Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Bravo to Nigel Farage on drugs policy

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.


Jock Coats said...

Kramer would appear also not to be following partyt policy. Disgraceful. Gives me someone else to blog about though.

Hain's reaction is so typical. It happens with all sorts of things - "if you are not in favour of x being illegal, you must clearly want all our children to do x".

Isn't that a bit like saying "if you supported the war in Iraq, you support the killing of Iraqis"? I'll need to listen to AQ on the iPlayer - any idea how far through this exchange is?

MatGB said...

What Jock said. What's KRamer's rationale for not agreeing with party policy? She's free to do so as a backbencher, but it's a pretty well thought through policy.

Agree completely with Farage, and would go further; decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation, and I'm still torn between the two as a preferred option.

Mark Thompson said...

Jocj/Mat, 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.

I have updated the main post to make this clear.

She was however basically going along with the knee-jerk stuff about the mephedrone ban being the right and "safe" thing to do.

MatGB said...

But unles I'm very much mistaken, our policy is to hold an RC with all options on the table, to rule one out is both stupid and against party policy.

If, OTOH, I've misunderstood party policy, I'm a lot less happy with it than I thought I was; motion for Autumn perhaps? I know my PPC will support one.

emily said...

Your coverage on drug policy is excellent. I'm glad your voice is out there because I often lack the time to make my feelings on the topic coherent.

All very disheartening though.

Mark Thompson said...

hyena - Thank you! I would very much like to see your views on this in more detail on your blog if you do get a bit more time in future.

Jock Coats said...

I could not find my copy of that Policy Paper 47, but a commenter on my blog helped fill in some of the details I could not remember.

Our policy is that nobody should go to prison for possesion alone - of anything.

That we would establish a standing "Drugs Commission" (previously the policy was for a once? off Royal Commission) to remove the whole issue from the political realm - a body that would set the framework and then implement it.

And our policy is to decriminalise possession and the "social supply" of cannabis.

So I think Susan probably is taking a line counter to current policy, notwithstanding more recent demands to review even that given that other countries seem to find it possible to decriminalise..

The point being that they *cannot* support adding yet another thing to the schedules if they are following policy that says "no custodial sentences for possession/use" when all the schedules include custodial sentences for possession.

But good on Farage. Clearly it won't make a difference to my vote - apart from anything else their candidate in Oxford East is a reactionary loonie who has not got a liberal bone in her body!

MatGB said...

Ah, thanks Jock, didn't know it had changed, not sure I like that TBH, would rather have a commission to leave things open to a radical policy.

Maybe current one is a baby step in the right way, but would rather the option of proper legalisation and regulation was on the table; really interested to see how the California thing is going to go.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Farage is always reliable on these core pragmatarian solutions, although I must admit he does not necessarily represent the majority view of most UKIP members.

Jock Coats said...

Whilst I am sure that the listeners to Any Questions/Answers aren't terribly representative of the country as a whole and probably verge toward liberal, there was some interesting polling in the US before the last election in which people were being asked their opinions on medical marijuana. And whilst a majority approved, when they were asked a second question, about what proportion of the population they thought held the same pro-liberalisation opinion, most people thought they were in a minority. Such is the grip populist media andd politicians have on the issue.

Doesn't alter the fact, though, that given the serendipity of this Meph panic, we should be putting our policy across instead of yet again pretending it doesn't exist.

Mark Thompson said...

Jock - I blogged about that here last year although the surveys I was referring to were in 2004. Is there more up to date research on this now?

Jock Coats said...

Maybe it was before the previous elections then.

In 08 Reason produced some suggestions for what they called an "anonymous straw poll" on Capitol Hill though.

Members of congress would be allowed to vote completely anonymously before a debate on drugs policy was proposed. The thought was that most, even of the most rabid conservatives, being at least intelligent enough to get where they were, agreed with the proposition that the "war on drugs" had failed, but dare not say so owing to the popular outcry in their districts etc. If, say, a clear majority were in favour of *some kind* of change then a debate could go ahead with people knowing that behind the scenes people already agreed so they wouldn't, individually, be left exposed.

Kalvis Jansons said...

A totally rethink seems to be the only way forward.

asquith said...

Naturally I agree with Farage, I tweeted my agreement with him. Over time I have become more Eurosceptic, I don't support UKIP as they are a bit right-wing for my liking but I think the circle is pretty hard to square on Europe. So I might hail him on this or any other issues as they come onto my desk.

However, the regular twats are alredy shouting him down.

It just seems as though you'll never get anywhere in this country if you seek an evidence-based & realistic policy. I'm just left wondering if it will ever change.

Kev said...

Well done Nigel! Any free thinking criminologist would tell you what a devastating charade the 'war on drugs' has been. Since its inception earlier last century it was bound to fail. Not only did it fail, it has been perpetuated by the enormity of the trade itself (second only to the arms industry). Why is it enormous? Because curtailing supply will not stop demand and the more you curtail the more lucrative it becomes, inviting bigger fish to trade. Is it a crime to use drugs? Only in backward societies with an abundance of taboos and plenty of corruption to sustain it.

Nigel Farage is a brave man and a true libertarian.

Kev said...

@ Mark Wordsworth - "Farage is always reliable on these core pragmatarian solutions, although I must admit he does not necessarily represent the majority view of most UKIP members."

True, but UKIP is an evolving party. Nigel needs help from all libertarians to steer the party in the libertarian direction. Nigel is a true libertarian - any true libertarian would understand this because you feel it in your bones.

Jock Coats said...

The Oxford East UKIP candidate once called me a "dangerous extremist" and threatened to "inform" my employer of my libertarian/anarchist views - all for saying there should not be a compulsory "conservation area" policy :)

I know they're not all like that - but they need to shed the likes of her. She is not a good advert. If they don't want to be seen as wing-nuts they need rid of people like her!

MatGB said...

UKIP are an alliance of anti-state "libertarians" (some of whom are mostly genuine but most of whom oppose free movement of peoples), racist xenophobes and authoritarian/tory little englanders, with a smaller number of old Labour style socialists mixed in for good measure.

Farage seems to be winning the policy war, for the most part, and I suspect (having met him) that he's fairly genuine in his libertarian beliefs, even if they're not fully consistent.

But I've encountered far too many paranoid conspiracy loons within the UKIP activist base to take the party overall seriously.

The racist element is particularly strong in those parts of the country where the BNP has little to no presence. Like where I grew up.

Unknown said...

Mark, I'm a committed Conservative who strongly agrees with you and Nigel Farage about this, for all the reasons given in your article, and so many others. For me, it is fundamentally a moral issue: the costs of the failed policy of prohibition have been so massive, in terms of the numbers of lives destroyed and ended as a direct consequence of the illegality of drugs, that those of us who understand the situation in this way are morally bound to speak up about it.

I wonder, did you happen to see the debate on ConservativeHome about this? Despite the editorial line going against Farage, it seemed to me that a majority of the commenters also opposed drugs prohibition, and in my experience younger members of the Party (including myself) do generally tend to be more inclined to favour ending prohibition. Clearly this is an issue that crosses party lines, so I wonder, in the spirit of bipartisanship, whether you could offer an opinion on how likely you think it is that prohibition will be ended at some point in the future? Personally I'm relatively optimistic, but I think the deciding factor will be hoe many of us young anti-prohibitionists actually stick to our guns and keep making the arguments, instead of caving to an orthodox party line that still goes very much against it.

One last point: it's interesting to me that this debate would have been virtually impossible on the scale we're now able to have it without the internet; in the past the best we could have hoped for to advocate such a non-mainstream position was being picked to speak in a radio phone-in whose editor had selected the subject. Now. it's so much easier to get the facts and arguments out there, which I think can only benefit the anti-prohibitionist cause.

Greg Foster said...

Its rare I can safely say that I wholeheartedly agree with Nigel Farrage, but this time out, he's got drugs spot on. I tip my hat to him.

MBoy said...

Just before some people get a little carried away with saying that Farage is a "libertarian", please remember that he is the man who wants to ban certain types of clothes. He doesnt think people should be able to walk the streets with their faces covered. He is NOT a libertarian. A libertarian would never even entertain such a thought.

Anonymous said...

It might be worth considering the position of a mainstream politician like Peter Hain. If he had agreed with Nigel Farage the press reaction could have included
1) By mentioning open debate, Hain now supports the decriminalisation of drugs.
2) A senior politician breaks ranks with his Party’s established and agreed opinion.
3) By agreeing with an extreme right-winger, Hain may also agree on other UKIP policy. For the Labour left it would confirm their belief that Hain does not belong in the Labour Party.
Even if a mainstream politician does believe the drugs issue needs proper consideration, it may be better to toe the line, if there are more important issues, or career ambitions to fulfil.
By making such issues off-limits, society is potentially the poorer. Thank you for encouraging someone who is prepared to take risks.

Rusty Liberal said...

I don't often find myself (if ever!) agreeing with Nigel Farage but the current UK drugs policy patently doesn't work. The close proximity to an election probably means that politicians won't be as candid as we would like them to be about this issue. Unfortunately these less sexy and emotive issues get brushed under the carpet just when they need to be aired.

I remember at the Lib Dem Brighton conference in 1994 we discussed the decriminalisation of cannabis. The party was largely in favour as I remember but we opted for a Royal Commission to investigate. Royal Commissions are always a safe way of saying that we will get an independent investigation carried out and then address the issue later. I also remember at that conference having a very interesting discussion in the bar with a present Lib Dem MP and his wife plus others where we floated the idea of decriminalising all drugs. It seems that 16 years later we are still discussing.

Jock Coats said...

The annoying thing, Dan, is that I am not sure we are "still discussing". Several attempts to get motions into conference over the past few years have been rebuffed with a variety of excuses.

Margaret Godden and I got one passed (just two votes against) at South Central regional conference last autumn to ask the we have a proper policy working party on drugs as soon as the election was over (I know - but we only did that in order that it could not be seen as something that might "threaten" the election run up so people would feel better about agreeing to it).

What is in the manifesto only bears a passing resemblance to what is in our now seven year old policy paper.

And yet I think it's a no brainer - someone needs to stand up for the counter-opinion at election time more importantly than at any other time. There are so many potential benefits that could be sold to the public. Wipe out 80% of acquisitive crime and small scale violent crime (i.e muggings). Save an estimated (by Transform IIRC) £15bn in enforcement, prison, insurance and so on costs, get people more help when they get into trouble because they're not admitting to a crime and so on.

MatGB said...

Jock, just to confirm, have taled to several of my LPs reps, including the PPC, definitely up for putting a motion forward for autumn, can probably get Exec approval for the LP support overall.

So after the election, need to get a bunch of people together to talk through what we want to puch far and how far we want to go; I'd rather a moderate motion with a much stronger amendment, but others prefer different approaches.

Jock Coats said...

Obviously for discussio later, but my inkling is to go with what Margaret and I suggested - demand a policy working party. I felt that Ewan's motion for example was likely to be a hostage to fortune as it *made* policy, in a very sensitive area, on the basis of what did they call it once a "bunch of activists after a desultory debate in a draughty conference hall".

So I think something more open to discussion and evidence before producing a new policy that would then be debated fully is more likely to get somewhere.

MatGB said...

That makes sense actually, proper evidence based policy making; d'you reckon Nutt'd be prepared to be involved? I know he doesn't favour legalising, but it'd be a nice little PR coup.

Jock Coats said...

I would think so. He's been much in contact with Evan I believe and he seems to have been amenable to helping policy-promoting groups like SSDP. In fact, didn't Ewan get him to the conference where he launched LDDPR? I thought there was a video of an interview he recorded with him.

Maybe he will be wanting human trials of his reversible alcohol by then and could get CK for publicity!