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 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
*** 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’.
Weekly Parliament roundup 23/02/14-2/03/14
The Ukraine government is allegedly saying that Russia has declared war on Ukraine. As for now we don’t actually know what President Putin’s intentions are and he has discounted most of the sanctions they’ve been getting from the West. He doesn’t believe that the threats from Western governments will be a great deal and one of his main fears is the fighting in Ukraine, if opposition rises, Putin is unsure whether his Military will be able to handle the Ukrainian people efficiently. In regards to foreign relations, Putin doesn’t really care what Cameron has to say about the issue but but is more concerned over Obama’s reactions.
William Hague has been in Kiev urging restraints and there have been recent worries about the consequences for Britain’s defence posture if we get involved. Should Britain be dragged into another conflict when our money is tight? We can only take action to calm the situation down as if the issue continues to escalate the way it is now, we might be on the brink of facing Cold War 2. The UK has joined The USA, France and Canada in suspending preparations for a G8 Summit in Russia in June. Additionally, David Cameron says it will be inappropriate for ministers to represent the UK in the Sochi Paralympic games following recent events.
Economy Focused week for Tories
David Cameron will make a speech this week (5th March) where he will talk about apprenticeships and housing .He will also talk more about the Help to buy scheme which has been backed up by the government. Michael Gove will also be making a speech on Monday (3rd March) which will be about apprenticeships and Vocational Education. He will stress about the fact that every company should take young people on apprenticeships and give them an opportunity .Moreover, Gove will also emphasise on the need for schools to encourage and look out for children who not only have academic abilities but also the right traits which businesses want.
Coalition on the rise
From looking at the current party standings, it is said that there is a high chance of there being another hung parliament in the 2015 general elections. Therefore, a coalition will most likely occur again. Business spokesman Chukka Ummona says that Labour should be open about the prospect of a coalition with the Lib Dems and that they should fight the next election in the centre ground whereas lot of Labour people disagree with this. On the contrary, Ed Miliband is being advised that if he doesn’t win a majority, since he has the largest party, he should run a minority government and then have a re-election after 6 months in order to give the public time to see the Labour party in action and then give them a chance to decide whether Labour should have a majority.
All MPs, including Cameron and Miliband stood united in agreeing that Russian action against Ukraine was wrong. Below is a link to the BBC’s full summary and recorded coverage of this Wednesday’s PMQs where the Prime Minister fully addressed the the Ukrainian crisis and Britain’s action plan. BBC PMQs 5th March 2014 summary
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.
Weekly Parliament Roundup: 22/01/14-29/01/14
50p Tax rate for the Rich:
Ed Balls recently said that a future Labour government promises to achieve a budget surplus, falling national debt and a 50p top rate of tax for the rich. Businesses have criticised the third proposal by saying that it will harm the economy and put a stunt on job production. However, Ed Balls said that Labour’s Plans to reintroduce the 50p top rate of tax does not mean that the party is against business. Despite this, more business figures have said it is sending the wrong signals. Alistair Darling supported Ed Balls by saying that the timing for making this proposal was right since the General Elections are only about 15 months away. Even though there’s a lot of support for the proposal, Former trade minister Lord Digby called it ‘lousy economics’ in the sense that it might prevent businesses from investing in England.
The Immigration Bill
The Immigration bill was back in the Commons last week and Tory rebels have been threating to reinstate controls over Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants. There’s a big fear among David Cameron and Senior Ministers regarding how the Conservatives react after the European elections. Cameron has become unsure whether the party become unmanageable and more blatantly Eurosceptic following the results of the elections. Many of the Tory rebels are threatening to reinstate controls over immigration because Cameron and Hague though they could park the issue with Europe and they are getting frustrated because Cameron and Hague aren’t doing more to explain what they mean by a renegotiation of power with Brussels.
Lord Rennard Aftermath
Following last week’s Lord Rennard issues, Nick Clegg hopes that mediation is the way they would now solve the issue. He is disappointed by the fact that things have been made more difficult as legal procedures have been brought in by Lord Rennard. In regards to the reputation of the Liberal Democrat party and Nick Clegg himself, he doesn’t seem to be such a strong leader as shown through the way in which he has handled the situation. In addition, the internal procedures that were taken in the party during the last week don’t seem to be fit for a governing party.
Ed Miliband’s Syria success (PMQs)
Last week we saw Ed Miliband pressurising David Cameron into allowing a certain amount of Syrian refugees into entering Britain and despite a disagreement by Cameron who stressed that we were already helping them enough by providing them with aid, the Conservatives still gave in. After Ed Miliband’s demand for Syrian refugees to be allowed in Britain, Home Secretary Theresa May made an announcement stating that hundreds of Syrian Victims, especially fragile victims such as Orphans will be able to come to Britain as refugees.
Miliband’s triumph in getting Cameron to agree and accept his demands regarding the Syrian refugees was evident in his confident and assured demeanour in this week’s PMQs. Not sounding too boastful, he was able to once again act calm and professional while questioning the Prime Minister regarding the 50p tax rate. He was shown as strong and persistent as he continuously asked Cameron to rule out a reduction in the top rate of income tax to 40p, leaving Cameron tongue –tied and embarrassed. So far, we can well and truly say that Miliband has achieved his first big win.
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