Compassion, not coercion, is the answer to Britain’s drug problem.
Over the last two weeks, the main talking point in British politics has been the televised debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage concerning the issue of Europe. As much as I hate to admit it, Nigel Farage came off far better, and Clegg was largely left mumbling about how Farage either loves Putin or was a conspiracy theorist who thought Elvis was still alive. It was clear that the two men are not obvious political allies, and that they are divided on almost every issue. I say almost, because there is one area on which the two men find consensus: drug policy reform.
Farage declared that the war on drugs had been lost ‘many, many years ago’, and that he supported full decriminalisation. I never thought that I would say this, but bravo Mr Farage. Completely at odds with his party, the Ukip leader has bravely gone exactly where he should be going. Ukip advertises itself as a Libertarian Party, and by supporting full decriminalisation of drugs in the UK, Farage is showing that this claim might not be totally off the mark. I’ve always been sceptical of the claim that Ukip were Libertarians, it seemed to me that they were Libertarian about issues they wanted to be (environment and taxation) and not so much about issues they didn’t want to be (same-sex marriage and drug legalisation), but perhaps with the announcement that Farage does support same-sex marriage, followed by this new announcement, they will soon genuinely be able to make that claim.
Likewise, in February of this year, Clegg announced, after a visit to Columbia, that, ‘if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’. Impressively, Clegg became the first party leader to stand up against our failed drug policy and say that things needed to change. Although some may see this as an attempt to differentiate the Lib-Dems from the Conservatives in the run-up to the general election, it is, without doubt, a step in the right direction. The general public have realised that British Drug laws aren’t working, with the majority of people agreeing that government’s approach to illegal drugs is ineffective, and now politicians are beginning to realise too.
I think that most people agree that drugs are an awful stain on our society, but this does not mean that criminalisation is the answer. People die at the hands of these drugs, but there is no evidence to suggest that making them illegal means that fewer people will take them. The country that spends the most money, by far, on its anti-drugs campaign is the United States, and yet, it leads the table for the highest cocaine use in the world, it leads the table for the highest cannabis use in the world, and it leads the table for the most people in prison for drug use in the world. Why? Wouldn’t you expect, given the amount of money that is spent on keeping people from using drugs, that the rates of abuse would be much lower? Portugal is another interesting case study. In 2001, drug use was decriminalised across the country, and yet, its annual prevalence of cocaine use is 0.3% compared to the US’ 2.8%, and its annual prevalence of cannabis use is 7.6% compared to the US’ 51.6%. Put simply, the United States’ drug laws are not working, but Portugal’s are. The United Kingdom is not far behind the United States, being third in the world for cocaine use and ninth in the world for cannabis use.
Some may argue that Portugal’s drug use has always been lower than that of the United States (or the UK), and that the decriminalisation was not what made the difference, but rather a difference of culture. The statistics again show that this is untrue. Portugal’s reformed policy lead to a reduction in drug related deaths, a reduction in drug use among teenagers, an increase uptake of treatment programs, and a reduction in HIV deaths due to shared needles. What we have seen in Portugal is not a wave of new drug users who have been enticed by their decriminalisation, as we have been warned about by our government, we have not seen more people dying as we have been told there would be, and we have not seen more young people turning to drugs. What we have been told is simply wrong.
So, what is the answer? Compassion and care for drug users. We need to treat drug use, not drug users, as the problem. We need to offer treatment and advice, and try to make sure people are not in a bad enough state that they resort to drug use in the first place. We know the causes of drug abuse, and we know that people in poverty are much more likely to resort to using hard drugs. Income inequality is another factor behind drug use; we know that the worse a country scores on the Gini Coefficient (a measurement of income inequality), the more likely they are to have a drug-taking population. Interestingly, one country that bucks the trend here is Portugal, where there is high income inequality yet low drug use. Any guesses as to why?
The British political landscape is changing. In 2010, we saw the first hung parliament since 1974, showing that the people of the UK are disillusioned with the main two political parties. The smaller parties are rising fast, and these are the parties who are pushing for radical drug law reform. It is only so long until the main parties catch up. I say, the sooner, the better.
Weekly Parliament Roundup- 24th -30th March
Is Miliband the right man for Labour?
Following the announcement of the budget, many Labour MPs have criticised Miliband for not having a strong and and solid reaction, especially in the Commons Chamber. Before the budget, people were worried that Miliband’s constant stress upon the cost of living crisis was losing its momentum and many people have been waiting to get a sense of direction as to where Miliband is heading. Furthermore, there has been some questioning over his style of leadership and several members have implied that he always makes big policy announcements but leaves huge spaces in between. When he’s not making announcements, his silence creates a loss of spark within the party which then leads members into deciding amongst themselves what the party should be doing.
Moreover, it has been hinted that there might be a divide within the party when it comes to the type of policies which the party wishes to bring forward. Some members want radical policies in order to get the voters excited whereas others want safety first as they think that they are more likely to win by being cautious. The main issue with Miliband is that the party might not have time to be leaving huge spaces in between important announcement since elections are so close. He needs to begin sustaining an attack on the government
Is the future looking bright for the Tories
The aftermath of the Budget announcement has created a positive outlook for the party. The success of the party in the upcoming months and eventually, in the election depends on whether the narrowing of the opinion polls will put the conservatives in the lead. Additionally, the Tories’ success is also dependent on the European Elections. However, if UKIP gain a higher position to the Conservatives, it might create a sense of uncertainty within the party.
What can Cameron do to satisfy the Euro sceptics?
100 Conservative MPs have allegedly vowing to leave and campaign against the EU regardless of David Cameron’s actions. This recent news leads us to question what the Prime Minster can do to ever please his Euro-sceptic party members. He’s already promised a referendum on the EU if his party stays in power but this will be hard to achieve if the Tories are divided as a party. Additionally, he’s devolved powers to member states, promised to win back key powers from Brussels and he’s even got an agreement with Germany that any changes in the EU will be fair for all nations.
This week, we saw Miliband and Cameron firmly back on the battleground through the issue of the privatisation of the Royal Mail. Ed Miliband urged Cameron to tell the house his excuse for the Royal Mail ‘Fiasco’ and Cameron hit back by his usual attack on Labour’s failures by saying that the tax payers benefitted from the Two Billion pounds that the company was sold at-something which labour didn’t achieve. Moreover, Cameron stressed upon the fact that even the workers are far better off because many of them have become shareholders in the company that they are working, meaning that they are now receiving dividends as well as their wages. Ultimately, the biggest blow to Miliband came when Cameron attacked by exclaiming that Miliband was only asking about the Royal Mail because he was paid to by the trade unions.
The Impact of the NSA files on the Coalition’s civil liberty record
The NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden to Glen Greenwald (former Guardian journalist) from June 2013 exposed the extent of international surveillance by, supposedly democratic governments, across the world. The leaks found Britain’s intelligence agency (GCHQ) working in conjunction with the National Security Agency (NSA) to bypass each other’s national laws for the sake of internet and communications surveillance. The leaks revealed that not only under the Coalition but under Labour, governments had been acting without any consent, collecting ‘meta data’ on mass, without even cabinet ministers’ knowledge.
Many feel that the NSA and GCHQ have gone too far and that collecting hundreds of billions of international internet and telephone data items is a threat to their civil liberties. Edward Snowden, a self-proclaimed libertarian, perhaps with similar views to the conservative party on migration and welfare, did not intend to harm people’s safety; he also insists that he has not leaked information to Chinese or Russian officials. On an internet forum he once stated that leakers of classified information should be “shot in the balls”. But after being revealed the extent of the surveillance; he knew that citizens should be properly informed.
After looking at the government’s failure to implement surveillance law in the past, it is clear why this information was kept secret. Under Labour, the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), a government initiative which meant internet and telephone providers are to store email and telephone contacts for twelve months received strong criticism from the Conservatives . And yet, while in government Theresa May proposed furthering the IMP under the Communications Data Bill (nicknamed the snoopers charter) which would require Internet and mobile providers to keep records of each user’s internet browsing, voice calls, emails, mobile phone messages and even internet gaming for twelve months.
This legislation has not been enacted into law, as even the deputy PM Nick Clegg withdrew his support April last year. He stated that, he had “a number of serious criticisms – not least on scope, proportionality, cost (estimated £1.8 billion), checks and balances, and the need for much wider consultation” . A survey on YouGov found that 71% of Britons “did not trust that the data will be kept secure”, and half described the proposal as “bad value for the money.” Therefore the bill was dropped.
However the NSA leaks, revealed after the Communications Data Bill, are much more widespread and intrusive than the Data Bill would have been. Many have criticised the Conservative’s reaction to the leaks, 70 leading human rights organisations have written an open letter to Cameron in anger of the government’s minimal reaction. Also they criticised the detention of David Miranda another Guardian Journalist under the Terrorism Act 2000 . Nick Clegg has been critical of the government in light of the NSA leaks, and Ed Miliband states that “Labour will make substantial changes to the oversight of British Intelligence agencies.”
The leaks show that the UK government has acted irresponsibly with no accountability. They say ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’; maybe this should be said to our government.
The debate political hacks were waiting for, Clegg Vs Farage on EU membership treated viewers and listeners to a spectacle generating more heat than light. Both sides were in combative mood. Farage playing the ‘I’m a real man’ act, not part of the ‘Westminster bubble’, ‘I feel the pain of ordinary hard-working people’. Whilst Clegg presented himself as a numbers man ready to undermine UKIP hyperbole on immigration and champion common sense liberal values over political scaremongering. Political pundits and pollsters now begin the work of
chewing over the audience response. So who won it? Well there are no losers. Both win, some polls place Farage ahead but Clegg probably doesn’t mind very much. A closer look at Clegg’s strategy shows us that he is not after the Farage vote, like Paltrow, Clegg is going through a conscious uncoupling of his own. Read more
Is the economy rebalancing as proposed?
It is coming up to 4 years since Osborne decided the UK economy needed to be rebalanced. By ‘rebalancing’, he proposed a self-sustainable and largely export led economy. An economy that no longer relied on the financial services of the City, which appears to benefit suited men who know better how to ruin an economy better than those on Downing Street know how to fix one. Moreover Osborne pleaded for an economy with a higher propensity to save as opposed to one which will pay the price for further unsustainable private and public debt. Four years on, there seems to be a lack of policy aimed towards accomplishing a rebalanced economy.
When the economic recovery began in 2009 the conditions seemed to be in place for a manufacturing exports-led resurgence. The pound depreciated significantly during the financial crisis, providing UK manufacturers with a competitive edge. And with domestic spending still slow, it wouldn’t have been surprising for UK firms to look to overseas sales for growth. Manufactured goods are the dominant element in international trade – accounting for 75% of all UK exports. However as expected it is the services industries which have driven the UK recovery. Service output has now passed its pre-crisis peak, whereas manufacturing production is languishing nearly 10% down on its early 2008 level.
Moreover, whilst the UK has many successful manufacturing firms, our strengths are concentrated in a small number of sectors – aerospace, pharmaceuticals, high-value engineering and car production. Britain does not have the broad manufacturing base which has allowed Germany to be so successful in expanding its exports to Asia and other high growth emerging market economies. However economists at Citi reckon the UK’s exports have risen by 182%, in cash terms, in the last 10 years – five times faster than the UK’s exports to advanced economies. Within that, exports to China have risen six-fold since 2002, and exports to India are nearly five times higher. Goods exports to emerging markets now account for nearly a third of our goods exports, up from 17% in 2002. However with the emerging market economies slowing down, our hopes of rebalancing further may be even more dependent on the Eurozone’s recovery than they were before.
Over the recovery, the private sector has created 1.5 million jobs – predominantly in services – greatly offsetting the reduction of about 500,000 in public sector employment. This ideological approach to rebalancing has been working, although it has been isolating those in the public sector greatly whose lack of skills and the lack of private sector employment in regions such as the North East mean they have added to the inconsistent shift from public to private sector growth.
The UK economy is rebalancing – but not as we expected. Rebalancing is happening within the services industries rather than in favour of the manufacturing industry. As long as this is accompanied by export success and rising employment, as it has been so far, we should welcome and support Britain’s services-led recovery.
Weekly Parliament Roundup: 10th March – 16th March
New Budget to be announced by Osborne
George Osborne will be announcing his 5th and final budget on Wednesday. Conservative Backbenchers want more tax cuts for middle earners and they also whish for changes at the level at which which the 40p tax rates kicks in. However, he insists that his priority is to increase the personal allowance on which no income tax is paid. Furthermore, Osborne apparently said that if more people pay 40p tax rate. This is supposedly good news for the conservatives and will boost aspirations as they’ll feel like they’ve succeeded. There might be some big increases in the growth forecast but there is still little room for manoeuvre and Ed Balls has recently accused the conservatives of failing to stem the UK’s cost of living Crisis.
Michael Gove calls Eton filled Tory inner circle ‘Ridiculous’
In a recent interview, Michael was asked if he was comfortable being Education Secretary taking into consideration the fact that there are so many old Etonians within Cameron’s inner circle. As a reply, he exclaimed that the whole thing was ‘ridiculous’ and that he didn’t know any other advanced country in the world that would allow this kind of situation to exist. It is unsure what Mr Gove meant by this remark but he stated that he wished to emphasise the fact that the need for state education needs to be improved. Gove’s Eton remark is however partially true as there is a need for Parliament to be more diverse in terms of educational backgrounds.
Miliband ‘unlikely’ to call EU referendum
Ed Miliband has admitted in an article for the Financial Times that Labour would be unlikely to hold an in/out referendum on membership of the EU if he becomes Prime Minister. He claims that setting an ‘arbitrary timetable’ for a referendum would ‘inflict huge uncertainty on business and undermine Britain’s influence abroad’. The only reason why Labour would call an in/out referendum is if there were any significant transfer of powers to the EU but he suggests that this is ‘unlikely’. Peter Mandelson stated that Miliband’s decision concludes in him thinking that he has shown ‘judgement and courage’ whilst adding ‘I think he’s gone out and made the political weather on a major issue and I think as a result it will strengthen him and help him win the next election.’
‘Feminists need a good slap’ says ex Tory aide
Stewart Green, an aide to a Conservative MP has resigned after calling feminists ‘‘whingeing imbeciles’’who ‘‘need a good slap around the face’’. Stewart told his Facebook friends he was “sick to the back tooth” of “wretched women MPs who seem to be constantly going on about there not being enough women in frontline politics”. He rattled on further by adding that, ‘’This country has been a gradual decline southwards towards the dogs ever since we started cow-towing to the cretinous pseudo-equality demand of these whinging [sic] imbeciles.” Additionally, he referred to a woman last year who refused to take his offer of a seat on the bus as a “fat ginger b****,” whilst adding, “I am absolutely sick and tired of this feminism nonsense. It really has gone too far’’
*** Economy update – March 2014 ***
The tide has somewhat turned in the Conservatives favour. Less than 18 months until the General election and the economy seems to be resuscitating. Better late than never I suppose. With Mr Osborne revealing his last budget for this Parliament next week, the Tory party are trying to map out their economic stance. It is clear that the 2015 general election will be laden with tax and spend policies, as the main parties not only try to prove that they are economically credible but that their policies seek to benefit the hard working.
The first three years of the coalition were characterised by flat lining growth, missed targets, a loss of Britain’s AAA debt rating and a triple-dip recession scare. However, the latter part of 2013 saw improvements in almost all macroeconomic sections. Economic growth for 2013 measured up at 1.8% compared to the sluggish 0.3% of 2012. Osborne insists that his “long term economic plan is working”, with economic growth complemented by increased investment and fast pace job creation in the service sector. Despite Osborne’s “long term” economic plan, Labour still maintain that the government is not meeting its longer term goals as the majority are yet to feel the benefits of this recovery as their wages are eroded by inflation and battle with the so called “cost of living” crisis. Not to mention, the economy is still smaller than it was pre-crisis and this recovery has taken far too long. Economists have started to water down expected forecasts for the economy as low productivity levels stifle economic growth.
Unemployment figures have also fallen to 7.2%. As we approach the 7% figure earlier than expected, the Bank of England has revised its earlier decision to raise interest rates when unemployment falls below 7%. Significantly, youth and long term unemployment have also fallen, an issue that poses the most threat to the economy. Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, believes unemployment levels are still too high and that there is still more work to be done. The fall, although welcomed by the Labour Party had the caveat “the government must not be complacent”. Miliband insists wages are £1,600 less than what they were in 2010, and that 13 million people are living in poverty. As unemployment continues to decrease, so does the spare capacity within the economy – what this means is that the economy needs to grow by a faster rate in order to deter inflationary pressures. Inflation is now close to the Bank of England’s inflation target (2%) as it dropped to 1.9% in December to January. Although wages have only risen by 1.3%, some expect wages to rise at a similar rate of inflation, and with plans to raise the minimum wage to £6.50 in October this seems likely to happen before May 2015.
Both Labour and Conservatives have committed themselves to running a budget surplus in the next Parliament but this is very difficult to visualise since the deficit still remains at £111bn. The Lib Dems have accepted the Conservatives’ plans to eliminate the deficit but say that they would go about it in a much ‘fairer’ way; through a mixture of higher taxes and cuts in government expenditure. Just a few months ago, the Lib Dems proposed to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,500. What this would mean is that the first £10,500 earned would be tax exempt. The Tories have now claimed this policy as their own. Cameron says that he will prioritise tax cuts for the low paid in an attempt to shake off the perception they are out of touch, protecting the rich.
It is still premature to conclude that this upturn is down to fiscal conservatism and austerity, but confidence in the economy is key, and with people spending more and businesses increasing investment it is likely that the economy will continue to strengthen in the lead up to the election. All the parties know what the next election will be fought on, as Bill Clinton once said, ‘it’s the economy stupid’.
David Cameron discusses the UK economy, immigration and the threat of UKIP.
The Conservatives plan to scrap the Human rights Act
After World War Two the European Convention of Human Rights was created to prohibit any breach of our basic human rights. This was a convention signed by European countries, so in order for it to be enforced you had to take the long road to Strasbourg for a decision to be made. The Human Rights Act was passed in 1998 so the UK could clarify and safeguard the rights of its people through bringing the ECHR on UK statute. Examples of these rights include the right to life and the right to a fair trial.
Theresa May vowed to scrap the Human Rights Act back in September should the Tories win the next general election. The Home Secretary also spoke of a new Immigration Bill that would allow an easier deportation if there was no risk of serious harm to the deportee. It is understood that this is a reaction to the extensive effort to deport hate preacher Abu Qatada. Considering the consequences, Theresa May confirmed the Conservative Party are also prepared to leave the European Convention of Human Rights if necessary. In 2011, David Cameron suggested the repeal of the Human Rights Act. Cameron proposed the UK should have its own British Bill of Rights similar to the United States that would result in an entrenched law in our seemingly uncodified constitution, however it seems those plans are now on the back burner. The Conservatives were never particularly in favour of the Act and it is probably the Liberal Democrats that have been their major obstacle in trying to remove it.
The Labour Party has completely supported the Human Rights Act since its inception in 1998. Labour MP Sadiq Khan has been very open in defending The Human Rights Act as well as criticising the “myths” (as he describes) surrounding it. The Liberal Democrats share the same view to Labour. In March 2007, Lord Lester (Lib Dem peer) was quoted in the House of Lords that the act has “strong Lib Dem support”. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also defended The Human Rights Act claiming it protects the vulnerable.
Should Labour or the Lib Dems (highly unlikely) gain a majority in 2015 then we can expect little or no change to the Human Rights Act. However, if the Conservatives win with a majority we could see a drastic change in the way our rights are defined in this country.