Labour's opportunistic campaign poster
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The Conservatives and Labour are both wedded to the failed War on Drugs

On drug policy, mindless tub-thumping trumps trumps what actually works. 

In the US presidential debate of the excluded three years ago, the Green Party, Justice Party, Libertarian Party and Conservative Party, four entities from right across the political spectrum, were united in denouncing the lunacy of the War on Drugs. Meanwhile Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, divided by far less ideologically, remained wedded to the status quo. It encapsulated a depressing truth about drugs policy in the western world. Advocating reform is a favourite of fringe and retired politicians and police officers. Those in power are lamentably reticent.

So it is in the UK. Last year promised to bring a sea change in the UK's self-destructive approach to the War on Drugs. A non-binding vote in the House of Commons advocated rethinking drug laws and - against Theresa May's wishes - the Home Office produced a report on what works in drug policy. It confirmed what we already knew: harsh sentencing does not lead to reduced use of drugs and, by stigmatising drug users, is actually counter-productive.

But it is a lesson that the main parties appear not to want to learn. While the Lib Dems and Greens advocate fundamental change in the UK's approach to drug policy - both parties want to transfer drug policy from the Department of Health to the Home Office, and the Lib Dems want to borrow from the successful Portuguese model, and decriminalise possession of all drugs for personal use - the bad news is that the Conservatives and Labour seem to remain wedded to the failed status quo on drugs.

Blind to the findings of the Home Office's report, David Cameron claimed that existing drug policy is "working". The fact that someone is 20 times more likely to die from drugs in the UK as in Portugal, where drug possession was decriminalised in 2001, tells a very different story. But the Conservative manifesto ignores all these lessons, advocating doubling down on failed drug policies that treat personal drug users as criminals rather than addicts. Abstinence would be kept as the goal of drug treatment, and substitute drugs to wean addicts off the most dangerous ones would not be countenanced.

Ostensibly Labour's approach seems less cackhanded. The manifesto advocates a greater emphasis on drug treatment and less on punishing users. "We will ensure drug treatment services focus on the root causes of addiction, with proper integration between health, police and local authorities in the commissioning of treatment," it reads. But of course very few people read manifestos. So what matters is the message that Labour is sending out - and campaign posters attacking the Lib Dems as "soft" on drugs shows that the party has opportunistically spied a dividing line with Clegg's party by hammering its desire to reform drugs policy. “Accusing the Lib Dems of being ‘soft on drugs and thugs’ is a cheap populist slogan that tries to hide the Labour Party's own co-responsibility for destroying the future of thousands of people by giving them a criminal record for no good reason at all," Martin Jelsma, Director of the drugs policy programme of the Transnational Institute, recently told me.

The alternative is hardly earth-shattering: following the evidence of what actually works in drug policy, rather than mindless tub-thumping. But political expediency dictates that the Conservatives and Labour do not speak out against the disastrous status quo. While that remains the case, 3,000 people will die every year from drug use in the UK.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.