Does Cameron want war with China and Russia?

Once again, the Tory leader reveals that he's a foreign-affairs lightweight.

So tell me again, Dave, why it is that you think Britain should renew Trident?

Are we really happy to say that we'd give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don't know what is going to happen with Iran, we can't be certain of the future in China?

China?? Does David Cameron really believe that the People's Republic of China is a threat to the United Kingdom? That the Chinese, in the midst of supplying our high-street stores with much of their clothing lines, have prepared military plans to either invade and occupy the British Isles or nuke us to smithereens from afar? And, even if they had, does he think the UK's four Trident-armed nuclear submarines would protect his "big society" from the People's Liberation Army, backed up by 400 Chinese nuclear warheads? It'd be like the Na'vi versus the humans in Avatar - only without a happy ending for the Na'vi.

Random movie references aside, I do, however, have a serious point to make. Cameron is not qualified to be prime minister. The self-professed "heir to Blair", like Tony Blair before him, edges towards Downing Street with little knowledge of the world beyond the white cliffs of Dover. He is, as President Obama is alleged to have remarked, a "lightweight". Labour strategists have smiles on their faces. The Foreign Secretary David Miliband was quick to say that the Leader of the Opposition had issued "an insult to a fellow permanent member of the UN security council and to a country with whom we have just announced a close strategic relationship," adding: "David Cameron should withdraw this slur now."

Brown is fond of remarking that this is no time for novices. Given the state of the economy, and the "fragile recovery", he argues, we have to stick with an experienced leader who can handle crises and has proven judgement. The same applies on the international stage, where uncertainties, threats and conflicts abound.

Can we trust Cameron to handle Britain's foreign policy? He might do more damage than Blair ever did.

This, after all, is not his first gaffe. Last night, he suggested nuclear confrontation with China. In 2008, he implied that Britain, via Nato, would go to war with Russia over Georgia. As I wrote in my column in the magazine, back in January:

Nothing has better illustrated Cameron's inexperience and lack of judgement than his intervention in the South Ossetia conflict in 2008, when he rushed to Tbilisi to declare his support for embattled Georgia, which, he wrongly claimed, had been "illegally invaded" by Russia. However, as the former Tory foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind pointed out at the time, "Britain, France and Germany are not going to go to war with Russia over South Ossetia", adding that it was "totally unconvincing" to claim that the conflict wouldn't have happened had Georgia been in Nato.

As my colleague James Macintyre and I have long argued, Cameron has been given a pass by the press. But, I'd add, nowhere has that lack of scrutiny been more evident than on the Tories' foreign policy - both in Europe and beyond. Let's see if that changes next week, in the "foreign affairs" leaders' debate on Sky News.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The government has admitted it can curb drugs without criminalising users

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess for their own consumption recreational drugs too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

From Thursday, it may be illegal for churches to use incense. They should be safe from prosecution though, because, as the policing minister was forced to clarify, the mind-altering effects of holy smells aren’t the intended target of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force this week.

Incense-wafters aren’t the only ones wondering whether they will be criminalised by the Act. Its loose definition of psychoactive substances has been ridiculed for apparently banning, among other things, flowers, perfume and vaping.

Anyone writing about drugs can save time by creating a shortcut to insert the words “the government has ignored its advisors” and this Act was no exception. The advisory council repeatedly warned the government that its definition would both ban things that it didn’t mean to prohibit and could, at the same time, be unenforcable. You can guess how much difference these interventions made.

But, bad though the definition is – not a small problem when the entire law rests on it – the Act is actually much better than is usually admitted.

Under the law, it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess, for their own consumption, recreational drugs that are considered too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

That sounds like a mess, and it is. But it’s a mess that many reformers have long advocated for other drugs. Portugal decriminalised drug possession in 2001 while keeping supply illegal, and its approach is well-regarded by reformers, including the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to adopt this model in their last manifesto.

This fudge is the best option out of what was politically possible for dealing with what, until this week, were called legal highs.

Before the Act, high-street shops were free to display new drugs in their windows. With 335 head shops in the UK, the drugs were visible in everyday places – giving the impression that they couldn’t be that dangerous. As far as the data can be trusted, it’s likely that dozens of people are now dying each year after taking the drugs.

Since legal highs were being openly sold and people were thought to be dying from them, it was obvious that the government would have to act. Until it did, every death would be blamed on its inaction, even if the death rate for users of some newly banned drugs may be lower than it is for those who take part in still-legal activities like football. The only question was what the government would do.

The most exciting option would have been for it to incentivise manufacturers to come up with mind-altering drugs that are safe to take. New Zealand is allowing drug makers to run trials of psychoactive drugs, which could eventually – if proved safe enough – be sold legally. One day, this might change the world of drug-taking, but this kind of excitement was never going to appeal to Theresa May’s Home Office.

What was far more plausible was that the government would decide to treat new drugs like old ones. Just as anyone caught with cocaine or ecstasy faces a criminal record, so users of new drugs could have been hit with the same. This was how legal highs have been treated up until now when one was considered serious enough to require a ban.

But instead, the government has recognised that its aim – getting new drugs out of high-street shop windows so they don’t seem so normal – didn’t depend on criminalising users. A similar law in Ireland achieved precisely this. To its credit, the government realised it would be disproportionate to make it a criminal offence to possess the now-illegal highs.

The reality of the law will look chaotic. Users will still be able to buy new drugs online – which could open them to prosecution for import – and the law will do nothing to make drugs any safer. Some users might now be exposed to dealers who also want to sell them more dangerous other drugs. There will be few prosecutions and some head shop owners might try to pick holes in the law: the government seems to have recognised that it needed a better definition to have any chance of making the law stick.

But, most importantly for those of us who think the UK’s drug laws should be better at reducing the damage drugs cause, the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them. The pressure on the government to act on legal highs has been relieved, without ordinary users being criminalised. For all the problems with the new law, it’s a step in the right direction.

Leo Barasi is a former Head of Communications at the UK Drug Policy Commission. He writes in a personal capacity