Magazine article The Spectator

A Vote for Kennedy Is a Vote for Cannabis. I'm Voting Kennedy

Magazine article The Spectator

A Vote for Kennedy Is a Vote for Cannabis. I'm Voting Kennedy

Article excerpt

What a brave and sensible start Charles Kennedy has made to the leadership of his party by promising an open review of the mess we're in over drugs. Though no illegal drug has ever mattered much to me, I could be persuaded to vote Liberal Democrat - once - on drugs-liberalisation. There must be millions who think like me. Being unfamiliar with the inwardnesses and signalling systems of Mr Kennedy's party, I cannot say whether his remarks were meant merely to reassure radical members that their new leader is cool, or whether he really means to make headway with this cause. But I think he could.

Let's cut the doublespeak and admit that, for most of us, saying we want a review means we hope for liberalisation. We should not be coy about this. Though any review would have to weigh every option, including proposals to toughen the law, and though we cannot prejudge the evidence which might emerge, we who support Kennedy's call are overwhelmingly persuaded, first, that the present approach cannot be made to work, and second, that society's difficulties with drugs would not be aggravated and might be reduced by bringing at least some drug-taking out of the shadows of criminality and into the light.

So we want a review. It is disingenuous to pretend that we have not guessed its outcome - but, interestingly, so have the zero-tolerance brigade. Otherwise why would they become so angry whenever a review is mentioned? Why, if they are as morally and scientifically confident of their case as they claim, should they resist a careful study of the evidence?

The truth is they know they're up a creek. You could hear that in Jack Cunningham's voice when he gave his promised update on anti-drugs policy just before the House rose for the summer. I have never heard a minister speak with less conviction. There are one or two politicians - Mrs Ann Winterton, the Conservative spokeswoman on drugs, is probably among them - who honestly believe that more education, more customs officers, more convictions and more policemen would do the trick, but the remainder all suspect that zero-tolerance has failed. Beyond that, they divide into two groups, the first preferring a familiar mess to the uncertainties of liberalisation, the second, privately favouring liberalisation, but too scared to say so, because of what they take to be a conservative public opinion.

Yet if Tony Blair were tomorrow to announce a comprehensive and openended review of drugs policy, a third of the Conservative party, two-thirds of the Labour party and nearly all the Liberal Democrats would tell the press they had long suspected this was needed, and were glad that a prime minister had found the courage to say so.

So would about half the British public. It's odd how our democracy fails to produce assemblies whose deliberations come anywhere near mirroring the views of those who elect them. Terror in the face of what they think is respectable opinion seizes politicians, deafening them to the quiet conversations which, if they would but listen, they could hear in pubs, cars and sitting-rooms all across the land. But a logjam develops at Westminster in which, long before the thing shifts, every individual in the jam can see that the shift is coming, but none wishes to be the first to budge. Then, all at once, the whole thing shudders and breaks up. Afterwards, everyone says the move was `always inevitable'. It happened with the age of homosexual consent, it happened within the Labour party with `modernisation', it happened with privatisation, and it will happen with drugs. …

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