Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 5 August 2011

Louise Mensch has missed an opportunity on drugs

Following Conservative MP Louise Mensch's excellent work on the Culture Media and Sport Committee, pursuing News International with robust questioning about the activities of their newspapers the tabloids have recently tried to strike back. They have of course tried the tactic that they know best. Muckraking.

They apparently have evidence that during the 1990s, Louise took drugs whilst partying with violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy amongst others. Louise's response was swift and was clearly an attempt to cut the story off at the knees:

"Although I do not remember the specific incident, this sounds highly probable... since I was in my twenties, I'm sure it was not the only incident of the kind; we all do idiotic things when young."

As I heard this on the radio I found myself vocally praising her riposte to this. Essentially she was saying "so what". She was young and she did what young people do. She went up in my estimations.

However later on that same day I spotted this tweet from her account:

She is using the old politician's trick of admitting having used drugs when she was younger but insisting they should remain illegal now. This has been the standard way that MPs have recently tried to avoid charges of hypocrisy by distancing themselves from their previous behaviour using their former "stupidity" or "youth" as an alibi.

This is particularly disappointing in Louise's case because this tactic is usually used by MPs to keep the tabloids at bay. But she and her committee have the papers on the ropes at the moment. If ever there was a time to break free of the ridiculous strictures the print media in this country impose on public discourse about drugs, now would surely be it? She could easily have said something like "I did take drugs when I was younger as did many of my contemporaries and I think we need a mature debate about this subject rather than these salacious attempts by the tabloid press to use it as a means to push their agenda.".

Now it is of course possible that Louise genuinely thinks that taking drugs as her and her contemporaries appeared to have regularly done (judging by her own comments) was idiotic and anyone doing the same today should be prosecuted and potentially imprisoned. But if that is true then then anyone finding themselves today with a criminal record for having done this would find it impossible to ever get selected as a candidate for a party in a winnable seat, let alone get elected. So the logical conclusion is that she is saying that she is not really fit to be an MP but that she didn't get caught so was lucky. It is very hard to view this as anything other than hypocrisy.

Louise Mensch knows she is on safe ground using this sort of formulation. After all, the Prime Minister led the way with his "entitlement to a private life before politics" comments during his leadership campaign. It would appear today's politicians can have their cake and eat it on this issue.

To be fair to her, maybe she does not want to be fighting on multiple fronts given the current circumstances. That would be understandable in a way although regrettable in my view.

I can only hope that as the power of the press in general and the tabloids in particular continues to wane, partly as a result of Louise's (and others) sterling work that eventually other MPs in her position will feel emboldened to speak up honestly about their experiences and use it as a way to open up a serious debate about drugs policy.

This post was first published on Dale & Co.


James W said...

Not much to add, but I felt much the same disappointment at her later comment. It's hard to imagine a politician passing off any other criminal offence as a youthful indiscretion - "I can't remember the specifics but I probably did assault him - and?". Perhaps that suggests that she shares the view that taking drugs isn't really worthy of censure in and of itself. If it isn't worthy of censure, then it certainly isn't worthy of criminalising.

David M Gibson said...

Excellent article. I've linked to yours from my own blog here:

I've focused more on the policy suggestions following the much ignored Mensch hypocrisy affair.

Tom (iow) said...

She's wrongly conflating the legality/illegality of a drug with whether taking it is a good idea.

She is of course free to say it was a bad idea to take it, but can only meaningfully say she is against legalisation if she is volunteering herself for prosecution. Otherwise, by definition, she is in favour of it, at least for herself.