Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 12 September 2011

Osborne cocaine allegations highlight political hypocrisy on drugs

Guido has details today of a story about how someone who knew George Osborne when he was in his early twenties is claiming that she saw him take cocaine on multiple occasions.

Osborne has had these allegations made to him before and has always strenuously denied them. It is possible that this latest round of allegations will come to nothing too. It is not clear if there is a smoking gun.

But if it turned out to be true would Osborne have to resign?

If it was up to me he would definitely have to. Not because I think taking cocaine as a 22 year old is such a terrible thing, I don't and I know many young people take all sorts of illegal drugs and go on to have completely normal lives. The only person he was likely to harm is himself and if he was willing to take the risk, it should have been up to him.

But Osborne is one of the most senior members of a government that supports punitive measures against people who take cocaine. In fact it is possible for someone caught in possession of a small amount of a "Class A" drug such as cocaine to be sentenced to 7 years in prison. The same sentence you can get for armed robbery.

So if it turned out that he had taken cocaine, by the terms of the drugs policies that he himself supports he has committed an offence equivalent to this. That's why he should have to resign. Because he himself insists that anyone caught doing what he is alleged to have done can have that sentence imposed on them.

Of course we already know that people like Louise Mensch have admitted drug use in the past and Nick Clegg and even David Cameron himself have refused to deny similar allegations. Cameron insisted that he is entitled to a "private life before politics".

The fact that Osborne could survive something like this, and that numerous of his colleagues have survived too demonstrates the truth of the matter. That despite the "tough on drugs" rhetoric, politicians actually understand that drawing a parallel between a crime like armed robbery and ingesting a powder that affects nobody but yourself is ludicrous.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself whether Mensch, Clegg, Cameron or Osborne could still continue as MPs if there was a strong suspicion that any of them had been involved in an armed robbery.

Of course not. Robbery is a real crime.


Anonymous said...

Hasn't Osborne also refused to say whether he has ever taken cocaine?

As far as I know, his denial was limited to taking cocaine with this woman.

Mark Thompson said...

Aha! You may well be right. And of course that is going to depend on the definition of "with" isn't it!?

It's getting positively Clintonesque :)

Steve Rolles said...

Obama admitted taking ocaine in his biography and it didnt stop him gettting elected. He's never been prosecuted. Bush has, by inference at least, also admitted using cocaine - and actually increased sentences for coaine users whilst Govenor of texas (At least Obama has reduced crack sentences). Rank hypocrisy ofcourse.

I suspect Osborne and Cameron are not opposed to decriminalisation intellectually (but worry/ are cowardly politically), and its more or less in teh Lib dem manifesto so i think we can assume Clegg would be.

No resignations imminent.

Mark Thompson said...

@Steve - I agree with all of that but it shouldn't stop us from highlighting the hypocrisy whenever it arises. The actions of people really do speak louder than words when it comes to showing what they really think about issues like drugs policy.

Anonymous said...

Surely taking cocaine affects a number of people besides yourself? What about the people who were often forced on pain of death or similar to their families to bring the drug into the country, or the armed gangs whose pockets you line who terrorise farmers, bribe police and undermine states in central america?

There are other arguments than a decriminalisation one with which to needle this guy.

It's an economic choice with real consequences. But then when has Gideon ever shown he cares about anyone else - especially the poor!

Istracpsboss said...

'ingesting a powder that affects nobody but yourself is ludicrous.'

The penalties recognise that the means to acquire the powder is the greater problem. If it were just coke heads self destructing fine, but the desperation of the addicts is the main cause of much crime as they scrabble to raise the price of a fix.

Mark Thompson said...

@John - The ingesting of the powder affects nobody but the person ingesting it. I agree that there is all sorts of hardship caused by getting it from source to user but pretty much all of that is caused by exactly the illegality that I am referring to.

If it was legalised globally it would be as dangerous and harmful to import cocaine from Columbia as it is to import Vodka from Russia or Tequila from Mexico.

Mark Thompson said...

@Istracpsboss - Again, caused by the illegality. If cocaine was legal, the price would reflect import costs plus democratically determined and accountable taxes like with alcohol. Most people who consume alcohol do so perfectly legally. There's no reason why it could not be the same with a properly legalised and controlled drug market.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with the principle you are talking about, dismissing cocaine taking as not a "real crime" is disingenuous. Think about where cocaine comes from (poor areas of S. America controlled by vicious drug cartels), the way it is brought into the UK and other countries (in the stomachs of drug mules who are paid a few hundred dollars to endanger themselves - these mules are nearly always desperately poor and are exploited by the same cartels) and finally, the way it is distributed to "consumers" (through networks of criminal gangs who blight our cities and towns and intimidate or harm anyone who gets in their way). So while there is certainly a wider debate to be had about drug law, there is a whole chain of "real" crimes attached to cocaine.

Anonymous said...

Robbery is a real crime,

So is deliberately getting someone else, a spouse maybe, to take points for a driving offence.

McNeil said...

It's quite hilarious to watch Cam&co squirming over their Bullingdon Boys' past. I don't have any real problems with the less addictive drugs themselves, it's just the sheer hypocrisy that makes this story so interesting. While Cameron complains about the 'lack of morals' his Chancellor was apparently, not so long ago, taking illegal drugs. While during the riots 'mindless violence' was condemned, Cameron had to face awkward questions regarding his own behavior in the Bullingdon club.

The only positive in this story is that it proves if even the richest kids in England can be enticed into crime, then consider how easy it is for the poorest to be led astray.

Anonymous said...

I'd be suspicious of anyone in their forties not having taken drugs at some point in their life.

Most of us from the 'acid house generation' have taken more pills and powder than Bez.

Time to end this charade of the war on drugs, it should be called the prohibition industry because that's what it is. Thousands of jobs and lawyers fees that depend on drugs being illegal.
That's the real scandal, not George Osbourne doing a few lines.

Oranjepan said...

I also don't accept the self-harm argument as a defence for drug-taking, though for reasons in addition to the chain of subsidiary crimes in criminal economics.

There is a moral case derived from the 'gateway' argument, namely that self-harm is unacceptable unless thresholds of conscious decision-making can be passed - which are obviously difficult to prove in any case, let alone retrospectively.

So, even if someone like Cameron defends 'the right to a private life before politics' there is still a justification gap for any apparent change in behaviour to explain why, if something may be acceptable then, would it not be now.

Youthful transgressions are understandable and can be covered by the statute on limitations, but they are no defence before the law as it stands and ignorance of the law is no qualification for high office.

Therefore I don't call on Cameron and Osborne to resign, but to choose between providing full public disclosure, changing the law and resigning.

And by comparison direct calls for resignation over inconsistency in application of the law are puny red herrings for partisan campaigning purposes only.