The news has broken this afternoon that the Home Secretary Alan Johnson has sacked Professor David Nutt, the head of its own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Johnson's statement on this says:
I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD.I would therefore ask you to step down from the Council with immediate effect.
Mark Easton, the BBC's home editor has the exchange of letters between Johnson and Professor Nutt detailed on his blog here.
As I blogged yesterday on the Left Foot Forward blog, Professor Nutt had questioned the government's decision to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B and had made comments that the government was not listening to evidence.
Back in February, Professor Nutt was criticised by then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith when he stated that taking ecstacy is no more dangerous than riding a horse as I blogged about at the time. She had demanded that he apologise. The thing is that everything that Professor Nutt has said on this subject throughout his entire tenure has been backed up by evidence. The government's decisions seem to be largely based on what they think the tabloid newspapers will like.
Yesterday I asked if Alan Johnson would listen to Professor Nutt's advice. Far from listening to him, he has sacked him. David Nutt is an expert on drugs and their effects. Rather than listen to what he has to say based on painstaking research and evidence, the government would rather try and shut him up.
I very much hope he does not shut up. I hope he uses the freedom to speak he now has to denounce the government's approach in the strongest possible terms.
It is telling that the government seems unwilling to put anyone forward to defend this decision. Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News has just tweeted the following tweets:
Alan Johnson, and rest of Home Office, so far refusing to do interviews tonight to explain their sacking of David NuttJohnson's letter accuses Nutt of undermining public understanding of govt messages on drugsBizarre - nobody will come on to defend Alan Johnson. They all prefer to issue statements that can't be questioned.....
I think that sums up the government's cowardice.
The blogosphere is already reacting to this story:
- Duncan Stott has suggested that the ACMD should all resign in protest.
- Mark Pack, co-editor of Lib Dem Voice is also asking why Professor Nutt was sacked. Mark makes an excellent point that essentially what the Home Secretary is saying is that he wants only people who agree with government's pre-determined position to advise them. This makes a nonsense of any claim to be basing policy on the evidence.
- Alex Wilcock has done an excellent post entitled "Considering the Evidence Means You Must Consider Your Position".
And these are just the posts I have noticed in the last 10 minutes as I have hurriedly thrown this post together (I have guests downstairs!).
I am sure I will come back to this story again over the weekend as the implications sink in but for now I will just leave this thought. Perhaps something like this has been necessary in order for the public to start to see government drugs policy for what it is. They are not interested in evidence, just political posturing. It's time this was fully exposed and this sacking is an opportunity to do this.