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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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era