Millennium Dome Elephant has done a post where he points out how the Four Pledges question (that Jennie Rigg asked as part of her Federal Policy Committee candidates' grilling: "What four pledges would you put on the front of the next Lib Dem manifesto?") is tricky because as candidates we have differentiate ourselves but also make sure the pledges are deliverable.
Part way through his article he points out how one of my answers "A pledge to legalise and regulate all currently illegal drugs" illustrates the problem:
Of course this is absolutely the right policy: he's done much more research into the evidence than me, but what we'd both tell you is that the so-called war on drugs is a massively expensive failure that boosts the profits of criminal gangs while putting many lives in danger from cut drugs and crossfire. Legalisation would save police time and money; allow users some certainty they were getting what they paid for and not chalk cut with horse tranquilisers or rat poison; and allow us to treat addiction medically without stigma. The levels of harm from cannabis or ecstasy (see Jennie's question one) are not nothing but are tiny compared to the levels of harm that we accept from drinking or smoking. It's obviously the liberal thing to do. And, hell, it might even boost the economy.
But Labour and the Conservatives will join forces to block it, just as they did with Lords Reform, because the status quo is in there interest – namely playing to the "law and Order" gallery for the support of certain newspapers in their ever more insane bids to outflank one another on the right.
They'll beat us up for suggesting it and then beat us up AGAIN for not delivering it!
The fluffy one is of course correct that Labour and the Conservatives would join forces to block this policy in a coalition. However I am not convinced by the rest of his analysis.
I suppose it all depends what we hope to achieve with our pledges. I have never made any secret of the fact that an evidence based drugs policy is very high up the list of my policy priorities (for many reasons). So as I am standing for the committee within my party that deals with policy and I am asked a question like this I am bound to include drugs policy reform as an answer. It doesn't mean that I would have much chance of actually succeeding in getting it on the front cover of our next manifesto! But I would certainly argue for it to be a prominent policy.
Let's just run though with the assumption that it did make it into the Big Four. During negotiations I would expect either the Reds or Blues to insist they were not able to support this policy. But what that would then do is spark a very widespread debate about why this should be. There is growing evidence that many people in this country are sick of the existing failed approach and if the third party was advocating a reform approach as part of its programme for government which legalised and regulated drugs it would force the other parties to properly engage with the reasons why they were not willing to look at the evidence. Sure, they will try and use the same high-handed responses they always do "drugs cause harm" (as if those of us wanting reform do not already know that and indeed are trying to reduce it) but because this would be a big story there is likely to be more detailed analysis and comparisons with e.g. other countries where reform has been successful. I have always thought that if there was a full open national debate on this subject those of us who advocate change have a good chance of winning the argument and helping to persuade even more people to our cause. This would be a good opportunity to do just that.
On Millennium's final point about how we would then be beaten up for failing to deliver on this policy, I very much doubt that. The public have seen Labour and Conservative again and again over the years refuse to engage properly with this debate. The fact that they would block it would be no surprise and we could hardly be blamed for at least trying.
This of course opens up the wider question of whether we should be including pledges that we essentially know will not end up as part of a government programme. I may address that in a later post.