Earlier today David Cameron announced new plans to tackle the “scandal” of the UK’s binge drinking problem.A valiant move, but a little amusing given Cameron’s own dalliance with the world of binge drinking.
You see, during his time at Oxford University Cameron was a member of the exclusive and aristocratic Burlingdon Club.
The club is thought to have been founded in the 18th century and has a wild reputation (check this headline from a 1913 New York Times article: “Bullingdon Club Too Lively For Prince Of Wales”).
It’s most notable social events involved renting a room at a restaurant or bar (under an assumed name to avoid suspicion), turning up in extremely formal dress and then drinking as much as possible and wrecking the establishment.
The group reportedly did pay for the privilege of smashing up the restaurant, but you can understand why it didn’t endear them.
In 2007 a photograph from 1984 of a young David Cameron, in full formal gear, circulated. The BBC reports that the photo (which can no longer be published for copyright reasons, but still appears in this Telegraph article) showed Cameron and other UK future UK Conservative figures (Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson) in “their £1,000 ($1,500) uniforms of blue ties, tails and biscuit-coloured waistcoats”.
Cameron has refused to talk about his membership of the club, but it’s safe to say that he drank a lot, probably in a manner that could be described as “binge drinking”.
Or could it? The difference between Cameron’s past drinking and the binge drinking that costs up to £22 billion ($34 billion) every year sometimes seems to differ in one important aspect — class.
Here’s another example: Many European and Americans who visit a British pub have been left confused when a bell rings in a at 11pm and they are expected to finish their drinks and leave.
Attempts to liberalize pubs drinking hours in the UK in 2005 (opposed by the Conservatives) were swiftly denounced as a failure and the Conservative government has slowly been working to claw back what little concessions were made.
The 11pm closing time had been in place since 1915, when opening hours for British pubs were restricted to 12:00 to 14:40 and 18:30 to 21:30, largely in an attempt to keep factory workers sober during the war effort.
The upper classes, however, didn’t care. They were, and still are, members of the UK’s network of private members clubs, which are not affected by licensing laws.
So far, the British government’s paternalistic, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach doesn’t seem to have worked, and Cameron’s new plan — which seems to revolve mostly around making alcohol more expensive so poor people can’t drink so much of it — doesn’t seem to be anything different.
As Guido Fawkes put it last month (emphasis ours):
“Minimum alcohol pricing won’t affect champagne drinkers, it will hit those on lower incomes. Again.”
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