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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 13:00 GMT
The politics of drinking in power
Winston Churchill
Up for it - make it a double
Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy went public with the admission he needed professional help with his drinking problem.

He joins a long list of British politicians known for hitting the bottle - though not all have seen it as a problem.

The war-time leader Winston Churchill is said to have had quite an appetite for brandy and champagne.

And he was as specific as Bond when it came to martinis, reportedly advising mixers to glance at the vermouth bottle then pour the gin freely.

Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me
Winston Churchill

Wobbling through the Commons he once encountered MP Bessie Braddock who accused him of being drunk to which he famously retorted:

"Yes, madam, I am drunk. But in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly."

When the chief Mormon in a group invited to Churchill's seat of Chartwell observed: "Mr Churchill, the reason I do not drink is that alcohol combines the kick of the antelope with the bite of the viper", he is said to have replied: "All my life, I have been searching for a drink like that."

In his later years, Churchill continued to be unfazed by his reputation as a drinker, saying: "Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."

A bit 'squiffy'

When over-consumption of alcohol meant you were a "heavy drinker" - a rather more euphemistic term than the clinical "alcoholic" - running the nation's affairs whilst well-lubricated appeared to be something to be discreetly ignored or at least pushed under the Persian.

Prime Minister Herbert "squiffy" Asquith used to sway on his feet when speaking or answering questions in the House of Commons.

For God's sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country
Reginald Maudling [on N Ireland]

He even became the muse of a ditty writer during World War I, when "Mr Asquith says in a manner sweet and calm: Another little drink won't do us any harm," wafted through the music halls.

William Pitt the Younger habitually drank several bottles of port a day, said to have been prescribed by his physician, and former chancellor Reginald Maudling's death was hastened by his drinking.

On his first visit to Northern Ireland as home secretary, Maudling declared: "For God's sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country."

Former Deputy Prime Minister George Brown was also known for being "tired and emotional" in office.

Feeling a bit squiffy?

Former Chancellor Lord Healey commented: "I had to work with him because I was defence secretary at the time when he was foreign secretary and we arranged that we would meet once a week for an hour.

"I found I had to have the meetings before 12 in the morning because otherwise there was the risk that George would be the worse for drink. It was a very, very serious problem with him."

However, while many MPs may have carried alcohol into the chamber internally, the chancellor is the only member of the House officially permitted to consume alcohol in the chamber.

A drink is allowed during the delivery of the budget speech, though not all have taken advantage of the rule.

Kenneth Clarke drank Scotch whisky and Geoffrey Howe gin and tonic, while John Major drank mineral water - as did Gordon Brown during his first budget.



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