The great drugs debate

Controversial drugs comments from a senior policeman have set the blogosphere chattering, but where'

The new year began with furore splashed over the middle market front pages over reiterated comments made by the chief constable of North Wales Police, Richard Brunstrom, promoting the legalising of class A drugs. The debate spilled over the blogosphere.

Lib Dem AM Peter Black believes it is right to bring the debate to the fore as he also argues drugs are as big a blight as Brunstrom states, but he does not go along with Brunstrom’s methods. He concludes: “My view is that the debate on drugs policy is long overdue but we cannot have it in isolation ... Unless we can argue on the facts and put personalities to one side then we will never make any progress.”

Nick Colbourne, the Labour Wrexham councillor, finds fault with the way Brunstrom calculates ecstasy as less dangerous than aspirin. He argues, if you judge danger based on number of deaths without adding the total usage to the equation, “one could argue that BASE jumping is safer than cycling, given the tragic number of deaths each year. Well of course that’s not true, but then neither is his ridiculous claim.”

Jon Bright at OurKingdom links to a Daily Mail article which attracted a large volume of responses, mainly calling for Brunstrom’s resignation. The more important issue, Bright argues, is not the classification of drugs, but how the public’s perception of democracy is interfering with public debate. He writes: “My point is not necessarily that legalisation would definitely be a positive move - though this is my opinion - but rather that the extension of democracy into the problem of drug use serves to suffocate debate about this issue.”

Meanwhile, the day after David Cameron announced he would make the Conservatives the party of the NHS, he declared Andrew Lansley would be Health Secretary should he win the next general election. As is pointed out at ConservativeHome, Lansley joins George Osborne as the only Tory frontbencher to be publicly offered a job in any future Cabinet. This led to suspicions at UK Daily Pundit that Lansley had threatened to resign were he not offered a top job.

Finally, over at Comment is Free, Rupa Huq chronicles the demise of the word “respect” from the lexicon of razzle-dazzle politics over the past two years. She concludes: “‘Respect’ always sounded like a word more suited to an Ali G monologue than a serious political agenda. Today it is a thoroughly discredited term. Like flared trousers, Take That and the Mini Cooper, it may well experience a revival but for now it looks like a prize turkey."

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Autumn Statement 2015: whatever you hear, don't forget - there is an alternative

The goverment's programme of cuts is a choice, not a certainty, says Jolyon Maugham.

Later today you will hear George Osborne say there is no alternative to his plan to slash a further £20bn from lean public services by 2020-21. He will also say that there is no alternative to £9bn cuts to tax credits, cuts that will hit the poorest hardest, cuts of thousands of pounds per annum to the incomes of millions of households.

But there is.

As I outlined here the Conservatives plan future tax cuts which benefit, disproportionately or exclusively, the wealthy. Suspending those future tax cuts for the wealthy would save, by 2020-21, £9.3bn per annum.

I also explained here that a mere 50 of our 1,156 tax reliefs cost us over £100bn per annum. We don't know how much the other 1,106 reliefs cost us - because Government doesn't monitor them. And we don't know what public benefit they deliver - because Government doesn't check.

What we do know, as I explained here, is that they disproportionately and regressively benefit the wealthy: an average of £190,400 per annum for the wealthiest.

And we know, too, that they include (amongst the more than 1,000 uncosted reliefs) the £1bn plus “Rights for Shares Scheme” - badged by the Chancellor as for workers but identified by a leading law firm as designed for the wealthiest.

Simply by asking a question that the Chancellor chooses to ignore - do these 1,156 reliefs deliver value for money - it is entirely possible that £10bn or more extra in taxes could be collected without any loss of  public benefit

To this £19bn, we might add the indiscriminate provision - both direct and indirect - of public money to wealthy pensioners.

Those above basic state pension age enjoy a tax subsidy of up to 12% on earned income.

Moreover, this Office for National Statistics data (see Table 18) reveals that the 10% of wealthiest retired households - some 714,000 households - have gross pre-tax and pre-benefit private income of on average £43,983. Yet still they enjoy average cash benefits from government of £11,500 per annum.

Means testing benefits to exclude that top 10 per cent of retired households would save £8.2bn per annum. And why, you might wonder aloud, should means testing be thought by the government appropriate for the working age population, yet a heresy for retired households?

Add in abolition of that unprincipled tax subsidy and you'll save even more. 

So there are alternatives. Clear alternatives. Good alternatives. Alternatives that enable those with the broadest shoulders to bear some share of the pain. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.