It isn't drugs that screw you up - it's hereditary privilege that leads to futile, wasted lives

So there I was at Cannes and there he was and I could tell just by looking at him that he had done something very bad indeed. Yes, I was in the same room as Tom Parker Bowles the night before the tabloids revealed the shocking truth.

And what was the shocking truth? That a young, rich aristo, with a so-called job in the film industry, takes cocaine. If this is a scoop, then I'm an ice-cream. What do we expect the poor boy to do? His mother is reviled, even blamed, for a certain car crash in Paris; her long-time lover is a hopeless ditherer; plus Tom has the ghastly job of shepherding around celebrities for his job at a publicity company. Wouldn't you want to get out of it occasionally?

Following the equally dramatic news that Tara Para-Blara is "resting" (from what it is hard to say), so we can no longer read of her hectic social life, we really must sympathise with the plight of the idle rich. Why do they have to fill themselves up with illegal substances? What is wrong with skiing? Never mind if you are born to a life of deprivation on some horrible housing estate - the great social problem in our midst appears to be the socially included who have more money than sense. Eton apparently is a breeding-ground for all kinds of debauchery, a drug den from which one can only progress down the slippery slope to Oxford or Cambridge and a life of secret societies that enable you to score yet more drugs.

The worry in all this is that bonnie Prince William may somehow be exposed to drug-taking. We don't want that: the idea of a future monarch exposed to real life is deeply unsettling. This may not quite be Trainspotting, but to read the tabloids one would imagine that it was pretty damn close. Yet even the tabloids have problems generating outrage over this one. Never mind that the majority of younger readers will have been offered drugs, that many will have taken them, and that the clapped-out old bogeymen of evil drug-dealers just don't ring true.

The powers that be have deliberately refused to learn from the failure of the "war on drugs". Posters of scabby junkies meant little to an Ecstasy-taking generation, just as they meant little to all the middle-aged fogies who like a spliff after dinner. Most people buy drugs from someone they know, not from some scar-faced gangster who persuades them to purchase something they don't want. Even the term "drug-pusher" is misleading. Drugs are a marketing man's dream product. They market themselves through word of mouth. No expensive advertising is needed to promote them: a little bit of product placement is all that is required.

One doesn't have to be part of the media to know very well the hypocrisy of those exposing drug- taking. While not everyone who works in the media is on a drug-fuelled binge, we all know some who are. Cocaine is a marvellous aide for social inadequacy. You can yap rubbish all night and think you're full of witty repartee. Plus you can drink bucket-loads without getting too drunk and then stay up way past your bedtime because you are just so wild.

Coke was big in the eighties because of the work ethic. But, er . . . it's big in the nineties because it's come down in price so it's bloody good value.

Yet, in public anyway, we persist in the ridiculous pretence of two separate worlds. There is "non-drug world", full of dead teenagers who have taken one Ecstasy tablet and moral outrage, which does not discriminate against various drugs but simply demands that no one takes them ever. And there is "drug world", in which people do all kinds of drugs, some for a short while, some for a long while, some getting harmed, and some not. I know which is nearer the real world.

I know, too, that if the non-drugs world that dominates official discourse from Jack Straw to the squeaky-clean bleatings of the papers didn't work so hard to make drugs the ultimate sign of transgression and glamour, I, for one, would never have found them as transgressive and glamorous as I once did.

In the war against drugs, drugs are and always have been victorious. Sensible policemen and drug counsellors always tell you this. One would have thought that, when a younger generation of leaders came to power, like Clinton and Blair, they would have been more sensible, too. Yet these men, who were young in the sixties and seventies, have to present themselves as "non-drug world" zombies mouthing the kind of nonsense that only the terminally stoned would be capable of. They didn't inhale, they didn't come across drugs, they always said no. It would seem that to hold public office, you have to present yourself as middle-aged and boring. Then we all wonder why the best people don't go into politics.

It's not that I want to hear which members of the cabinet dropped acid and about the time when they all took mushrooms and threw up. I just want a bit of common sense, a sign that we are not going to continue to pretend that what is going on in front of our eyes just isn't.

The likes of Tom Parker Bowles can well afford their habits without robbing old ladies. What they put up their noses is hardly a social problem of the first order, unless we conclude that it isn't drugs that screw you up, but that hereditary privilege looks increasingly as if it might lead to a futile, wasted life. Just look into the eyes of the Toms and the Taras, lost and vacant, and hope to God that your own children won't go the same way.

The writer is a columnist on the "Mail on Sunday"

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning