Ex-Home Office Minister spills the beans about UK drugs policy and is shouted down by all the party leaders, now whoever would have expected that to happen?
Following on from the underhanded way the hugely important changes to the composition of the government’s advisory body the ACMD were tacked onto a bill before Parliament in order to allow the new drugs strategy to be slipped into place without creating too much attention (read about it here), it didn’t really come as much of a surprise that there was a total rejection of the comments from MP Bob Ainsworth this week to the effect that prohibition had failed and that we should look at a different regime. Bob Ainsworth used to be in charge of UK drugs policy under Tony Blair’s government and so is in an ideal position to know the truth about the effectiveness of prohibition both as a domestic and foreign policy.
Politicians can often be found wringing their collective hands wondering why people regard them as lower than second hand car salesmen or even estate agents, you really don’t have to look much further than Bob Ainsworth to understand the roots of this contempt. It is only now that he is no longer in government he feels able to tell the truth about the utter failure of UK drug prohibition in the way he did last week, all the time he could actually have influenced things he kept his head down, toed the party line and went along with a policy he knew was a disaster.
But at least he has said what he said and it’s far better late than never.
What Mr Ainsworth has said, if you missed it, is that
…prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.
A full account of his position can be seen on the Transform blog, but in essence it blew the lid on the deception that is UK drugs policy.
Bob Ainsworth came out with this now because the new drugs “strategy” was released last week which, as this blog commented, is not really any different from previous regimes in that it’s based on prohibition; the idea that you can tell adults what they can’t to do to themselves in private and expect them to obey.
After 40 or so years since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was imposed on the country drug use is greater than ever, the age of induction is lower than ever and the drugs are generally cheaper than ever. It is hard indeed to think of any measure which indicates prohibition can be regarded as anything like a success.
The reaction from the establishment was perhaps predictable and immediate. Sadly the new leader of Labour Ed Milliband blew his first big chance of showing himself capable of independent thought and joined in the furious criticism of someone who dared to mention the lack of clothing on the Emperor. What was perhaps not so predictable was the public reaction to his comments, which was, broadly speaking very positive. The well known pro-drugs Daily Mail run a story headed “Ex Minster condemned as ‘irresponsible’ by party for drugs u-turn (here)
Labour leader Ed Miliband moved swiftly to distance themselves from the MP’s ‘irresponsible’ ideas’. ‘Bob’s views do not reflect Ed’s views, the party’s view or indeed the view of the vast majority of the public,’ added a spokesman.
A party source described the legalisation proposal as ‘extremely irresponsible’, adding: ‘I don’t know what he was thinking.’
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought Mr Ainsworth’s ideas merited consideration, David Cameron’s spokesman said simply: ‘No.’ He added: ‘The Government is not in favour of legalisation of drugs because we don’t think it is the right approach. Drugs cause a lot of harm in society and we don’t think legalising them would be consistent with minimising that harm.’
Release summed it up nicely with a comment headed “Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he pledged not to do so…” Release observed:
It would be insulting to think that politicians do not see the benefits and the basic logic behind an evidenced based framework. What is equally patronising is the view that the public would not also see the benefits of such an approach.
Actually there are signs they already have, the public feedback was far from condemning and a poll run along with the Mail’s item which asked “should drugs be decriminalised” came out as 76% in favour – this is the Daily Mail for heavens sake.The BBC News Have Your Say asked the question “Should heroin and cocaine be legalised?” and the 13 pages of comments were again largely supportive.
Indeed, it is hard to find any forum where people are allowed to comment which supports the Labour party’s unnamed “source” claim that the calls for change are not supported by “the vast majority of the public”. Fact is we’ve never really been asked in any meaningful way which would involve telling us the truth about the effectiveness or otherwise of the current prohibition policy. The drug war is presumed to be massively popular and something which no government would ever dare consider changing, that is clearly not true any more, if it ever really was.
Of course there have been voices in support of the present madness. Take for example Toby Young in the Telegraph with his item headed “Don’t legalise cannabis”, his logic for keeping the criminal law is that
There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting down to dinner with a group of close friends. But the moment they bring out their “stash” of cannabis you know it’s time to leave. As soon as the smoke passes their lips they’re incapable of making an intelligent remark. One minute they’re arguing heatedly about whether Avatar was a genuine breakthrough in modern filmmaking, the next they’re re-living their favourite moments from Animal House. Before long they’re bringing out old copies of Whizzer and Chips and wondering what became of The Magic Roundabout.
and such facts as
Booze may have killed-off some of the greatest writers of this century – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Lowry – but it didn’t prevent them from creating great novels. The only literature inspired by cannabis is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. I’ve been in a room of Oxbridge graduates who’ve spent the entire evening communicating in nothing but animal noises. Only cannabis can do this because cannabis destroys the parts that alcohol cannot reach.
Or perhaps – also from the Telegraph – Simon Heffer with his item headed “Get tough on drugs, don’t legalise them”
In other words, if you seek to undermine what Mr Ainsworth correctly calls the “gangsters” by reducing their ability to make money from drugs, they will simply find another commodity to exploit. Nature abhors a vacuum, and criminals used to idling for a living on a huge income are not suddenly going to get jobs stacking shelves in Tesco.
Interesting logic that, there are all these money making scams around which criminals are ignoring because they are too busy dealing drugs, if we took the illegal drug trade away form them, the criminals would move into all these untapped areas of opportunity. It is, of course, utter rubbish to suppose any money making scam isn’t already being exploited to the full by criminals – they are already doing insurance scams, trafficking people and so on. Removing the drug trade from the underworld would deny it a huge source of income which simply could not be replaced.
It’s tempting to conclude that the prohibition lobby is very much on the defensive, which means that anyone who dares to speak out has to be quickly shouted down, a logical fact based debate is something that simply can’t be allowed to happen.
More than that though we would seem to be at something of a T junction. The option of simply carrying on as before isn’t regarded as realistic by anyone, so either we move toward drug control through proper regulation or we dive deeper into ever more hardline prohibition. If the debate we’ve seen on forums around the media this week is in any way representative, they are the only two options available. Thus far the government has shown it favours ever more repression based on prohibition and at a time of severe cuts in essential services the Home Office announced the drug war is being gifted £125 million
As part of the drug interventions programme the £125 million will fund work across England and Wales for drug testing, managing drug misusing offenders and drug testing equipment and infrastructure.
Well, who needs education, public housing, libraries – at least the war on drugs is being funded. The true nature of this government is becoming only too clear, if only there were an effective opposition.
Happy Christmas, 2011 is unlikely to be dull