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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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.