Bob Ainsworth is in the news, I see calling for the decriminalisation of drugs.
Good for him.
Isay this, not because I agree with him (I don’t), but because this intelligent intervention in the debate is exactly what you would like from ex-ministers, who are no longer burdened with conserns like getting the party they are a part of re-elected, but which I mean it’s an intelligent contribution to an important, controversial debate, which will force those who disagree to explain why, and is done for good public policy, not personal political motives. After all, no politician suggests decriminalising all drugs out of excesive concern for their future political prospects.
That said, If I were in Ed Miliband’s office, I’d be drafting exactly the same statement that they have issued.
Why? For three reasons.
First, what Bob has said is not, and will not be, the policy of the Labour party.
Second, the public massively disagree with Bob Ainsworth on this. Political parties have to take account of what the public thinks.
(These are both the reasons why Bob was right not to speak out when in office. As a minister, you ask questions and debate internally, then accept the verdict of your colleagues or resign. You don’t get to have both power and freedom of speech, sadly)
Third, although there is some evidence of good outcomes from Drug decriminalisation, the experience in Portugal (where posession of more than 0.2g of cocaine or 2.5g of marijuana is still subject to criminal charge. People get the wrong idea about that) certainly doesn’t show any major reduction of drug use.
Indeed, there appear to have increases in drug use. So you’d be unlikely to see an end to drug supply, or a reduction in drug cultivation.
The advantage apears to come dmestically, in the pressure on prison places, treatment and death rates – and certainly there, the data is at best inconclusive. It looks like drugs are cheaper, slightly more used, and fewer drug users are in prison – but for example, the decline in drug users with HIV, often lauded as a result of decriminalisation, is just as notable in Spain, where drugs are still illegal but treatment programmes are widely spread, while the death rate data seems more related to Heroin usage than criminalisation in most nations.
So, as I say, I think Bob is wrong, and I understand why his political leadership is condemning him.
At the same time, I’m glad he’s spoken out, and I’m glad we get to have the debate.
I’ve one final reason to be glad Bob Ainsworth is speaking out. He’s been unfairly characterised in the media and amongst bloggers as a bit of a dolt. His moustache, his glasses, his accent, all count against him in the sneering world of the grubbier street hack. They make him a perfect target for the Letts and the Hoggarts. Part of me is simply pleased that such pundits have missed the measure of the man.