Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 9 February 2009

Jacqui Smith is the one trivialising this debate

I am very dismayed by Jacqui Smith's behaviour today in the Commons. She has made some disparaging remarks about Professor David Nutt's comment about the use of ecstacy. As I blogged about here on Saturday, Professor Nutt made some thought provoking comments about the number of deaths linked to ecstacy each year and how that compares with the number of people who die through horse riding.

I despair sometimes of how any sort of rational debate about issues like drugs goes completely out of the window. I will take some of her comments as reported in the article linked at above below and put my thoughts alongside them:

'Jacqui Smith said Prof David Nutt had "trivialised" the dangers of the drug.'

How can trying to raise an informed debate about society's attitude to something that hundreds of thousands of young people participate in each week be trivialising its dangers? Her behaviour today is trivilaising and debasing the entire debate.

'The council (ACMD), which advises the government, is expected later this week to recommend that ecstasy be downgraded from a class A drug to a class B one.

Ministers have outlined their opposition to any such move.'

So as I indicated in my previous post on this, the government is going to ignore the evidence and do what it thinks is politically convenient.

'Speaking during Home Office questions in the House of Commons, Ms Smith said: "I've spoken to him this morning about his comments. I've told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article reported."

She added: "I'm sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.'

Really!? Why is she so sure about this. Does she think that "most people" will not be able to look at the evidence and see that more people die from horse riding than from taking ecstacy? Why would they not accept this? Why are drugs put into some special undebatable category by politicians where any attempt to move outside the narrow confines of the status quo is met with tirades like this?

'For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs.'

Why on earth would she think that Professor Nutt is making light of this? As far as I can see he is doing exactly the opposite and trying to be measured and sensible. As for the insensitivity charge to the families of people who have died whilst on ecstacy, well this is just politics at its worst. Using the deaths of people as a political football to try and score points in a debate is about as low as it gets. To follow this through to its logical conclusion, any subject that is related to an issue where someone has died cannot ever be discussed because one could be accused of "insensitivity".

Evan Harris MP has it spot on when he says: "What's the future for scientific independence if she [Ms Smith] asks that scientists apologise for their views?"

If people are not allowed to raise this in the public sphere without being denounced under parliamentary privilege then I despair at where we will end up. Does Smith really think that the current system is working so well that we cannot even debate it? If she is intellectually sure of her ground she should be happy to debate this, on the real issues instead of throwing up straw men all over the place and appealing to emotion.

Sadly, this has been the level of debate in this area of policy for years and there are few senior politicians brave enough to confront the issues involved head on.