Brian Monteith: A knock-out blow to the booze price myth

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He is 51, his second marriage is on the rocks, he is accused of starting an affair with a 19-year-old before she could legally vote and he is facing charges of common assault for head-butting one Tory MP, punching another – and in case you think that’s okay – slugging a Labour Whip trying to restrain him.

Step forward Eric Joyce, Member of Parliament for Falkirk.

Despite all of the above I think we have reason to thank Eric Joyce, strange though it may seem and I would like to explain why.

Apparently it took five of the Met’s finest to restrain Joyce in the Strangers Bar, a pokey wee place I have had reason to frequent (always being a “stranger”) that would not be out of place on Great Junction Street or Dalry Road – it’s plain and simple an ordinary boozer.

Well, up to a point. The Strangers Bar is in the House of Commons and its booze is subsidised by us, the taxpayer. This means that its prices are cheaper than the bars outside like the Westminster Arms, the Three Chairmen, or my old haunt, the Marquis of Granby.

Firstly, for avoidance of doubt I’m not going to moralise about his personal life. We all have our faults – but that’s for Joyce to come to terms with.

Nor am I concerned about his pugilistic approach to debate. Frankly, I have often found at Westminster – with more than 600 MPs – that on any one day, or more likely the evening, there is one or more of our MPs ready and willing to take their jackets off to decide the merits of benefit cuts, tin mine closures or the location of the next London Airport. Scots have an especially bad reputation for this, which I’m sure has nothing to do with the majority of them being Labour MPs or a long way from home – but I could be wrong about this.

No. My interest is that the fracas happened at all. You see there is an argument being put about by our Scottish Government, a bunch of bullies that profess to know what’s good for us, that the reason some of us get drunk and cause a disturbance, maybe fighting, maybe worse, is because booze is too cheap.

Their targets are the supermarkets rather than the pubs, but then they have already decimated our community boozers by firstly banning smoking and then removing the ability to offer incentives such as a discount for lonely OAPs to have a cheap nip with their half pint on a cold Tuesday afternoon. If a pub in Scotland wants to offer such a deal it has to do so on a busy Friday night and the rest of the week too. Hence withdrawal of said offer and a community pub dies because the community stays at home and – you guessed it – drinks cheaper supermarket bevy. But no-one talks to each other.

Such nonsense has no connection to reality. It is borne of a dogmatism that refuses to take account of experience – never mind humanity.

Step forward Major Eric Joyce (Retired).

The point about the MP’s behaviour is that he is a relatively wealthy man. He earns an MP’s salary of £66,000 and he has recorded the highest expenses of an MP, including being the first MP to break the £1 million barrier in a year.

Way to go, Eric Joyce.

There is no doubt that Joyce could afford to imbibe at The Savoy and cut a fine figure and rub shoulders with the swankiest at the Ritz (so long as he does not wear jeans). The point is that price does not matter.

There are many poor people that get drunk and drink far too much. But it is not, I wager, their poverty that makes them drink – it’s their lack of opportunity, it’s the hard knocks they have taken, it’s the loss of a dear friend that has left them bereft – but it is not the price of the booze.

Likewise, heavy boozers that are poorer will find ways of getting alcohol – they always have – and people involved in bar room brawls will not think of the cost of a dram.

The lesson has to be that temptation is always before us and that the price of temptation is rarely about the cost – it is about the need.

If Eric Joyce got drunk and slugged it out with anyone that objected to his singing then he was as likely to do it at the Westminster Arms, the Three Chairmen or the Marquis of Granby.

If ordinary Scots get into a rammy from drinking too much on a Friday night it has little to do with the prices in the pub or the supermarket.

It has everything to do with our culture that says it’s all right to drink heavily, smash a few skulls and then be applauded as a hard man.

It’s the culture we need to change – not the prices. Thank you Eric Joyce. The most obsequious supporter of Tony Blair has served a purpose at last.