Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Classless Society

Labour MP, and former minister, Tom Watson has been talking out of his arse as seems to be the fashion amongst his comrades. Apparently the government has a million-pound wine cellar for official functions, which he seems to think can be replaced with £10 boxes from Asda. Because nothing says "classy" dinner to foreign dignitaries than a splitting hangover the next morning.

The scale of the wine cellar is actually rather reasonable. In 2009, the famous Parisian restaurant La Tour d'Argent (try the Pressed Duck) auctioned off 18,000 bottles in the hopes of raising $1m. Its collection at the time was 450,000 bottles - compared to a mere 39,500 with a value of £864k for the UK government. Note that that's about £20/bottle on average - not cheap but hardly excessive, since you'll pay that in most pubs (and even more if you buy it by the glass). The article notes that Government Hospitality, under the FCO buys vintage wine (and port and spirits) relatively cheaply by the case and lays them down to mature. I've no doubt that some of the Premier Cru Clarets bought cheaply last year will be truly amazing in 10-20 years - perhaps when Labour are back in power - and will do the job nicely. The job, of course, is buttering up the French (and anyone else who knows fine wine) at summits. It's hard to put a price on that, but it's a damn sight more than the cost of maintaining the cellar or however much might be raised by selling off the contents.

This is, of course, token politics at its worst. Labour have increased the national debt by close to a trillion pounds and are coming up with toy policies like this which would 'save', at best, one millionth of the debt they incurred. It's appalling. It's the economics of the crack-whore: sell anything and everything to get the next fix of state spending.

It's particularly insulting in that it's a pseudo-populist line - "ordinary people drink Asda wine, therefore it's good enough for the Prime Minister to give to other world leaders" - as if ordinary people, whatever those might be, think that all wine is the same. The working classes don't tend to drink wine, except maybe a bottle of Liebfraumilch with the turkey at Christmas, but that doesn't mean they don't understand that there are differences in quality. Everyone knows that there are cheap wines which will strip the limescale off your sink, and there are really good expensive wines that rich people drink, and there are some in between (but it's a bit fuzzy which is which). My hopelessly untrained palate can easily tell the difference between a bad Merlot, a good Claret, and a 1971 Lafite-Rothschild. I certainly can't afford to drink the latter, but even from the tiniest sip it's clearly superior. Either Tom Watson can't tell the difference, which I doubt unless he smokes a couple of packs a day, or he feels that - while he is cultured - the little people won't understand and therefore the government can be berated for 'lavish' spending. Patronising.

So, just remember, folks: if Tom Watson ever invites you to dinner, either the wine will be poor, or he's a hypocrite.

- KoW

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