Leading Article: Drunk in charge of the nation

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The Independent Online
WELL, now. What was going on inside that Russian aeroplane while the Taoiseach waited on the tarmac? We know the official version: President Yeltsin delivered it himself on arrival in Moscow from Shannon. 'I can tell you honestly. I just overslept. Eighteen hours in flight and I had not slept much for such a long time before that. The security service did not let in the people who were due to wake me. Of course, I will sort things out and punish them.' A nice touch, the last bit. But people will talk: the President does have this reputation for being 'fond of the bottle', as the phrase has it. An alternative scenario to slumber has been canvassed, entailing Cossack dancers, choruses of Kalinka and glasses being hurled into whatever serves for a fireplace on an Ilyushin-62. Does it matter? No, so long as the bottle is not too close to the button, goes the cynical reply.

It could go further. Have our legislators ever been entirely and universally sober since the Mother of Parliaments first convened? Probably not. Nor is it that new, despite Alfred's claim to have been lost in affairs of state when he burnt the cakes (don't even ask about Ethelred). Do sober rulers make for better government? Churchill functioned with a prodigious intake; so did Stalin. George Brown's example (above) would argue that it finds out weakness. Consider, too, the alternatives. Hitler was a mineral water man. American presidents have tended to more vigorous personal habits to little noticeable advantage. The achievements of Morarji Desai have failed to encourage daily urine drinking, although it must be said that, aged 98, he remains vigorous and healthy. One last thing: did Yeltsin know that Shannon Airport is where they invented Irish coffee, and should he have been told?

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