One image that runs through the whole Smeargate business is that of groups of exclusively male journos, politicos and others enjoying each others’ company while putting away copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. This might surprise some out in the provinces, but not me.
Why not? Well, among the cities that work has taken me to over the years is London. And you don’t have to be there for long to realise that there is a predominantly male drinking culture. In my line of business, it was thought of as a “City culture”, but as workers move between the Square Mile and other berths elsewhere in the capital on a regular basis, in effect it is universal. And this also applies to journalists – remember Private Eye’s caricature of Lunchtime O’Booze.
From hacks, it’s not such a great leap to the advisors and hangers on in the Westminster village. And it is here that much of the gossip that found its way into those emails germinated. Like a recreation of the legendary Monty Python “nudge nudge” sketch, Damian McBride would address his drinking chums as “Squire”. But there wouldn’t be any Breakaway biscuits.
That, for me, was the problem with after work drinks (the site where I worked, thankfully, had a no-alcohol policy), that it was straight to whatever liquid was on offer, without any interruption for food: a colleague once pitched the still memorable phrase “eating’s cheating” to me. Not that I’m averse to the odd pint or two of an evening, but the empty stomach beforehand. It’s not for mere show that a bar in central Madrid will serve you a tapa with your tipple, as I previously noted.
The discovery by more and more – usually but not exclusively male – workers in and around the City that by their mid-30s they have put their livers under severe strain will inevitably extend to the Westminster village. After all, it’s a similar culture, driven by the same drug. Nobody seeing Damian McBride, a prematurely corpulent and otherwise unhealthy mess, and learning that he is only in his thirties, should be surprised.
Unless they’re from out of town.