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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.