Word reaches Steerpike of a dastardly plot to rob MPs of their favourite watering hole. The Strangers' Bar is located in the heart of the Palace of Westminster and has been plying honourable members with subsidised booze for generations. But now parliamentary bosses are feared to be considering the closure or dramatic overhaul of Strangers, under the pretext of Covid.
It follows a string of scandals at the establishment including the infamous Eric Joyce assault in 2012, with one Westminster regular muttering to Mr S darkly that 'a faction of men in tights want to kill it.' Other boozers to have bitten the dust in recent years include Bellamy's and Annie's Bar off central lobby while the legendary Sports and Social has been revamped from its spit and sawdust roots to instead resemble a naff 80s wine bar.
While Mr S understands there are currently no plans to change Strangers' existing operation, hacks are already getting jumpy at the prospect of losing the beloved bar which is set to remain closed until 21 June. The Sun's plugged-in political editor Harry Cole sounded the alarm on Saturday, appearing on the BBC's Week in Westminster to issue this stark warning:
“With Covid it feels a little bit to me like there's a movement towards trying to shut down some of the more nefarious venues in the House of Commons... the Strangers' bar hasn't obviously reopened, ominously post-Covid. It is not the most Covid compliant of venues, I don't think you could ever socially distance in there except perhaps on 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a quiet Thursday but the rest of the time it's absolutely rammed so there are fears that the Parliament deep state might be trying to kill a few of these favourite spots and make it all table service and one way and forever. They quite like regulations and rules and give them an inch, they'll take a mile.
Speculation is rife that a renovation could turn Strangers' into a Pugin Room 2.0 with sit-down only service. The House of Commons Commission has previously shown an enthusiasm for overhauling Westminster's drinking culture, having adopted a range of measures to 'promote responsible alcohol consumption.'
These include training staff to refuse to serve customers when necessary, increasing the range of non-alcoholic drinks and lower strength beers and discouraging MPs from drinking in offices after closure – the last of which Mr S understands has gone out of the window during the pandemic.
Losing Strangers would likely just mean Members and their entourage move 200 metres down the road to another of Westminster's already overcrowded pubs instead. After a year of Covid, have the poor MPs not suffered enough?