Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Fury over 'War on Drugs Launched in 30 Minutes'; Former Aide's Claims Prove Labour Is Not Committed to Tackling Problem, Say Charities

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Fury over 'War on Drugs Launched in 30 Minutes'; Former Aide's Claims Prove Labour Is Not Committed to Tackling Problem, Say Charities

Article excerpt

Byline: BEN LEAPMAN

A NEW row over Labour's "war on drugs" broke out today after it emerged that a key government policy was put together in half an hour.

Downing Street rushed out an announcement that crime suspects would face mandatory drugs tests in a bid to deflect media attention from a row between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The revelation, made by former No 10 spin doctor Lance Price in his memoirs, fuelled claims by critics that drugs policy contains more spin than substance.

Mr Price recalls "hysterical" scenes as aides scrambled to warn then-Home Secretary Jack Straw and drugs czar Keith Hellawell that the announcement was coming. Within two years, Mr Hellawell had been sidelined and it had become clear that cocaine use was rising, contrary to Labour's target.

In his memoirs, serialised in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Price describes how the Downing Street press machine responded to Sunday newspaper reports of a new Blair-Brown rift. He said: "Our aim has been to knock the story out by coming up with a better one. So with half an hour to go before Blair's appearance [on Breakfast With Frost], we decided to launch a war on drugs."

The major policy announcement was aired minutes after Mr Straw and Mr Hellawell had been alerted.

Mr Price said: "Jack was okay about it, although he says lawyers warn it might be ruled out by the European Court of Human Rights. Margaret Beckett [the Commons Leader] was pretty pissed off that she hadn't been warned."

Drugs charities and opposition MPs will seize on the account as proof that Labour is not committed to a serious, long-term strategy to combat Britain's drugs epidemic.

Critics said the policy to test all arrested crime suspects for hard drugs could breach human rights law.

Campaign group Liberty condemned the Prime Minister's initiative, complaining: "Eroding rights won't crack crime and this approach misses the whole point, which is to stop people becoming problematic drug users in the first place."

The revelations bear out criticism from Mr Hellawell that the Government was driven by "spin" rather than a real focus on what was needed. …

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