I have just spent a few minutes talking to former UKIP leader Nigel Farage about his views on drugs policy. he recently called for a change in approach on Radio 4's "Any Questions" programme which I previously blogged about here. I did try to record the interview but my recording software has failed me! However fresh from my memory, here is how the discussion went:
Thursday, 8 April 2010
I started by asking him to set out his views on this subject and why he holds them. He explained that in his view the "War on Drugs" has failed. Every year things get worse, and it costs an absolute fortune. However this is a subject on which the political classes band together and stick to the same script. If a politician moves outside this very narrow subject view then they are inevitably shot down. He pointed out that it is the most deprived parts of the country that suffer most from this failing drugs war and something needs to change. It is his experiences as an elected politician having seen this for himself and representing these people that has helped confirm his opinion on this. His view is that there should be a Royal Commission to take this subject out of the hands of politicians and allow a full, free process to take place where decriminalisation of drugs (or at the very least soft drugs) should be considered.
I questioned what sort of a reaction he had had to him having made his views plan on Any Questions. He said that the reaction from the political classes had been typical of what he had expected and that he was perceived as very much being out on a limb. However the reaction from the public in e-mails, letters and on blogs had been much more encouraging. The vast majority had been on his side and indeed he pointed out that the audience on the programme was a middle-England middle-class grouping from Devon and many there had been nodding in agreement with his comments. He said that the reaction he has had has made him even more sure that he is on the right track here.
I asked why he thought that drugs are such a no go area for politicians. His view is that it's just one of these subjects that politicians don't want to talk about. They group together out of fear of what might happen. He also thinks that they often don't understand the issue properly and can only think in terms of crack-downs irrespective of whether they work or not.
I also asked whether his UKIP colleagues agreed with him on this subject. He explained that UKIP is a very broad church and that he knows there are people within it who would actually go the other way and wish for there to be further crack-downs. However he does think that the direction of opinion within the party is with him. He pointed out that at its core UKIP is a libertarian party. He said they are the only party to oppose the smoking ban on principle and that they often show their credentials in this area on other subjects such as the fox-hunting ban which they see as an irrelevance. He suggested that were this policy to be put to the party, after a debate he would expect a majority to be in favour of it.
Finally, I asked him when he thought things would change in terms of drugs policy. His honest answer was that he does not know. He said that if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister then there will definitely be no change as their policy is identical to Labour's. Longer term it is harder to say, however he does think that public opinion is way ahead of the politicians on this issue and they cannot be ignored for ever.
Just as we finished I mentioned to him the fact that on Any Answers after the Saturday broadcast of Any Questions, Jonathan Dimbleby had stated that the majority of respondents had been in favour of what he had been suggesting. He pointed out that 10 years ago that would have been unlikely to happen and that it demonstrates his point about the public being ahead of politicians on the issue.
I would like to thank Nigel Farage for his time.