Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The View from Here - France - Minister Makes a Political Hash of It: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The View from Here - France - Minister Makes a Political Hash of It: News

Article excerpt

As Francois Hollande saw rising unemployment and taxes drive down his opinion poll ratings, the last thing he needed was for his education minister to produce his own banana skin and tread on it.

For Vincent Peillon, who had enough on his plate as France's new socialist government planned radical changes in education, it should have been a routine appearance on a Sunday night political radio programme. But he caused his president acute embarrassment by calling for debate on the decriminalisation of cannabis. By the time he had been hauled over the coals by Mr Hollande's prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the damage had been done.

It was not lost on the education minister's critics that this is an issue that goes straight into the classroom. One campaign group, Test Cannabis, estimates that the average age at which pupils discover the drug is 15. Among 13 to 19-year-olds, half have tried it at least once by the age of 17, one in five smokes it 10 times a year or more and one in 10 several times weekly.

Gleeful political opponents seized on Mr Peillon's comments as a classic gaffe, adapting the common taunt "gauche caviar", which English speakers would translate as "champagne socialism", to "gauche petard", branding him a "firecracker" or loose cannon of the Left.

The essential argument advanced by Mr Peillon is familiar enough: remove the criminality of smoking a joint and you eliminate the dealer (provided, of course, that the dealer sells only cannabis). Rebuking French reluctance to deal as openly as some European countries with the problem, he said on the France Inter radio station: "This is a major issue. …

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