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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 14:31 GMT

Drinks at the despatch box

Whisky: A popular Budget day tipple

It is the sort of product placement opportunity that advertising agencies dream of - a well known figure using your brand at a major public event avidly watched by millions.

But this is one endorsement that is not up for sale.

Speculation about what drink the chancellor will have at his side when he delivers his Budget is almost as much a part of parliamentary tradition as conjecture about the contents of his speech.

[ image: Gladstone: Egg and sherry cocktails]
Gladstone: Egg and sherry cocktails
Tradition dictates that this is the only occasion when alcohol is allowed in the chamber of the House of Commons. (Smoking has been completely banned since 1693.)

Benjamin Disraeli is said to have had a brandy with water as his despatch box tipple. His great Victorian rival, William Gladstone, preferred sherry with a beaten egg.

More recently, Denis Healey opted for brandy and water.

Geoffrey Howe sipped gin and tonic. Although fellow Tory Kenneth Clarke was known as a beer drinker he also favoured Scotch whisky (Glenfarclas) for his speeches.

Nigel Lawson drank a variety including Ashbourne Water and a mixture of wine and Malvern water.

Scotch in the box

[ image: Kenneth Clarke: Partial to a pint]
Kenneth Clarke: Partial to a pint
In 1993, Norman Lamont paid homage to his Scottish roots by choosing mineral water and Highland Park whisky both from Orkney.

However, so reluctant was he to be photographed carrying a Scotch bottle into Parliament that he put it in Gladstone's famous battered red Budget box.

This left no room for Mr Lamont's speech, which had to carried under the arm of the chancellor's then Parliamentary Private Secretary William Hague, the current Tory leader.

A Scotchless Scot

In the past two years it has been a case of new Labour, no liquor. Gordon Brown has delivered both his previous Budgets fuelled only by Highland Spring mineral water.

This has delighted the water company, but it believes this publicity results in added kudos rather than more units shifted.

[ image: Gordon Brown: No drinking on duty]
Gordon Brown: No drinking on duty
"We were thrilled when it came out he was drinking Highland Spring," says the firm's marketing director Liz Breckenridge.

"We have had very positive media coverage. It is wonderful for our image to have such a successful Scot associated with our Scottish water.

"You couldn't buy advertising like that. But I can't say it has had a noticeable effect on sales.

"For about six years we have sent out free water to the chancellor, the shadow chancellors, the other parties and the Speaker before the Budget. The speech can be quite lengthy.

"But we don't think that's why Mr Brown has it. We think it might just be the water he likes. Our understanding is he doesn't just drink at the Budget."

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