Today in History: The time Bill English lost the election because he got carried away and had half a beer on St. Patrick’s Day

The Prime Minister’s unfortunate history with alcohol should be a lesson to us all this Saint Patrick’s Day.

The Prime Minister’s unfortunate history with alcohol should be a lesson to us all this Saint Patrick’s Day.

It was March of 2002.

Then-not-Prime Minister Bill English had only recently inherited the leadership of the National Party, having wrestled it from Jenny Shipley in a brutal and unforgiving game of lawn bowls.

His goal now was to do the improbable, and unseat a relatively composed first term Labour Government.

Everything was going somewhat to plan, until one fatal campaign misstep sent his career and his party into a state of total disarray.

English was seeking to raise his profile ahead of the election, and establish himself as a likable, no-nonsense country boy who would be an acceptable alternative to another three years of Labour.

Saint Patrick’s Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to mingle at some Christchurch bars and capture the attention of the all-important Irish Cantabrian bloc of swing-voters.

It couldn’t have gone worse.

What started out as a fairly regular evening devolved into debauchery after English was egged on to drink roughly half a light beer. At first he refused, cracking jokes with the locals that it would be a “bad look” for a future Prime Minister*.

(*How he knew that far in advance he’d accidentally inherit the job from John Key is still a contentious topic amongst Bill English historians)

After a while, though, the pressure began to build.

One drunk Irish local told English he was a “sissy” and another said “fuck you John English.”

Several  told the National leader they wouldn’t vote for him if he didn’t have a “cheeky wee chug” of the golden temptress.

Afraid of losing votes, English reluctantly spent the next two hours lightly sipping exactly half the watered-down extra light 1.3% alcohol beverage until he had completed it.

This was the first time he’d drunk alcohol in more than 30 years, and it went straight to his head.

English began laughing louder than he should’ve , told another man he was “dressed well” – which was roundly perceived as a homosexual comment – and ultimately ended up telling an off-colour joke that carried reference to urination.

When news broke in the media, conservative Christians were horrified with English’s behaviour, and abandoned him in droves.

English and the party were forced to apologise, but it was already too late; he had been condemned by every Christian church leader in the country, with the exception of Father George Beverly, who was later convicted of child molestation.

National wound up with a disastrous total of 20.9% of the vote, its lowest in history.

English won’t soon forget this mistake, and it’s likely why he’ll be spending this Saint Patrick’s Day inside with a bottle of grape juice and a family movie about a dog and the neat things it can do.