Why I found myself in sympathy with Duncan Smith

David Blunkett has proved to be quite unlike his predecessor at the Home Office, who lost all traces of liberalism. Marijuana, as far as Jack Straw was concerned, was a vile herb; its consumption would lead to harder drugs. This argument was disproved about 35 years ago.

Enter Blunkett, wading through fields of the dreaded weed and bringing some sanity to discussions about its use. It was in Brixton and Ladbroke Grove (west London) that weed first commonly appeared in this country, through migrant Jamaicans. I had never known it in Trinidad, but deep in rural Jamaica I met Miss Winnie, aged 75, who lived in a house on a hill and kept a pot of weed constantly on the boil.

By the time I got to London, I could stretch "a ten-bob draw" over a long weekend. Smoking weed was and is a harmless and well-worn practice. Yet even now, the Home Office behaves as though it were dealing with dynamite.

We are told that, if one is caught with the herb, the police will warn the possessor, confiscate the substance and take it to the station to be destroyed. That is largely poppycock, because the police rarely bother to stop anyone these days. "Legalise it," sang Peter Tosh, the Stepping Razor, a member of Bob Marley's original group, and I agree. Any compromise merely adds mischief to an already confused situation. However, we must congratulate Blunkett for his leap forward.

He is also grappling with the question of citizenship. I am a British citizen. I got my certificate after the Thatcher grand declaration of 1988 that those of us who had been here for more than ten years were free to apply, on payment of a large fee. The application form required me to state where I had been and what I had done while I was in this country. I couldn't say exactly, so I wrote: "Consult the Special Branch, they should know." They took my advice and sent me my certificate of citizenship. I translated that into a British passport much later.

What puzzles me is the idea of giving migrants lessons in citizenship. I am certain that I could have given British-born whites such lessons. But I suppose asylum-seekers from outside the former British empire might need them.

Still, I never thought that I would agree with Iain Duncan Smith on anything. Yet when, during Muslim Awareness Week, he refused to sign the statements about how much Muslims have contributed to this society, I concurred. I agree that Muslims have contributed to British life, but it is a two-way street - Britain has contributed much to Asian migrants, and some appreciation is in order. We have to stand up against faith schools, against forced marriages, against any liberal spinelessness that allows anyone to undermine the secular in public life.

There should be no sharia law here. That has to be made clear. But if Islam wants to fight that battle on this turf, so be it.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 12 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The Empire strikes back