Tuesday, February 1

Drink up!

Just imagine if our glorious Prime Minister Tony Blair, addressing a group of school children, said "By all means get drunk once in a while." Think of the uproar would ensue ... and just how many "Outraged of Tunbridge Wells" would write to The Times to complain.

Well Tony Blair hasn't said this, and I would have thought one of his many focus groups would kill off any such statement quite quickly.

No, this rather stupid gaffe was instead made by the Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell. And, as usual when a politician comprehensively puts their foot in it, we now have the spin, the backtracks, the desperate defence and if it gets really bad, the insincere apologies. However, the response to McConnell's blunder is the following ... Even though he was speaking 1) At a secondary school 2) To an audience that appeared to include a large number of school pupils (if not a majority), his people claim that ... "He was talking in the context of adults binge drinking and irresponsible drinks promotions - which are for the over-18s."

I know politicians rarely adhere to this rule, but I understood that good public speaking involved tailoring the speech to the audience who would receive it, and certainly making sure that the message given would not be thoroughly inappropriate for those hearing it? McConnell, First Minister of the Scottish legislature, basically encouraged young people to break the law. Maybe his comments were aimed at the adults in the room, but the fact remains ... there were underage young people there, also listening and they also heard McConnell say "By all means get drunk once in a while." It doesn't appear that he specified who that suggestion was aimed at, so as far as the students know, the Scottish First Minister said it's ok to get drunk. What an example. What a role model. What great advice.

The only justification I can think of is this ... and even then it's a long shot; Perhaps McConnell thought that if he said this as a crusty, old, authoritarian politician person that it would destroy the coolness of binge drinking etc. and that all the kids would give it up immediately.

However, I doubt such a politically risky strategy would be employed by someone so prominent; I can only summise that this was a catastrophic, ill-thought out and badly managed PR disaster. What else will we decide it's fine for kids to do, as long as it's once in a while?

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