Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 30 November 2009

What is Nadine Dorries on?

Nadine Dorries, the controversial MP for Mid-Bedfordshire has been tweeting again. Yesterday she decided to try and tackle an issue that I have covered many times on here, drugs policy. Here were her first couple of tweets:



So she was trying to rebut Norman Lamb's comments about alcohol being more dangerous than some currently illegal drugs (the same point that Professor Nutt made backed up with evidence before he was sacked recently) by saying that she has never seen booze being sold at a school gate unlike presumably illegal drugs. Firstly, just because she has never seen it does not mean it does not happen. Indeed Jason Lower was quickly able to find this news story about older children selling alcohol to younger children at the school gate from the Daily Mail a few years back and tweeted it back to Nadine. No response. Secondly, there was no engagement from Nadine in response to the many tweets that people sent back to her asking how much this problem of drugs being sold to youngsters was exacerbated by the fact that the drugs are illegal.

She then went on to make the preposterous point:


At this point I could stands no more and I tweeted back:



Her implication that it is only illegal drugs that cause problems and wind people up in prison is off in cloud cuckoo-land somewhere. Maybe the same place where nuclear weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.

j_alcoholfree pretty quickly dealt with her claim via this tweet:


The link is to a BBC report from 2007 which reports the findings of an Alcohol Concern survey of prisoners.

Nadine continued:


All things caused by the illegality of drugs, not the drugs themselves. Nadine should perhaps study American history between 1919 and 1933 to find out what happened over there when alcohol was made illegal. She would find that all the pernicious effects that occur due to drug prohibition in the UK at the moment happened there as a direct result of that policy.

She then moved onto her thoughts about what to do:


I'm also not sure how an increase in methadone scripts proves that abstinence rehab works. All that proves is more scripts are being given out. However I would just draw her attention to the fact that in 1970 there were 2,000 heroin addicts. Now there are over 200,000 under the current drugs laws. Also, the figure she quotes is how much it has cost over 10 years, not one year. Despite many people tweeting this to her she has not corrected this figure.



So it looks like Nads' solution to the failing "War on Drugs" is to fight the war harder and send out a strong message to all users. In other words rather than accept that this is a "war" that can never be won she wants to spend even more money trying to fight it and "sending out a message". Er, but hang on a minute, isn't that what governments of both stripes have been trying for 40 years? Brace yourselves for more of the same from a potential Tory government...

Her comment about rehabilitation orders is about the only good thing she says. I am not sure about them being compulsory though. After all, an addict will only get clean when he or she is ready so Nadine's talk of compulsion could easily be throwing good money after bad.


As El_Cuevro tweeted, HM Prison Service says that 33% of female prisoners are in for drug offences. Nadine's figure of 100% can only be because she must have visited a drug offenders institution. So I am not sure what point she is trying to make other than to imply that all offenders are in for drugs offences which is blatantly untrue.

All in all this was a dispiriting Twitter session for me and I suspect everyone else who tried to engage with her. She did tweet a couple of responses to people towards the end but the ignorance of one of our members of parliament on this issue made me want to weep.

For someone who so clearly wants to keep drugs illegal she seems to be in very real danger of making the opposite argument. I would suggest that she researches this issue more carefully before wading into the public arena with ill-founded statements like these.

Barbara Ellen's double standards

I read this article in the Guardian yesterday with a deep sense of unease. Barbara Ellen is essentially arguing that Madeleine Martin, the 39 year old RE-teacher who was recently jailed for 32 months for having an affair with a 15 year old male pupil should not be treated the same as a male teacher would be in similar circumstances.


Barbara's argument seems to be that boys at 15 are "up for it" and having sex with a 39 year old woman for them would be seen as a conquest whereas for a 15 year old girl to have sex with a 39 year old man would be very damaging for them.

This seems to me dismissive of the harm that cam be caused to boys in this sort of situation. just because they might be "up for it" does not mean that they would not be emotionally damaged by having an affair like this.

Anyway, I was going to do a longer post but the comments below the article do a pretty comprehensive job of pulling apart Ms Ellen's arguments so I will instead direct you to them.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Why Iain Dale is wrong about Zac Goldsmith

Numerous bloggers (including plenty of Lib Dems) have commented on the story in the Sunday Times today that Tory Richmond Park PPC Zac Goldsmith is a non-dom and currently avoids UK income tax.


Iain Dale has had a crack at a defence of Mr Goldsmith. In a blogpost entitled "Tofftastic" he says:

There was lots of sanctimonious guff on Twitter from assorted lefties last night about the Sunday Times story that Zak Goldsmith is a 'non dom'. They even tried to suggest that he should resign as a candidate or David Cameron should sack him. Er, on what grounds exactly? What law has he broken? Yup, that's right, none. His tax status is a matter between him and the tax authorities. If they are satisfied with it, it's rather difficult to see why Kerry McCarthy (for it is she) shouldn't be. In any case, Goldsmith has decided to withdraw from 'non dom' status before the election so that's rather spiked the guns of those who seek to do him down.

I'm afraid that that is just not good enough. Whilst Mr Goldsmith has indeed not broken any laws, what Iain is ignoring is how important it is that politicians are affected by the same rules that govern ordinary people. This was one of the big issues that the expenses scandal threw up that MPs were not subject to the same sort of scrutiny regarding expenses as the rest of us and Iain knows very well just how well the defence of "it was within the rules" went down there. If Mr Goldsmith has not been subject to the same tax laws as the vast majority of UK citizens then surely he has put himself in a similar category at least in the eyes of the average taxpayer.

Iain's claim that Zac's decision to withdraw from non-dom status before the election has "spiked the guns" of those who are questioning this cuts no ice with me. Reverting to domestic status at the last minute just before an election where to do otherwise would be politically suicidal does not spike anyone's guns.

I met Zac at an event we were both speaking at a couple of months ago which I blogged about here. He is a very charismatic and charming man and he has some very good, strongly held views about the environment. I liked him on a personal level and I could not really find much that he said politically that I disagreed with either. Indeed I think the Parliamentary Conservative Party would be a much better place if they had lots more MPs like him. However this revelation is immensely damaging to his campaign. It has nothing to do with the "Toff" tag as Iain is trying to imply with the title of his post and everything to do with a sense of fair play.

As Paul Walter mentioned in his blogpost on this, Mr Goldsmith's own website points out that "Zac grew up in Richmond and went to school in Richmond. He has lived in Richmond most of his life." I think many in Richmond will struggle to reconcile that statement with his tax status. You can't credibly play the local card if you don't pay tax in this country.

I think Susan Kramer's chances of retaining her seats for the Lib Dems in Richmond Park just got a lot better.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Why do Boots stock homeopathic "remedies"?

It has long been a source of confusion to me that Boots stock homeopathic "remedies". There is no evidence that homeopathy has any effect beyond placebo and it has been tested many, many times.


On the always excellent Pod Delusion podcast this week (declaration of interest, I sometimes contribute to it myself) Andy Wilson of the Merseyside Skeptics Society read out in full an open letter that the society has drafted directed to Alliance Boots. The letter makes a strong argument for why in their view Boots really should not be stocking homeopathic products.

I have reproduced the letter in full here but their site is well worth a visit for the blog and podcast sections.

An Open Letter to Alliance Boots

The Boots brand is synonymous with health care in the United Kingdom. Your website speaks proudly about your role as a health care provider and your commitment to deliver exceptional patient care. For many people, you are their first resource for medical advice; and their chosen dispensary for prescription and non-prescription medicines. The British public trusts Boots.

However, in evidence given recently to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, you admitted that you do not believe homeopathy to be efficacious. Despite this, homeopathic products are offered for sale in Boots pharmacies – many of them bearing the trusted Boots brand.

Not only is this two-hundred-year-old pseudo-therapy implausible, it is scientifically absurd. The purported mechanisms of action fly in the face of our understanding of chemistry, physics, pharmacology and physiology. As you are aware, the best and most rigorous scientific research concludes that homeopathy offers no therapeutic effect beyond placebo, but you continue to sell these products regardless because “customers believe they work”. Is this the standard you set for yourselves?

The majority of people do not have the time or inclination to check whether the scientific literature supports the claims of efficacy made by products such as homeopathy. We trust brands such as Boots to check the facts for us, to provide sound medical advice that is in our interest and supply only those products with a demonstrable medical benefit.

We don’t expect to find products on the shelf at our local pharmacy which do not work.

Not only are these products ineffective, they can also be dangerous. Patients may delay seeking proper medical assistance because they believe homeopathy can treat their condition. Until recently, the Boots website even went so far as to tell patients that “after taking a homeopathic medicine your symptoms may become slightly worse,” and that this is “a sign that the body’s natural energies have started to counteract the illness”. Advice such as this directly encourages patients to wait before seeking real medical attention, even when their condition deteriorates.

We call upon Boots to withdraw all homeopathic products from your shelves. You should not be involved in the sale of ineffective products, because your customers trust you to do what is right for their health. Surely you agree that your commitment to excellent patient care is better served by supplying only those products whose claims can be substantiated by rigorous scientific research? Or do you really believe that Boots should be in the business of selling placebos to the sick and the injured?

The support lent by Boots to this quack therapy contributes directly to its acceptance as a valid medical treatment by the British public, acceptance it does not warrant and support it does not deserve. Please do the right thing, and remove this bogus therapy from your shelves.

Yours sincerely,
Merseyside Skeptics Society

53% of people can name their MP

The BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) has published some research today as part of their "Savvy Citizens" campaign which aims to help people get more from Information Technology.


They conducted a survey which asks various questions. The one that they clearly think is the most headline grabbing is the fact that:

Shockingly, just 53% of Britons can name their MP

Of course I wish it were higher but is that really so shocking? We know that the turnout at the last general election was only just over 60% and that in each seat usually less than 50% of those actually voted for the MP. We also know how few people take an active interest in party politics. Viewed in that way it could actually be seen as encouraging that more than half of UK citizens can name their MP.

There is some other interesting information in the survey:
  • 83% want information about government and public services to be more freely available
  • 48% have visited their local council’s website
  • 31% have signed an on-line petition
  • Only 5% are members of on-line discussion boards
As an IT professional myself it is encouraging to see the BCS taking an interest in these sort of stats relating to politics and people's engagement with it through IT.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 26th November 2009 - #bbcqt

It's #bbcqt day again and as usual the Live Chat on this blog will start tonight at 10:30pm.

For the second time in four weeks the panel will not include a Lib Dem. This has caused someconsternation in the Lib Dem blogosphere, especially as Jo Swinson was dropped at 48 hours notice and in the week that the Iraq Inquiry has started (of course the Lib Dems were the only one of the three largest parties to oppose the war). Caron has commented on it and Liberal Revolution had a couple of posts (here and here) as well.

The panel will however include the Labour peer Lord Falconer, the former shadow home secretary David Davis, the Deputy First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, the columnist Melanie Phillips and the comedian Marcus Brigstocke.

Join us from 10:30pm below.



Wednesday, 25 November 2009

House of Comments podcast - Episode 5

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion political blog is now live. The website for the podcasts is here and the fifth episode which we recorded on Tuesday 24th Nov is available to download via this page here (raw mp3 file here if you prefer). You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here.

The format as usual is to invite one or two other political bloggers each week and discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

This week, we were joined by Charlotte Gore, and Constantly Furious. We discussed hung parliaments, cyberlockers, sawn-off shotguns and blog regulation.

Lord Digby Jones wants to legalise drugs

It always amazes me how sensible the views of government ministers can be once they leave office.


Lord Digby Jones who until a year ago was Minister of State for Trade is a good example. After leaving the government he was quoted as saying that his time as a junior minister was "one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences" anyone could have. Perhaps his comments last night on Newsnight reveal part of why this might have been as it is clear that Lord Jones favours legalisation of drugs which as we know is anathema to our current government.

Lord Jones was asked as part of the "Politics Pen" segment for ways to reduce spending and/or raise more taxes. He could have chosen anything. Here is what he said:

It’s a time for desperate measures because we are in desperate times. I would legalise prostitution. I would regulate it and out of it I would produce billions of pounds of revenue. I could also appoint a working party to look at a form of legalisation, regulation, clinically clean up and taxation of drugs, in a form. (My emphasis)

He also suggested a flat tax as his final point.

OK, so he hedged it a little bit with appointing a working party (although this sort of approach is sensible and probably necessary to ensure it was done in the best way) and used the words "in a form" or "at a form" twice (old obfuscatory habits clearly die hard) but there is no mistaking what he is saying. There is no fundamental reason in his view why drugs cannot be legalised. It would just come down to the details of how exactly this was done. Good on him for speaking out like this.

So the next time a government minister tries to paint the idea of legalisation and regulation of drugs as a far out, wacky idea on the margins, just remember that the eminently sensible and mainstream Lord Jones (former DG of the CBI and Knight of the Realm) was until recently a member of the government and he doesn't think so.

Then ask yourself how many more in our government actually agree with him but cannot speak out because of the straitjacket of collective responsibility.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

What will David Cameron do about Andy Coulson now?

I was going to do a more detailed post on the Andy Coulson/bullying case but Anthony Painter has pretty much said what I was going to here.


All I would add to what Anthony has said is that tribunals don't usually give out £800,000 for nothing and David Cameron needs to think very carefully about the message that his potential action (or inaction) about Mr Coulson regarding this could send out.

Mark Reckons is one year old

Yesterday, this blog passed a milestone. It is now a year since I did my first blogpost as a Lib Dem on here. It was about the BNP leaked membership list by the way and was entitled "BNP List - My Thoughts" and according to my analytics, 4 people read it.


I'm happy to say that the readership has picked up a bit since then and I am very grateful to the more than 40,000 people who have visited this blog in its first year reading over 80,000 pages. The idea that I would get so many people visiting and reading my posts would have seemed improbable to me a year ago and I would also like to thank everyone who has linked to me, tweeted links to me etc. in the last year.

My top 5 posts out of the almost 600 that I have done since I started are:

  1. MPs Expenses and safe seats correlation - update / Has our electoral system contributed to the MPs expenses scandal? (I've lumped these two together as they were on the same subject. These posts were what started getting me widespread attention from the blogosphere and some in the mainstream media)
  2. I attended Andrew MacKay's meeting and I think his position is now untenable
  3. "Commentariat vs Bloggertariat" event review - #eiblogger
  4. Fascinating research into public perception of the drugs issue
  5. Daniel Hannan's opponents are using playground tactics

Cheers!

(Hattip to Aquafornia for the picture. That was their actual first birthday cake for their blog last year! I might buy one later if I get the chance...).

Monday, 23 November 2009

John Redwood's high handed arrogance

Following yesterday's poll which suggested the Conservatives might only have a 6% lead over Labour, there is a lot of talk about hung parliaments.

John Redwood has blogged about this today. He starts his post with some very sensible comments about this showing that the Conservatives cannot take victory for granted and emphasising the size of the task that faces them.

However towards the end of his piece he demonstrates the sort of arrogance that I sometimes see from members of the parties (Conservatives and Labour) that benefit hugely from our rotten First Past the Post system. He had already mentioned that UKIP and the Greens were on 3% each in the poll. He then says:

What these polls also show is that UKIP and the Greens are unlikely to win any seats. Their prospective voters can back their chosen cause, or they can vote for either Labour or the Conservatives to help choose the government. If they do the former they will have to accept whatever others decide to do.

Now I like reading John Redwood's blog. He is a very thoughtful and thought provoking commentator. I don't always agree with what he says of course but he is very capable of making compelling arguments and is very well informed on numerous issues including the economy. These comments I have quoted from him however are arrogant and beneath him. There is no attempt to address the underlying unfairness that the fact that a party may get 3% of the vote and 0% of the seats, just an attempt to get these supporters to vote for one of the two main parties. That approach is completely disenfranchising and the worst sort of "vote for the least worst option of the two main parties rather than who you actually agree with" tactics.

In the European elections a few months ago, UKIP got 16.5% of the votes and came second both in terms of vote share and number of seats. This is the sort of thing that happens when there is a system that allows a fairer share of seats allocated for the votes. One of the main reason that many of the voters who vote for UKIP in the European elections do not at national elections is because they know they cannot win! The First Past the Post system has such a high barrier to entry that even a party which has demonstrated very strong breadth and depth of support at national level, coming second in a national election cannot get a single seat in a Westminster election. And John Redwood thinks that all this tells us is that people should vote for either Labour or the Conservatives. Not that our electoral system is utterly broken.

If people want to vote for UKIP or the Greens at the next election they should damn well vote for them and ignore the overtures of people like Mr Redwood.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Why we should not be afraid of a hung parliament

With the latest Ipsos MORI poll for The Observer showing a reduced Conservative lead to only 6% (Con 37%, Labour 31%, LD 17%) talk of a potential hung parliament has reared its head again.

Indeed if these figures are put into the UK Polling Report swing calculator then we get the following:


So, the Conservatives would be only 2 seats ahead of Labour as the largest party but 38 seats short of an overall majority.

Before I continue I will just caveat that this is the narrowest lead for the Tories for almost a year and it could turn out to be a blip or an outlier. It is possible that Labour got a fillip from its recent by-election victory and that the polling numbers will return to within the range of the more typical recent trend in the next week or two (i.e. over a 10% gap).

However, for the purposes of the rest of this blogpost I want to discuss the practicalities of a hung parliament and what that might mean for the Lib Dems, seeing as various other bloggers, pundits and commentators are speculating on this today following this poll.

I have seen comment along the lines of "Lib Dems have most to fear from a hung parliament". Indeed Andrew Rawnsley writing in the Observer today on this subject says:

The prospect induces a jostle of emotions: a rare sensation of hope for Labour people, a creeping dread within Tories and a combination of both thrill and terror among Lib Dems.

Later in the same article he says:

For the Liberal Democrats, a hung parliament is usually seen as a dream scenario which would elevate Nick Clegg from also-ran to kingmaker with the power to choose the government with a twitch of his thumb. It would not work out like that. A hung parliament could as easily be a total nightmare for the Lib Dems. Imagine that the Conservatives have the most seats. Even if the Tories were interested in a coalition with the Lib Dems, the Conservatives are implacably opposed to electoral reform, the sine qua non if Mr Clegg were to try to sell a Lib-Con pact to his party. It is most likely that David Cameron would form a minority government, produce a Queen's Speech and a first budget, probably one full of cuts suggested by Vince Cable, and then dare the Lib Dems to defy the will of the electorate and look "irresponsible" by voting it down. This approach to governing without a majority has worked well for Alex Salmond's SNP government in Edinburgh. Cameron would likely try to copy Harold Wilson. He governed for a short period after 1964, when Labour got a very small majority, and after February 1974, when Labour did not have a majority at all, and then went for a second election to seek a stronger position.

I'm afraid I don't buy this "nightmare scenario" for the Lib Dems. A hung parliament is the sort of scenario that the Lib Dems been waiting for for years. It would finally give us a chance to wield some real power and exert our influence on policy and politics in a way that had been denied to us previously.

Let's have a quick rattle through the scenarios and see how they could all result in a "win" for us. I am going to assume for the purposes of this that the votes and seats are as outlined above.

1) In this scenario the combination of the Lib Dems with either of the two main parties would produce a workable majority. This would be the point of maximum leverage as we could negotiate with both Labour and the Conservatives. For me and I suspect many of my party colleagues the sticking point would be a commitment to a referendum on electoral reform. Labour may go for this, (although I am sure Brown would have to go as Rawnsley suggests elsewhere in his article as a pre-condition) although I accept that propping up a Labour administration would be very fraught. However if this was the price of getting the holy grail of a referendum on electoral reform then it may be that my party considered it worthwhile.

2) Another option is to go with trying to forge a coalition with the Conservatives. It may be very difficult to get them to accept the price of a referendum on electoral reform as part of the deal given their implacable opposition to this. However it is not impossible. The referendum could be proposed with the agreement that the different parties could campaign for or against it. Just declaring a referendum need not imply that they wish for the change to be implemented. It would simply be giving the people the option and allowing the debate to take place. Even this might be too much for the Conservatives of course but it is at least an option that could be explored.

3) If neither of the above scenarios come to pass then the other option is for the largest party (in this case the Conservatives) to form a minority government. In this situation they would require the support of at least another 38 MPs each time they wanted to pass a bill so the Lib Dems would be well placed to provide this voting block and would likely have their views taken into account as part of the legislative drafting process. The idea that Cameron could try to corner the Lib Dems as Rawnsley suggests above I do not think is likely to work. It would be perfectly reasonable for us to support the things we agree with and oppose those we do not. If that meant voting down a Queen's Speech (if we were forced into that position) then so be it.

I think scenario 3 is most likely and I do just want to finally explore a potential unintended consequence of it that I have not seen discussed anywhere else.

If Cameron was to form a minority government and then have to use all his political and diplomatic skills to try and govern like this by convincing enough non-Conservative MPs each time he wanted to pass a piece of legislation then he could find he begins to undermine his own case against electoral reform. One of the major arguments against a proportional system is that "First Past the Post" produces "strong government", i.e. big majorities which seem to be seen by default as a good thing. However in this situation, not only will FPTP have thrown up a hung parliament (proving that even FPTP does not always prevent this as its proponents often imply) but its primary cheerleaders, the Conservatives will find themselves having to disprove their own case in order to be a successful government. If they are successful in doing this then one of their key planks against a more proportional system is kicked out from under them, by themselves.

Any of thse scenarios would also of course give the Lib Dems the chance to show what we are capable of when we are in a position to wield some real power and influence on the executive either from inside or outside the government. It would be up to us to seize this opportunity and prove to the electorate that we can do a good job in this position and hence that it is worth voting for us. That is an opportunity to relish, not be afraid of.

I think we can derive significant "wins" from any of the situations described. All it would take is the will to do so.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Professor David Nutt's account of events regarding #NuttSack

Correspondence has been released between various protagonists in the saga of the sacking three weeks ago of Professor David Nutt from his position as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.


One of the letters is from Professor Nutt to the Science and Technology Select Committee outlining the sequence of events from his perspective. As Evan Harris has already made clear in a very detailed blogpost here the sequence of events and the behaviour of Professor Nutt was in accordance with the rules and regulations he was working under. You can read Professor Nutt's letter for yourself here to see what you think of his comments on this.

Two things struck me about the letter. The first is in one of the things that Jacqui Smith said to him when she called him to discuss the "esctasy and horses" comments he had made:

9th Feb 2009 – I received a phone call from the Home Sec in my out patient clinic, criticising the ‘equasy’ paper and stating that her office had received multiple complaints about the article from parents whose children had been harmed by ecstasy. She claimed it was not logical to compare the harms of an illegal drug with those of a legal activity. I explained that for a drug to be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 there had to be some threshold of harms exceeded so it seemed reasonable to explore what this threshold might be by examining other harmful activities. She did not accept the value of this approach and demanded that I apologised to the parents. I explained that I had not intended to offend anyone and was simply trying to put some balance into the drug harms debate. However, under the pressure of a phone call from the Home Secretary in the middle of my clinical working time, I apologised, through her, to any families that were upset by the article. She also asked if I was a “legaliser” and I replied that I was not and had repeatedly made statements to this effect in public.

This last comment seems almost sinister to me. Is it illegitimate for scientists, having looked through all the evidence to conclude that drugs should be legalised (and regulated)? It is far from an uncommon conclusion for people to draw once they have studied this subject for a while.

It actually seems almost McCarthy-like for this question to be asked. The implication seems to be that is he was a "legaliser" then there would be no way that he could advise the government. If the government is so sure of its case, surely they should welcome robust debate with people who may wish to challenge them? Not that this is what Professor Nutt was doing of course, he was simply presenting the evidence as we know.

The other thing that leapt out at me is the last thing that Professor Nutt says in his letter:

Relevant aspects of the code of practice defining my roles are

representing the ACMD to the public or the media as arranged by the secretariat
and
acting in the public interest

sharing in the general responsibility to consider the wider context in which their
expertise is employed;

acting with a presumption of openness

I my view my actions in relation to the Eve Saville lecture and the subsequent
reactions of the media and the government have been fully within this remit. Indeed
one could take the view, as I have, that many of them are required by it.

I also refer you to the Seven principles of public life one of which is:

Openness

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and
actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict
information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Professor Nutt is right here. He did what was expected of him given his responsibilities. In my view drawing the committee's attention to the "Openness" principle is spot on. He followed that principle exactly.

The problem of course is that despite all the words the government spews out about wanting to be "open", when it comes to drugs policy they are not interested. They just want to close down the debate for fear of the tabloid headlines that could come their way if they are seen to do anything that goes against being seen to be "tough on drugs". So this is a situation where their supposed principles clash with what they actually wanted to do, i.e. ignore the evidence but not be straight with the public about why they are doing so because it would show up their lack of an evidence based approach and also their political cowardice.

I'm on this week's "Pod Delusion" podcast again


I'm on this week's "Pod Delusion" podcast again which describes itself as being about "interesting things":


From scepticism to lefty liberal things, it's commentary from a secular, rationalist, 'Guardianista', sort of perspective. A bit like From Our Own Correspondent but with more jokes.

This week you can hear me discuss the way the media handle numbers and statistics related to politics and economics.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 19th November 2009 - #bbcqt

It's #bbcqt day again and as usual the Live Chat on this blog will start tonight at 10:30pm.

The panel will include the Immigration Minister Phil Woolas MP, the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling (Alan Johnson's mini-me), the Liberal Democrat MP and former leader Sir Menzies Campbell, the broadcaster Nick Ferrari (Richard Littlejohn's mini-me) and the Independent MP and former thorn in Tony Blair's side Clare Short.

And for anyone wondering where I disappeared to half way through last week's chat, sorry abut that but I had a dog/carrot emergency to attend to! Luckily, Dazmando was hosting it anyway.

Join us from 10:30pm below.



Brown's ignorance shows why we need Commons reform

Watching the debate in the House of Commons yesterday about the Queen's Speech I found my jaw dropping at the rudeness of Gordon Brown. Watch this clip where David Cameron is trying to get Brown to respond to the question of why there was nothing about MPs' expenses in the Queen's Speech:




Twice Cameron offers to give way so that Brown can clarify the position and twice he declines. My problem however is not so much with him declining (although that does show that Cameron had him on the rack in my view) - it is in the way that he declined. He spent virtually the entire time Cameron was raising this issue talking to Harriet Harman. He seemed to be doing his best to be as rude as possible to Cameron by treating his point with such disdain that he made out he wasn't even listening.

I have blogged before about how I think the behaviour of MPs with all the heckling and jeering etc. needs to be much improved and the above sort of rudeness is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be stamped out (indeed it was one of my submissions to the POWER2010 campaign). The Speaker should insist on better behaviour with proper sanctions for MPs who transgress from the chamber. It would probably only have to happen a few times before the embarrassment it caused would ensure all MPs got the message. I am not trying to make a party political point here. The bad behaviour is endemic within the chamber and I have seen examples in the past from all sides.

Can you imagine attending a business meeting where this sort of thing happened? Imagine if you stood up to give a speech at a business conference and had to do so whilst enduring hecking, barracking and rude comments from those you were speaking to.

Coincidentally, Lynne Featherstone has done a blogpost today where she is talking about how the Commons would be better if it was more representative in terms of women and other currently under-represented groups and she has made a similar point to me in that post:

Certainly there are aspects of the way our political system works which typically appeal more to men or are more off-putting to women, but those are not aspects that are engraved in stone and always have to be that way. Take the bear-pit performances (and I use that word kindly - embarrassing shambles might often be more appropriate) of the PM / Leader of the Opposition exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions, with massed ranks of people sat behind each and shouting at each other. That sort of behaviour would be completely unacceptable in a work place - imagine running a meeting at work where people behaved like that. And there's no essential need for PMQs to be like that - look around at how other walks of life and other countries manage to have question times that are meaningful and dignified.

Lynne is spot on. It doesn't have to be like this and it needs to change.

Fiscal Responsibility Bill is a landmine for the Tories

The more I think about it, the more I am coming to the conclusion that the Fiscal Responsibility Bill that was outlined in Labour's Queen's Speech yesterday is actually a landmine set to go off under a potential future Tory government. The bill will say that the deficit must be halved in the next four years, by law.


Yesterday I was saying it seemed bizarre that the government would feel the need to try and put a legislative lock on itself like this and that it would appear to be more to do with sending a signal to the markets because Labour knows that it cannot be trusted and has moved the goalposts before.

However I think there is more to it than that. Brown is nothing if not a political calculation machine. Ask yourself why the timeframe is 4 years. That would coincide roughly with when a first term Conservative government (were they to win the next election) would be getting into gear for a general election. If there is a law in place that forces them to have halved the deficit within 4 years then it will be difficult for them to get around this. I suspect they would want to try and do this anyway but Brown is trying to bind the hands of a successor parliament by passing this law and forcing this timeframe upon them. It would be politically very difficult for Cameron to rescind the law if he became PM. With the law in place, a Labour opposition would then be able to attack a Tory government for cutting spending and raising taxes, even though they would have had to do exactly the same. The political capital they probably reckon they could make out of this could be considerable even if the Tories were to hit the target in that scenario. If they don't hit it the Labour could use that against them too insisting that they would have done "look, we even legislated for it - of course we would have done it" - I can hear Labour spokespeople now.

In my view there is no more eloquent statement that Labour think they will lose the next election than this bill.

Brown's ministers looked silly yesterday trying to defend it. It does not serve any real purpose other than as a political landmine for a future government. This is Brown at his worst. Calculating, scheming, using legislation as a trap for his political opponents. He has learnt nothing from his failed previous attempts to do things like this (e.g. 10p tax rate abolition).

Although I suspect some of yesterday's bills will not make it onto the statute books you can bet your bottom dollar that the Fiscal Responsibility Bill 2010 definitely will.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Queen's Speech - where's the beef?

As I expected, the Queen's Speech was a bit of a damp squib. There are various measures in there that are worthy in so far as they go but many of them will not see the light of day on the statute books as there is just not enough time.

The most astonishing measure for me is the "Fiscal Responsibility Bill" which will put into law the promise to halve the defecit within a set timeframe. I have just been listening to John Healey, government minister on Radio 5 Live try to defend this measure and he did not do a good job. The question was repeatedly asked, why do the government need to bring in a law to make sure they do what they have already promised to do? Mr Healey did not have a good answer. It strikes me that the government are using legislation as a way to try to send out "messages" to the markets that they will be responsible. If they have to use the Queen's Speech to do this then it speaks very ill of their reputation. They are basically saying that they understand they might not be trusted and they have regularly moved the goalposts in the past so they are going to put a legislative lock on themselves. It is not clear what the penalty would be if they were to fail to halve the defecit and hence at the moment it is not worth the paper it is written on.

Another measure that made me raise my eyebrows is the one that "gives" parents the right to demand certain standards from their schools. The thing is, as Mr Healey talked through what the mechanism for that would be it became more and more clear that the mechanisms already exist for parents to appeal to various authorities to get the required standards including the Head, the Governors, the LEA etc. As far as I can tell this measure does nothing. It just seems to be a way of looking like they are doing something.

The big omission from all of this of course are substantial plans to deal with the reform of parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal. Callers and commenters to the Radio 5 Live show I was listening to were incredulous that in the Queen's Speech directly following the parliamentary session which has had the worst crisis in confidence for MPs in living memory there was nothing to address this in the Queen's Speech and I expect that feeling will be widespread. This shows just how out of touch this government has become that they didn't even consider it necessary to tackle any aspect of the rotten system in its final legislative programme before the election.

Twitter is full of liberals apparently

There is an interesting piece of research out in Prospect magazine this month which shows that Twitter users are likely to be very high up the liberal scale. In fact they claim that only Lib Dems and Londoners as groups are actually more liberal.

This chart sums up where Twitter users are positioned compared to other groups:


They claim that this is why so many "liberal" campaigns have managed to gain traction on Twitter and list the following recent examples:

  • Breaking the Guardian’s court injunction banning them from naming mining company Trafigura.
  • Attacking Daily Mail writer Jan Moir for “homophobic” remarks on the death of gay pop star Stephen Gately.
  • Criticising Sunday Times critic AA Gill for shooting a baboon while on safari.
  • Vilifying Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan and his criticism of the NHS in the US, in the #welovethenhs campaign.

I find it very interesting that they should find Twitter users positioned like this. When I saw the above chart I instantly thought that part of the reason will be that there are quite a lot of Lib Dems, Londoners and 18-34 year olds on Twitter. Indeed towards the end of the Prospect article it says:

Reacting to the poll, Prospect managing editor James Crabtree said: “New technologies are often adopted by the political extremes of left and right. It is clear that the urban, metropolitan, Guardian-reading ‘chattering classes’ have flocked online to become the ‘twittering classes’ —and they are now a real force in British politics.”

The survey confirms Twitter’s image in Britain as a tool for a youthful metropolitan elite. 46 per cent of users are younger than 35, compared to 29 per cent of the population, while Twitter users more likely to live in London.

I'm not sure about this final comment though:

But where Twitter users and the rest of the country most disagree, perhaps unsurprisingly, is over the service itself. Twitter users might think the service is worthwhile, but 76 per cent of the British population give the idea a thumbs-down, saying they have never used it and do not intend to in future—meaning the “twittering classes” could have a Twitter monopoly for some time to come.

I think it is like with any new technology, it takes a while for people to grasp it and its benefits. In the case of Twitter I don't think it is helped by some of the ways I have heard it described. People still think it is just used to tell people what you are doing in any one precise moment, e.g. "taking the turkey out of the oven", "going to the shops" etc. The truth is that although it might have started like that, it is now a means of debate and dissemination of information to lots of people who have chosen to follow you. In my case I follow lots of people who are interested in politics.

In fact we debated this very issue as one of the topics on last week's House of Comments podcast with Jennie Rigg and Matt Wardman which you can listen to via this link.

I think we will find the uptake of Twitter continuing to increase rapidly as more people "get it" over the next year or two. That might mean the position on the above scale is quite different in a couple of years time which some liberals might lament but I think will be better for engagement generally.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Could bloggers take over the Press Complaints Commission?

James Graham suggests that given the new chair of the Press Complaints Commission Baroness Buscombe's recent comments about the PCC potentially regulating blogs that it throws up a very interesting question.


If blogs are to be regulated by the PCC, surely we should have representation on the PCC board?Also, as James points out, as the total number of readers of blogs in aggregate exceeds the number of people who read newspapers, we should have a majority on the board. I won't hold my breath for this to be implemented.

There are a myriad other practical problems with her suggestion which makes me wonder if the good Baroness has properly thought this through....

Alan Johnson exhibits a monumental level of hypocrisy

A couple of years ago, the MP for Hull West and Hessle was very concerned about the possibility that an asylum seeker who had found refuge in his constituency might be sent back to his country which has a dangerous human rights record and where in the MP's own words it:


would be devastating for him, his family, indeed it could prove fatal... There are few cases where we need our system to work more than this one.

However last month, the Home Secretary returned the 35-year-old asylum seeker to that country. The one with the dangerous human rights record.

Oh did I mention that the Home Secretary is (and was last month) the MP for Hull West and Hessle, Alan Johnson?

That's right. In a move that exhibits a monumental level of hypocrisy, the very same asylum seeker who two years ago Mr Johnson was pleading to not be sent back was actually sent back by Mr Johnson himself.

Apparently at least one Labour activist in his constituency has resigned in disgust at his actions. I am not surprised.

I'm not sure how much mainstream media coverage this case has had but it needs more. Mr Johnson needs to be held accountable for this change of heart once he was actually in a position to do something about it.

(Hattip to Byrne Tofferings and Private Eye magazine)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Liz Truss reselected in Norfolk South West

So at the selection meeting tonight, Norfolk South West Tories overwhelmingly chose to retain Liz Truss as their candidate by 132 - 37.


It's good to see a bit of sense prevailing. There was never a case for deselecting her as I have blogged about previously.

Now, in the nicest possible way, I hope she loses at the General Election (to the Lib Dem candidate)!

RIP Edward Woodward

It has just been reported that the veteran actor Edward Woodward has died at the age of 79.


He starred in many films and TV programmes over the years. The Wicker Man is undoubtedly his most famous film and the TV programme people of my generation will probably most associate him with is the 1980's US show The Equalizer.

It is worth also mentioning the 1977 dystopian BBC drama 1990 that he starred in where he played a journalist who decides to fight a totalitarian government. This was only brought to my attention a few years ago but is very good and well worth watching. Perhaps it will now be repeated. It's good to see that Jennie Rigg also remembers this.

However my favourite part that Edward Woodward played is Callan (1967 - 1972 with a film in 1974 and a one off reunion episode in 1981). In this he played a professional killer who worked for the British intelligence services. It was the part that launched his career and he played it perfectly. Woodward managed to portray the role in such a way as to show how he was trapped and a victim of the system he was in himself, eliciting some sympathy for a character whom on paper did not really deserve any. That is not an easy thing to do. I hope one of the TV channels shows some episodes of this as a fitting tribute to his acting talents.

Here is a clip where Callan is having an "employment dispute" with his bosses:




RIP Edward Woodward.

Sir Jeremy Bagge: "Women, Know Your Limits!"

OK, he didn't quite say that but the recent comments from Sir Jeremy Bagge frontman for the Tory traditionalists in Norfolk South West (who are trying to get Liz Truss deselected later today) about women reported by Benedict Brogan here are pretty close to the classic Harry Enfield "Women, Know Your Limits" sketch.


Here's what he said in an attempt to show he is pro-women:

Sorry, no, I have never said I’m anti-women. I have got absolutely nothing against women. Who cooks my lunch? Who cooks my dinner? How did my wonderful three children appear? Women, you can’t do without them. My god, take my wife.

He was then asked what she does for a living:

What does she do? She looks after me. Looks after the children. Runs the house.

Good luck today Liz...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Sun smears Professor David Nutt's family

When Professor David Nutt was sacked by Alan Johnson as head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs a couple of weeks ago, The Sun newspaper made it clear that it thought Johnson had been correct to do so.

Although I disagree with The Sun and I feel that they often distort the debate about drugs I do understand that there are people who have real fears about what liberalisation of drug laws could mean (although I think they are misguided). The Sun is entitled to their opinion about this. They make their case and it is up to those of us who believe that a legalised and regulated framework would reduce harm, crime and have all sorts of other benefits as I have blogged about many times to make our case and try to talk people round to our view. I fully accept The Sun's right to argue their side of the case too, and indeed they regularly do. In fact David Nutt is not in favour of legalisation of drugs but it is fair to say that his comments could eventually lead to this argument being taken more seriously and that seems to be how The Sun have treated them.

Yesterday however The Sun decided not to engage with the debate on this issue. Instead they decided to attack and smear Professor Nutt's children. I am not going to link the The Sun's "story" on this (you can find it via Graham Linehan's tweet that alerted me to it here if you wish). I am however just going to highlight a few of the tactics they have employed in this disgusting gutter "journalism" they have decided to indulge in.

The piece is entitled "Off his Nutt" and focuses primarily on Professor Nutt's 24 year old son Steve. It is peppered with pictures of Steve taken from his Facebook page which shows him looking a bit worse for wear and in a few cases holding what could be a lit cannabis joint. They also draw attention to one of his Facebook status updates:

Steve Nutt thinks his dad is probably more famous than he'll ever be, BARRING A TERRORIST ATROCITY THAT IS...

They also say "Terrorism is a theme that regularly crops up in his messages." and reference his Facebook profile picture:

Shockingly, instead of sticking a portrait of himself in his "profile" photo slot like most Facebook users, his image is of an orange labelled "product of Israel" - one half of which is a GRENADE.

Many young people tell jokes that are in bad taste. It's part of growing up. In a few years time Steve will probably look back with a bit of embarrassment about some of things he has published on Facebook. I suspect many in my generation are grateful that these social networking sites did not exist when we were younger for this very reason. To have this stuff plastered across a national newspaper simply because the newspaper disagrees with some comments made by the young man's father is absolutely reprehensible. Steve has not done anything that many, many of his contemporaries will not also have done. He is a normal man in his early-mid twenties not some sort of aberration as The Sun are trying to make out. Indeed the fact that it was so easy for The Sun to find apparent evidence of one of David Nutt's children smoking cannabis (and I am sure they could do this with hundreds of thousands of his contemporaries) is evidence of how massively widespread its use is under the prohibition regime that The Sun so vociferously supports.

They did not stop there though. They then move on to Professor Nutt's daughter Lydia's Facebook page:

Photos show her and girl pals cavorting with a bottle of spirits in hand - and were uploaded two years before she turned 18.

YOU'RE F**KING JOKING!!? 16 YEAR OLD GIRLS DRINKING ALCOHOL!!? BUT THEY ARE UNDER AGE. SOMEONE SUMMON THE VILLAGE ELDERS.

This is pathetic. A large proportion of 16 year old children drink alcohol. There is nothing unusual about this despite The Sun trying to make the most of the fact that she was TWO YEARS UNDERAGE. It's notable as well that they have no evidence that she has taken illegal drugs so instead focus on this. I would be fascinated to know how they think this can be in the public interest.

Oh, and there's more.

Meanwhile older lad Johnny, 26, has posted photos of himself prancing NAKED in the snow in Sweden.

NAKED!!? SNOW!!? SWEDEN!!? BURN HIM!

WTF? What has that got to do with anything at all? Even by their own tenuous standards this has no link with Professor Nutt's comments. In his comments about drugs classification he said nothing about naturism or snow. It just seems to be part and parcel of their nasty attempt to smear his entire family.

Towards the end of the article there are more comments about bad taste jokes that Steve has made online. I'm not going to go into the details here, you can read them if you are interested for yourself but they all fall into the same category as above, i.e. ill-advised jokes he will probably regret in a few years but that he never expected to be plastered all over a national newspaper for millions of people to read.

This is one of the most disgusting pieces of "journalism" I have ever seen. The Sun should be utterly ashamed of itself that it should sink so low as to smear a group of young adults like this for doing nothing more than what many of their contemporaries do. This seems to me to be a politically motivated attack in order to try and discredit the scientific evidence that their father has brought into the public domain.

It actually reminds me very much of the disgraceful "story" published by The Sunday Express back in March (which Graham Linehan also blogged about here) where they had gone onto the Facebook pages of the Dunblane massacre survivors and "exposed" their completely normal for 18 year olds behaviour. After a campaign led by Graham they were forced to apologise for this travesty.

I can only hope that there will be similar revulsion to this.

Indeed a few of the comments posted underneath the piece give me hope:

so what? what a load of rubbish! he's just doing what all guys his age do. just because his father is a scientific researcher doesn't mean his son will be at home reading science journals. the important thing is the findings of Nutts recent research on drugs. he is very clever and spent a lot of time on his research only to get sacked and slandered because the findings weren't to the governments liking. the whole thing was a farce.

what's the big deal? at the end of the day, he just like any other british kid.
and away, his dad must know what he's talking about about.
leave the kid alone!

And those who disagree with the findings? Are you saying that the government disagreeing with something should be the end of it? Even though Prof. Nutt has conducted thorough research on an issue which affects us all? It shouldn't be challenged further?? Because it's not likely that vested interests are behind every decision the government makes. What with the general election coming up.

You only need look at the stats!....hundreds of thousands of people die of smoking and drinking related illnesess every year yet its perfectly legal. You will be lucky if just one person die of an 'e' or a 'joint' this year....things will never change because of the 'tax' issue but people should not be punished for speaking the truth.............and i dont know this guy so why is it news?

"claimed cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are safer than booze and ****."
This irritates me, 'claimed' as though it is purely his unbacked theory. Throughout the world the science shows this.
Go look at what has happened in Portugal since 2001 when they decriminalised drugs, their situation has become far better! The UK is full of hypocrites who don't know what they are on about when it comes to drugs!

Perhaps The Sun has misjudged its readership again.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Five years for handing in a gun to the police?

Constantly Furious has a blogpost today which has drawn my attention to the case of Paul Clarke, an ex-soldier from Surrey who is likely to face five years in prison for taking a sawn-off shotgun with ammunition he had found in his garden to a police station. The police arrested him after he brought it in and he was found guilty by a court recently. The full story is here.

It would seem that posession of a firearm is a "strict liability" offence which means the defendant is guilty regardless of intent.

CF is very angry about this case as are many other people such as some commenters on his blog and many on Twitter. It would seem to fly in the face of natural justice. There are others who are claiming that there must be more to this case.

I am not sure, perhaps it will become more clear with further reports and the sentencing. However if it is as it seems then this is surely a travesty of justice.

As if to underline this, reading the comments on this blog post from Jack of Kent (which talks in more detail about the law behind the case) there is a comment from Alex Hamilton which directed me to this story from a few weeks ago. It describes how in a different situation also involving a gun with ammunition found by a member of the public that the police actually told him to bring it to the station.

Nothing like consistency eh?

Friday, 13 November 2009

I'm on this week's "Pod Delusion" podcast


For the last few weeks I have been listening to an excellent podcast called "The Pod Delusion" which describes itself as being about "interesting things":


From scepticism to lefty liberal things, it's commentary from a secular, rationalist, 'Guardianista', sort of perspective. A bit like From Our Own Correspondent but with more jokes.

It's well worth a listen and subscribing to. Not least because if you listen to this week's episode you can hear me ranting about TV companies and their woeful attitude to electronic distribution of their programmes.

Emergency on Planet Dog

I had just settled down to watch BBC Question Time last night (Dazmando was hosting the chat on my blog here as I was a bit late) when my wife drew my attention to a problem with our Cocker Spaniel Chess. My wife had been eating a piece of carrot and gave him the end (he eats virtually anything and loves carrot). My wife however was quite surprised to see that despite the fact the piece of carrot was quite large, Chess made no attempt to actually chew it and instead just tried to swallow it whole.

He then very quickly became distressed as it had obviously got stuck part way down and we then spent about half an hour trying to get him to throw the piece of carrot up. He kept trying but it just would not budge and he got more and distressed. In the end he was just lying on the ground and whimpering.

The only thing we could do was take him to the emergency vets which I discovered after calling the out of hours service is based in Farnham about 15 miles away. We jumped in the car and drove there as quick as we could. Once there, the vet confirmed that the carrot piece was stuck in his esophagus and she outlined the options which were:

1) Put him under short term general anaesthetic and then try and either pull the piece out with forceps (not likely to work as it was too far down) or more likely push it down towards his stomach. However the sphincter muscle that allows food into the stomach is quite delicate and can be damaged so this was not without risk. Even if it's too tight to push through it may go through naturally at that point once he is woken up. They would have to see.

2) Put him under a stronger anaesthetic and then either perform surgery on his esophagus to have the carrot removed, or if option 1) had already been tried but the sphincter muscle to the stomach was too tight and it would not pass through naturally, then major surgery to remove it from a very inaccessible place would then possibly have to take place.

None of these options were ideal and of course anything involving anaesthetic is not without risk. The vet (who herself has a Cocker Spaniel) said if it was her dog she would go for the first option as she would want to avoid surgery if at all possible as that is the bigger risk. However we had to give them permission to perform the surgery if it became necessary.

In the end we agreed with her approach, I signed the consent forms, we left Chess with them and went home.

Obviously we were both very worried but it was 12:30 in the morning by this stage and we both have work today so we went to get ready for bed. Just at that point I got a phone call from the vet who explained that she had had to leave Chess for a few minutes to attend to another animal who had been fitting and when she came back to get him to apply the anaesthetic she noticed a little pile of dog vomit next to him with a huge chunk of carrot in it. He had finally thrown it up himself! She said he was very happy and she had given him hugs and kisses. We were both so relieved.

I went straight back and picked him up. When we got him home he was very, very thirsty (unsurprisingly given how much fluid he has expelled) and still a bit out of sorts following the rather traumatic evening he had had but I managed to calm him down and he went to sleep quite quickly.

So apologies to all on the BBC Question Time Live Chat but hopefully this explains my sudden silence on the chat.

Oh and they gave us the piece of carrot to take home with us as a souvenir:


Thursday, 12 November 2009

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 12th November 2009 - #bbcqt

It's #bbcqt day again and as usual the Live Chat on this blog will start tonight at 10:30pm.

The panel will include Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward, the Conservative shadow security minister Pauline Neville-Jones, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on communities and local government Julia Goldsworthy, the cultural commentator and writer Will Self and the rowing champion, double Olympic gold medallist, television presenter and writer James Cracknell.

Liberal Democrat Voice also sometimes have an open thread for BBC Question Time which is posted just before the start of the programme.

Join us from 10:30pm below.



"Blueprint for Regulation" of drugs is launched by Transform Drug Policy Foundation

As an advocate of liberalisation of drugs policy, one of the questions I often get asked is exactly what sort of system would I want to see for how drugs could be distributed if they were legalised.


I respond along the lines of requiring a proper regulatory framework and I have my own ideas about how this could work but the exact nature of how this could be implemented is subject to debate even amongst those of us who advocate liberalisation.

As I type, Steve Rolles of Transform Drug Policy Foundation is at the Houses of Parliament to discuss a new document they are launching today entitled: "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation" which attempts to set out the issues and options relating to this.

I am only about a quarter of the way through it at the moment but so far it is making a lot of sense to me and seems to be a very detailed account of the options available for regulation under a legalised scheme. It is also realistic about what it will take to get there with reference to the UN conventions and international treaties that make it nigh on impossible for most countries to legalise at the moment.

There is also a recognition that in order to get there, we need to bring people from all sides of the debate with us. It accepts that most advocates of "The War on Drugs" are well intentioned and worried about the harm that drugs cause in our society. The point the document makes over and over again is that the war has failed and is actually causing harm. I think the idea of trying to persuade the most trenchent critics of liberalisation is the right one.

It also repeatedly makes the point that we need to separate out the harm caused by the drugs themselves and the harm caused by the fact that they are illegal in order to demonstrate precisely how legalisation would reduce it. Confusion around this is something that I come across regularly. Many people think (or perhaps assume) that things like HIV transmission, burglary to fund a habit, overdoses, poisoned supplies etc. etc. are just an inevitable result of people taking drugs. The truth is that all of these and more are consequences largely of its illegality and they could be hugely reduced (perhaps even in some cases eliminated) under a properly legalised and regulated framework.

It is certainly a thought provoking document, whichever side of the debate you are currently on and I will try and post a more detailed review once I have finished reading it.

You can download it yourself via this link. Please note that the link is to a PDF document.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Did Gordon Brown just mislead the House of Commons?

I just saw something on ITV news that made my ears prick up.


They had a clip of Gordon Brown from the House of Commons today stating categorically in response to a question from Andrew MacKay (coincidentally my MP) that nobody who currently receives tax relief on childcare costs will have this benefit taken away. Seems quite clear to me. In fact for the avoidance of doubt, here is the exchange from the Hansard website today:

Q4. [299025] Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Is the Prime Minister comfortable with the fact that nine of his ex-ministerial colleagues have written to him to say that his proposals to scrap tax relief on child care are wrong and immensely damaging to working women?

The Prime Minister: We have said—I repeated this yesterday to a meeting and again this morning—that nobody who is receiving tax relief for child care vouchers will lose it. That assurance, which I make here and which was made yesterday as well, is one that people will welcome. At the same time, we want to expand nursery care for two-year-olds and create a situation in which nursery education runs into primary and secondary education from two to 18. However, no Government have done more to advance and support child care in our country, and we shall continue to do so in the next few months.

Straight after this clip, the reporter explained that that is not really true because after 5 years the new rules (which appear to be means tested) will apply to those currently claiming them too.

So as far as I can see, Gordon Brown misled the House of Commons. Anyone listening to him would be under the impression that all people receiving this benefit right now would carry on receiving it, presumably until they naturally become ineligible as their children become too old. That however is not true.

Will Gordon Brown now return to the Commons, apologise and set the record straight?

House of Comments podcast - Episode 4

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion political blog is now live. The website for the podcasts is here and the fourth episode which we recorded on Monday is available to download via this page here (raw mp3 file here if you prefer). You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here.

The format as usual is to invite one or two other political bloggers each week and discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

This week, we were joined by Jennie Rigg of the Lib Dem Miss S B blog, and Matt Wardman, editor of the cross-party Wardman Wire. We discussed Labour funding, Twitter/social networking, Watford Council child safety concerns and asked should we be paying MPs more. I have some quite firm views on this last one!