One of the more depressing aspects of the endless pandering to headlines engaged in by the political parties (all of them – I’m not just going to give the Tories a kicking for a change) is that we all end up having to suffer hopeless, counter-productive legislation which usually tends to do a lot more harm than good. A classic example of this is the attitude and policies of successive governments towards the thorny issue of drugs.
Let’s be absolutely clear about this: the policies of British governments to control the use of recreational drugs have never worked. Never. Drug use continues to rise, as do the resultant crime statistics, but administration after administration doggedly sticks to the mantra of tighter prohibition. (Except for alcohol and tobacco, of course – we wouldn’t want to lose those political donations, would we?)
There was much hand-wringing on all sides when Alan Johnson found himself in hot water a month or so back due to the sacking of Professor David Nutt, the government’s drugs adviser, but his is just the latest in a long line of posturing idiocies over the issue. Johnson, previously the great hope to rescue the Labour Party from defeat at the General Election, appeared to succumb to the same old fear of adverse headlines which has been affecting our elected representatives for decades now. But then, put yourself in his shoes: imagine the rage of the Daily Mail/Sun headline writers if any politician was brave enough to stick their head above the parapet and suggest that, perhaps, we might want to do things a bit differently. It’s a depressing reality which apparently leaves us doomed to an eternity of disastrous policies which continue to condemn communities to a self-perpetuating cycle of crime and drug abuse.
I suppose then, that I should welcome the initiative by MPs to actually visit an establishment where ‘youngsters’ go of an evening, but I feel myself cringing with embarrassment before it’s even happened. The MPs in question will go to a club (supposedly to get an idea of how the cocaine trade works on the ground) wearing stiff suits – or worse, dressed down to be ‘down with the kids’. They will look totally out of place for the twenty or so minutes they stay. They will arrive with pre-conceived ideas and, sadly, probably leave with the same views. They’ll return to their committee and no doubt trot out the same prohibitionist drivel they’ve always come out with, only this time they’ll be able to say they’ve given their views legitimacy by seeing at first hand how things happen. I fear the whole thing will be an exercise in window dressing, and that we’ll be no further forward when they’ve finished.
Probably the best hope for a change in the way this issue is debated is the impending demise of the ‘Dead Tree’ press. The print media, which sadly still holds a disproportionate grip on the terms of debate of almost any issue, is in terminal decline. The internet is fast taking over from newspapers as a tool for news gathering and opinion forming, and even Rupert Murdoch predicts an end to the use of paper by the end of the next decade. While I have no doubt that the Mail and the Sun will find other ways to muddy free debate in the political arena, perhaps there is hope that their vice-like grip will soon slip. Maybe then our politicians will feel a little bolder – and maybe then we’ll start to talk some sense on the issue of drugs.