I listened to this week's Any Questions on Radio 4 earlier today and the question of the resignation of Eric Carlin from the ACMD (that I blogged about yesterday) came up.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage made a brave and very sensible contribution where he said that current policy is clearly not working, advocated a Royal Commission on drugs and said that all options including potential decriminalisation should be on the table. All the other panelists (Peter Hain, Nick Herbert and Susan Kramer) dismissed the idea that decriminalisation should be considered. I was particularly disgusted with Hain's response. He said in a condescending tone "There you have it folks, vote UKIP and get a free for all on drugs" which of course is not what Farage was saying at all. I am paraphrasing but that was basically how Hain responded. When pressed he insisted that if he tried to pursue a policy like that his electors in Neath would not stand for it.
What absolute brazen political cowardice from Hain. He is essentially admitting that the reason he is not willing to go down this road is because of his fear of the response of the electorate. And yet it is precisely his response to Farage where he instantly tried to caricature his position and scaremongering that leads us to the position whereby most politicians are too scared to engage with this issue properly. He himself is part of the problem he is complaining about.
It was disappointing not to hear Susan Kramer back Farage's calls. There are lots of people within the Lib Dems who agree with him on this. I am afraid her response that essentially what the government did in banning mephedrone in such a knee-jerk way was correct and "erring on the side of caution" does not represent my views at all. If anything it makes the drug more dangerous gifting it to the criminal gangs.
Fair play to Nigel Farage for being brave enough to advocate what he did. He is fighting a very difficult seat at the general election, Buckingham in the heart of "Middle England". You can hardly accuse him of saying what he said for politically calculated reasons so close to an election.
I hope other senior politicians who privately agree with Farage on this might start to feel a little bit more emboldened to speak more openly on this.
UPDATE: I think I might have misrepresented Susan Kramer's views slightly here. I meant she did not agree with Farage's suggestion that decriminalisation is a viable option. She did however agree that a Royal Commission should be set up.
Also, I forgot to mention that I was very heartened to hear on Any Answers later that Jonathan Dimbleby made it clear that a large majority of respondents agreed with Farage's suggestion.