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.
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
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.
Weekly Parliament Roundup: 17th-23rd February
Cabinet visits in Scotland
The Cabinet will be heading for the second time in 90 years to North East of Scotland, Aberdeen, the home of the UK’s oil and gas industry. First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond will also be chairing his own cabinet meeting and both the Cabinet and he want to address the future of the North Sea oil industry. Alex Salmond believes that Scottish independence will bring great benefits to the sector. As the referendum is coming nearer, the UK is aiming to now make strong economic arguments in order to weaken the independence arguments. In addition, there have been slightly negative reactions to the visit as some Scotts believe that the three main unionist parties are trying to dictate the actions of the Scottish.
Angela Murkel to visit Westminster on Thursday
Angela Murkel will be visiting the UK this Thursday and she is here mainly going to have talks The Prime Minister and take a visit also see the Queen. They will talk about the troubled relationship which the UK has with the EU. Conservative Eurosceptic that a re-negotiation of European treaties would have to be done if the Conservatives are re-elected. Moreover, backbenchers want Cameron to stress on the fact that either we get a new relationship that makes sense for Britain or the British people will vote to leave. Regarding other recently important issues, they will also discuss Ukraine.
Farage Vs Clegg on EU
After a recent radio interview with LBC, Nick Clegg has challenged UKIP leader Nigel Farage to a debate regarding the EU and Nigel Farage has agreed. He commended UKIP in the interview by saying that at least they’ve got a clear position that they want to ‘yank Britain out of UKIP’ and the same thing cannot be said for Conservative and Labour don’t really have ‘courage of their convictions on it’. Clegg stressed that the Lib Dems are clearly Pro EU and that being in the EU means being in work. Over 3 million jobs in the country depends on us being in EU according to Clegg and he said that the debate will good way for the public to hear both sides of the argument and decide for themselves regarding the EU.
Special Labour Conference on Saturday
Labour are to hold a special conference on Saturday mainly regarding party reforms. They are attempting to push through the creation of a one member one vote system when electing for the party leaders. Ed Miliband wants the support on allowing the public to pay three pounds to become registered members and show interest in the party and they will have a say in electing the leader and policy making. There has been a positive outlook on these proposals as Labour needs to broaden their support base and gain more voters and these reforms might be the right way to go about it.
Recently, the speaker for the House of Commons, John Bercow suggested that there should be a reformation to Prime Minister’s questions as he believes that the MPs are too unorderly and there needs to be less chaos in the House. However, the reforming PMQs might actually draw people away, there’s always going to be passion and noise in PMQs because it’s the nature of our politics. This week in PMQs, there was mainly disagreements regarding Cameron’s plans for the floods and overall Conservative spending on flood defence spending and climate change. Ed Miliband disagreed with Cameron that the current Government’s spending regarding flood defence spending increased. However, both Miliband and Cameron agreed that climate change, especially man-made climate change is an important issue.
Weekly Parliament Roundup: 29/01/14-5/02/14
Conservative style Ofsted
After the firing of Ofsted Chair and Labour peer Sally Morgan, Michael Gove has said that the next head of Ofsted will be appointed upon merit but has not yet ruled out appointing a Conservative peer. A number of critics have been saying that Gove is trying to ‘politicise’ an independent body and the same argument has been said by Liberal Democrat Schools Ministers who have said that Gove is bringing his own people into an impartial organisation. However, Michael Gove has replied back by saying that it’s just time for a fresh pair of eyes and his decision on not ruling out the appointment of Conservative peers has nothing to do with politics.
Formal Tests in Nursery
Michael Gove has given an indication that he wants to introduce formal assessments for 4&5 year olds in order to measure progress more effectively. He believes that by children taking these assessments when they start school, their performance in year 6 will then be better contrasted. As a result, schools will be able to see how well the child has developed academically under their teaching, allowing them to make precise improvements for children in the future. Several schools have already stated that they already do this so the proposal doesn’t seem to be anything drastic.
Miliband to reform links with Trade Unions
Ed Miliband’s plans to reform the party went before the party’s ruling national executive this week. Within these plans, trade unions will keep their 50% votes at the party conference and the selection of parliamentary candidates won’t change. Because of this, Trade Union leaders seem to not appear panicked about the reforms because essentially, parliamentary candidates are unable to get nominated without the backing of Trade Unions. In regards to parliamentary candidates, the plans state that they will have to declare that they want to opt in to pay the party. Once they are then elected, Labour will then send them a ballot paper.
Despite the fact that Miliband thinks that the reforms will strengthen the link between the party and the unions, several trade union leaders have hinted that the fundamental relationship won’t change and the unions won’t accept further reforms. Additionally, they have said that Labour is being a little optimistic in its assessment of how many affiliated members they will gain through these reforms. Furthermore, a more important question arising from these reform proposals is: will they make Labour more dependent on Trade Unions?
Miliband strikes again (PMQs)
This week, we saw Miliband gain another victory roll for the third time this year. After hitting the Prime Minister with a few start up questions on the length at which the Tories were taking in handling the flooding issues, he brought out his killer question about what the PM has exactly done in order to improve women equality. As usual, David Cameron tried to get out of answering the question by giving the opposition figures regarding floods. When he finally did reply, he made the remark of the Conservative party having a female Prime Minister and this gave Miliband the perfect opportunity to hit back at Cameron by highlighting his failures of winning the last General Election.
David Cameron is said to be going back on his word about green taxes despite obligations from Lib Dems.
David Cameron has come under fire for his statement on reviewing energy bills. The Prime Minister said that the green taxes had helped push up household bills to “unacceptable” prices, but a source close to the prime minister said his message in private was blunter than that. He is claimed to have said, “We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.” Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in December will set out new plans to reduce the impact of environmental impacts on fuel bills. The changes have set out to cause disruptions in the coalition government because the Lib Dems vowed to prevent in any falls in levies during this parliament.
The Lib Dems are also keen to keep the green taxes, arguing they are essential to creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly energy supply for the UK. Cameron wants to scrap most of the charges, which help subsidise wind farms and pay for home insulation. But Nick Clegg is insisting they must stay despite Cameron stating “We need to roll back some of the green regulations and charges,” during Prime Minister’s Questions. His decision to review energy levies came after three of the “big six” energy firms announced price rises of between 8% and 10%, as well as pressure from Labour leader Ed Miliband who is vowing to freeze energy prices if he comes to power in 2015. Cameron once pledged back in 2010 that he would lead the “greenest government ever” and even travelled, in 2006, to the Arctic Circle with a pack of huskies to highlight his concern about climate change. He applied to put a wind turbine on the roof of his family home and was repeatedly pictured cycling to the Commons – though this backfired when it emerged his shoes and papers followed in a car.
Yet, his stance on government ideologies about the environment seemed to have changed when faced with pressure in the House of Commons. Tory high command has also privately abandoned Mr Cameron’s pre-election mantra ‘vote blue, go green’. To defend his decision on regulating green taxes after promising to be the “greenest government ever”, he answered, ‘we have got the world’s first green investment bank, we have got great support for our green technology industries and we have got the first nuclear power station since 1995′. ‘This is a government investing in important green technologies’, Cameron defiantly states, when asked by journalists whether he still believed in the environmental agenda.
According to Government figures, the green levies add £112 to a typical household bill. The money is then used to pay for loft insulation schemes and subsidies for renewable energy projects, under the Coalition’s rules. Downing Street sources said that, if there was no policy change, green levies could rise from the current £112 to £194 – or 14 per cent of the typical household bill – by 2020. Mr Cameron wants action to reduce the impact of the levies, the source said.
But, rather than trying to dictate prices or influence the global cost of energy, he said the government’s focus was on dealing with the aspects of energy bills it could control. After the review is held, there will be a competition test for the energy market to see how it is functioning. He said that he wants more energy companies so that consumers have greater choice. ‘I want more companies, I want better regulation, I want better deals for customers, but yes we need to roll back the charges that Mr Miliband put in place as energy secretary’. The reaction from some Lib Dem members hasn’t been too positive with a source accusing the Conservatives of a “panicky U-turn”.
“Everybody knows the Tories are getting cold feet on the environment” the source said.
“The Tories have put no properly worked up policies in front of us. But we will not allow a panicky U-turn during PMQs to dictate Government policy. However where the similarities ended between the Lib Dem party was when Nick Clegg said green levies are not ‘all crap’ and added that Mr Cameron agrees with him. A Conservative MP and environmentalist Zac Goldsmith criticised both Cameron and Miliband on twitter “In 2010, leaders fought to prove they were the greenest. Three years on, they’re desperately blaming their own policies on the other. Muppets.” This came after Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron were seen arguing with each other during Prime Minister’s Question Time, when Miliband said that 60% of green taxes had been introduced by the current government and reminded the Prime Minister of his stated ambition to lead the “greenest government” ever.
“He really is changing his policy every day of the week. His energy secretary says it is nothing to do with green taxes. And who is the man who said ‘Vote blue to go green’? It was him.” To which Mr Cameron made a statement in response to a question from Conservative MP Brian Binley, he said: ”It simply is the politics of the con man to pretend that you can freeze prices when you’re not in control of global energy prices, but the proper approach is to look at what’s driving up bills and deal with it.”
Timeline of the UK’s constitutional changes
The role of a constitution is to organise, distribute and regulate state power. By doing so, the constitution creates the structure of the state and sets out the principles of governing for the state’s citizens, whilst also outlining the role of government. Britain is unusual in that it has an ‘unwritten’ constitution. Unlike the great majority of countries, such as the USA, there is no single legal document which sets out in one place the fundamental laws outlining how the state works. Thus, Britain’s lack of a ‘written’ constitution is often explained via its history. In other countries, many of whom have experienced revolution (E.G. France) or regime change, it has been necessary to start from scratch or begin from first principles, constructing new state institutions and defining in detail their relations with each other and their citizens.
The British Constitution has evolved over a long period of time, reflecting the relative stability of the British Government. Britain has never truly been close to a written constitution, although the Liberal Democrats portray their great interest as shown in their wish for a political reform whereby Britain becomes codified. The Lib Dem’s pledge that they ”will involve the people in producing a written constitution” evidently indicates they are oblivious to the fact that Britain is not susceptible to change, particularly when it is mostly producing a strong government. Of course, there is the other matter that parties and politicians are infamous for failing to keep their promises made before the elections, lets see, tuition fees, tax cut for millionaires, mansion tax - hence, another major reason citizens may lack faith in the Liberal Democrat’s desire for a codified constitution.
Presently, what Britain obtains is an accumulation of various statutes, conventions, judicial decisions and treaties which collectively can be referred to as the British Constitution. Today we now refer to Britain’s constitution as an ‘uncodified’ constitution, rather than an ‘unwritten’ one. By accurate definition, an uncodified constitution means there is no single document which explains how we are governed. Instead constitutional experts point to a number of treaties, laws and conventions (another word for ‘habits’) which together make up the constitution. These include:
Pick of the Papers (20/1/2014-26/1/2014)
Source: The Telegraph
Politics Topic: Parliament
Summary: After another Conservative MP has announced that she will step down in the 2015 general election, it raises the question why are MPs leaving Parliament. One explanation of this is that while Parliament may look grand on the outside, on the inside it is so dysfunctional that continuing as an MP seems like a real waste of time.
Source: The Independent
Politics Topic: Party Policies and Ideas
Summary: Trying to get back economic policy credibility is a tough job for the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who has announced that Labour will still make cuts to the budget so per year they will have a surplus budget, which is seen as a toughening of fiscal policy for Labour.
Source: The Independent
Politics Topic: Party Policies and Ideas
Summary: Members of the House of Lords as well as Tory backbenchers are putting more pressure onto the prime minister to accept the United Nations programme and to allow Syrian refugees to come to Britain, despite Cameron wanting to get tougher with immigration laws.
Source: The Guardian
Politics Topic: Parliament
Summary: The bill passed through the House of Commons has not been called a dead parrot, as Labour and Lib Dem peers in the House of Lords delaying the bill passing through as long as possible. Critics to this bill state that the bill is ‘inappropriate, confusing and potentially misleading’ while others say that ‘it’s a government bill trying to patch over divisions in the Tory party and outflank Ukip.
Source: The New Statesman
Politics Topic: Party Politics and Ideas
Summary: Nigel Farage has been found to be unable to talk about Ukip policies and completely bemused by policies which are on the website but unknown to him. This has made the Tories write him off as being incredible but to the voters, this just adds to his image of informality which they pay more attention to than policies.
Coalition United? I think not
When the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition in the aftermath of the general election of 2010, it was uncharted territory for the UK. Not only was it the first ever Coalition government between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives in history but was also the first time the Lib Dems gained some real political power in decades – poor Lib Dems. So the people of Great Britain were naturally curious to see whether the new government would last. Leading members of the Coalition David Cameron and Nick Clegg have continuously said that they support the Coalition and that it is ‘getting things done’, but today, the cracks are appearing within this partnership of parties.
Firstly, one of the big cracks is this issue about the European Union. Now this causes a huge divide already within the Conservatives as they are naturally sceptical about the European Union. The fact that Tory backbenchers want to leave the EU is quite drastic compared to the leading Tory MPs such as the Rt Honourable and PM David Cameron who wants not to leave the EU. Instead, Cameron wishes to change the terms and conditions of the relationship Britain has with the EU, such as the matter of clashing with Brussels over a EU-China Trade and implementing a referendum in 2017, concerning whether Britain should stay in the EU. This is proposed of course, if a Conservative government is re-elected. The Lib Dems on the other hand, are the most pro-EU party of the three main political parties. An example of this is Nick Clegg attacking UKIP calling them “unpatriotic” and Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary for the Treasury saying that “If you are anti-Europe, you are anti-business, anti-growth”.
Secondly, another difference within the coalition is the issue of same-sex marriage. The Lib Dems were completely for it, as Nick Clegg said “I support gay marriage. Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same, too. All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another”. Whereas on the other hand, the Conservatives were divided between some Tories who felt that gay marriage should be legalised such as David Cameron and others such as Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who rejected the notion and voted against it. It was such a divide within the Conservative party that David Cameron had to get the support of the Labour party to make sure that the bill would go through. Arguably, traditional conservatism was overruled by the popularity of the liberal approach.
Finally, the issue of the environment splits the two parties. Originally, David Cameron had rebranded the Conservatives as an eco-conscious party, using the slogan running up to the general election ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’. But now he has distanced himself from green policies even as far saying ‘Get rid of the green crap’ according to the Sun. The Lib Dems on the other hand love the environment, and have made it hard for the Conservatives, resisting Tory plans to remove green taxes as Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that they ‘are vital to Britain’s long-term commitments to funding renewable energy’.
To conclude, there are always cracks in a relationship, regardless if you can see them or not. But this Coalition has problems on the surface which could break the strength of relationship between the two parties. The question of whether we’ll have another coalition formed in the next general election is very much on the mind of the public and politicians. I suppose party leaders will have to contemplate sacrificing policies if there is to be a hung parliament, and they may indeed need to bear in mind this saying; ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’.
See the Independent for Alistair Campbell’s prediction of a Labour/Liberal Democrat Coalition 2015