liked it. Other famous drunks, notably Oliver Reed and George Best, have been regarded with an appalled affection by the British public. And in what other country would a TV character's serial alcoholism be the central joke of a sitcom or a drama as it was with Rab C Nesbitt and is with Shameless?

It is pointless being censorious about this national affection for celebrity boozers – in its way, it is a rare instance of national tolerance – but it sits rather oddly with the regular trills of horrified disapproval that attend the antics of the bingers, the bad boozers. King Ken is the perfect representative of this double standard, a middle-class manager who cheerfully and openly drinks whisky at work, even as he pronounces upon the terrible effects of alcohol on the binge-drinking common people.

The units, so carefully counted by concerned statisticians, turn out to be rather less important in this debate than our old friend, social snobbery.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker