Archives for October 2012

Drugs! By their inaction politicians are leading us all to a very bad place

“We are dealing with the darkest of bourgeois taboos. Of all the things on which the world has declared “war” in modern times, self-harming substances must be the daftest. Yet the result has been to destroy millions of lives, expend trillions of dollars, and helplessly corrupt sovereign states, from Afghanistan to Colombia. It is the greatest single failure of modern statecraft. It is the dark ages, and we are still in them”. Simon Jenkins.

There’s one good thing about tough times, bad things surface. Bad things and things politicians want to hide or shuffle onto the back burner. So it is with drugs. As Simon Jenkins so eloquently points out in his article below, our political class want nothing to do with drugs reform. It’s too difficult, they haven’t a clue what to do, and of course, there’s no political dividend.  Instead they’ve christened the mythical crusade “the war on drugs”, and made it seem like one of those ‘all in it together’ causes – which, as we all know are meaningless, and lead nowhere.

The failure of politicians around the world to tackle the drug problem is not only having a huge societal impact, but more importantly, the vast amounts of illicit cash that the drugs trade generates is corrupting states, politicians, policemen and public servants to such a degree that civil society as we know it is under real threat.

And the amount of drugs money laundered each year? Nearly 2 trillion dollars which is about 3% of world GDP. The amounts of money are so huge they’re almost unimaginable, and it’s all in the wrong hands. The power of these trillions of dollars is a very real threat to you and me, and the democracy we hold dear.  By their inaction and unwillingness to grasp the nettle, our fallible, ineffective, and frankly, stupid politicians, are leading us to a very bad place.

Here is Simon Jenkin’s article:

Imagine the Afghan war had run for the past 40 years. Imagine 2,000 deaths a year. The enemy remains 400,000-strong, despite 40,000 being taken prisoner annually. The war costs £1bn a month. Casualties vary from time to time, but there is no hope of victory. Were that the case, I suggest public opinion might be exasperated. Parliament might debate the matter. Ministers might review policy. Yet such is Britain’s fatuously entitled “war on drugs”. Each year governments re-legislate their “war on terror”, despite the minimal threat, but reject any need to revise the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. They refuse to see if it is working, and do nothing but waste public money.

Home secretaries trumpet idiotic “drug seizures”. They pass “awareness” budgets, arrest and imprison thousands of citizens for drug possession and sale. The war has failed. But it continues to immiserate countless families and wreck countless lives. It is stupid, knee-jerk British government at its worst.

There is now a small industry of liberals who spend their time saying so. I am probably one of them, having wasted hours on commissions, inquiries, conferences and lobbies. Worthy charities dole out money for fact-finding trips to California, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands, all with lessons, none of which we learn. The British go abroad, as always, to have their prejudices confirmed. If we were investigating terrorism, the death rate would have ministers racing to the Commons in panic. As it is, the victims of the 1971 act die un-atoned.

I sat on Lady Runciman’s Police Foundation inquiry in 2000 which, like her “Runciman Two” this week, reiterated that criminal law had failed to end drug use or reduce harm. It suggested we go easy on cannabis possession and concentrate on treatment for hard drugs. Prison was the wrong place for users or abusers. We dodged the question of supply, as does every drugs report, because that involves discussing manufacture, money and retail. Liberal Britain has always had a distaste for trade.

I hesitate to suggest that Runciman Two is a reprint of Runciman One, but after a decade of inaction I wonder what is different. The police have let up on cannabis possession, as in most countries, largely because they know that the law is unenforceable. This week’s report says that government action is immaterial, drug consumption being unaffected by changes in classification, prison sentencing or education. Drug use seems to ebb and flow with price, fashion and, in the case of ecstasy and skunk, perceived harm. None of this stopped the home secretary, Theresa May, beating her chest and howling her rejection of Runciman from the rooftops.

Britain on drugs is where China is on hanging, Saudi Arabia on beating, Russia on censorship and the Taliban on girls’ education. Drugs policy is the last legislative wilderness where “here be dragons”, a hangover from days when abortion and homosexuality were illegal and divorce expensive. It petrified home secretaries of left and right alike, Jack Straw and Jacqui Smith as much as Kenneth Clarke and Theresa May. So scared was Tony Blair that Alastair Campbell had to order the smothering of the 2000 Runciman report.

Most sane politicians – including David Cameron – advocate reform in opposition, and again after leaving power. A phalanx of Latin American ex-presidents are in favour of cocaine legalisation, the so-called “formers”. Yet fear grips the collective brain when in office. The mere word drugs gives every politician the heebie-jeebies and turns libertarians into control freaks.

As Jonathan Haidt has argued in his book The Righteous Mind, political attitudes on most things, certainly drugs, are irrational, rooted in tribe and upbringing. Politicians who stuff their brains with alcohol, nicotine and amphetamines view ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine as dangerous exotics, like the black death or yellow peril, imported from dusky parts to corrupt the young. They shudder at decriminalisation, relying instead on their favourite legislative juju – “sending a message” and washing their hands.

What should be researched is not drugs policy but drugs politics, the hold that taboo has on those in power, and the thrall that rightwing newspapers have over them. This has nothing to do with public opinion, which is now strongly in favour of reform. Most sensible people find the present regime disastrous and want drugs regulated, rather than the wild west that is the urban drug scene today. It is politicians who think “soft on drugs” implies some loss of potency.

Just as few recreations are harmless so are few recreational drugs. To imply otherwise is silly. But the sheer longevity of marijuana use has embedded it in youth culture alongside alcohol. The menace to public health comes from the failure of government to legalise, test and regulate supply, which is what it should do for all narcotics. Over-prescribing of benzodiazepines is now far worse, and more dangerous, than the over-prescribing of heroin in the 1960s, which led to its disastrous banning and proliferation. No one is proposing to ban legal drugs today, so why leave illegal drugs, and their users, to the tender mercy of crooks?

There is no reason in all this. We are dealing with the darkest of bourgeois taboos. Of all the things on which the world has declared “war” in modern times, self-harming substances must be the daftest. Yet the result has been to destroy millions of lives, expend trillions of dollars, and helplessly corrupt sovereign states, from Afghanistan to Colombia. It is the greatest single failure of modern statecraft. It is the dark ages, and we are still in them.



“Oh Mr Mitchell, in the name of God, go!”

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

The words of Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons in 1940. Harsh words to a man who believed that he was doing his best for his country. Perhaps it would be more appropriate if those same words were addressed to Andrew Mitchell on Monday morning when the House returns from its Summer recess.

Mitchell made a mistake. He foul mouthed a policeman for no good reason. But his real mistake was his failure to own up to what he actually said. He then compounded this error by refusing to confirm the accuracy of the policeman’s report – thus implying that the policeman’s report was false.

If nothing else, Andrew Mitchell is a fool who has an inflated opinion of his own importance. But on that fateful afternoon, Mitchell also betrayed an arrogance which is becoming all to commonly displayed by members of the political class.  “Don’t you know who I am?” ranted Mitchell. The very same words used by Harriet Harman when confronted by a motorist whose car she had run into in South London.  Both Mitchell and Harman’s remarks imply that they are due some form of deference from ‘ordinary’ people. An indication of how detached the political class have become from the people they were elected to represent? I think so.

But what of Mitchell the man? Who is he?  What should we make of him? In opposition he was the nodding, fawning fellow who always managed to sit close, some say too close, to David Cameron on the front bench. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, but I’m always suspicious of ‘pushy’ people or those whose behaviour is contrived. His Mary Poppins bicycle illustrates my point.

But Mitchell’s greatest failing is that he just doesn’t know how to behave. And he should have known better. His expensive education clearly didn’t teach him much. But what really sticks in my craw is that he doesn’t understand that if you’re in a position of responsibility, and particularly if you’re a Cabinet Minister, you should set an example. Behaving like a spoiled little tit and mouthing off at a policeman is not acceptable. But not being man enough to admit what you said and then implying that the butt of you remarks is not being truthful, reveals Mitchell as a very flawed individual and someone who really doesn’t deserve to hold public office.

If Mitchell were a man, a real man, he would have resigned. If Cameron’s judgement wasn’t so lousy, he would have fired him. Does he honestly think that Mitchell can be an effective Chief Whip?  Perhaps Tory MPs will do the job for him and give Mitchell ‘the word’ – or maybe Leo Amery’s words will echo in the Chamber on Monday?


Time for Israel to show an example and give up its nuclear weapons?

Don’t be fooled that Israel thinks that Iran poses a nuclear threat to the so-called Jewish state. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually about the balance of power in the Middle East. He who has the nukes, rules – or at least is perceived to have an upper hand, a state of affairs which, up until now, has suited Israel – and the US.

If Iran were to have nuclear weapons, the whole dynamic in the Middle East would change, and that’s something Israel and the US appear unable to accept. As Kate Hudson points out in her article below, it would also trigger the start of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a totally pointless and potentially catastrophic outcome.

With sanctions starting to bite in Iran, the US is probably now hoping that they will be the catalyst for regime change. Whether they are or not, those saner heads in Iran need to know that the West has a vision for Iran. A vision which offers it the opportunity to ‘rejoin the fold’, to be included rather than excluded: a vision which will allow it to live in peace with its neighbours – and to exist in a nuclear free Middle East. A nuclear free Middle East? Yes, exactly that.

The time has come for the West to start making noises about a Middle East free from nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons in Iran, no nuclear weapons in Israel. Could Israel sign up to such proposals? Unlikely? It might seem so right now, but Israel has to have a vision too. It has to transform itself from a belligerent pariah state into something better. It has much to gain by showing an example, but that too may require ‘regime change’.

The following article is by Kate Hudson, general secretary of CND.

As tensions mount in the Middle East, so do the demands for a regional WMD-free zone. Nearly 40 years after such a zone was first proposed on the floor of the United Nations, the need is as urgent as ever. So it’s good news that finally some tentative steps are being made to move forward on outlawing the Middle East’s weapons of mass destruction.

This December, the Finnish government is hosting a conference in Helsinki, on behalf of the UN, with experienced diplomat and politician Jaakko Laajava bringing together the region’s states to discuss this most elusive but necessary goal.
Many will see this proposal as a pipedream, but Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZs) are highly successful forms of collective security across large parts of the world. Currently, 115 states and 18 other territories belong to 5 regional treaties, covering a majority of the earth’s surface, including almost the entire southern hemisphere.

The establishment of such a zone in the Middle East was first proposed in 1974 by Iran. In 1990, it was extended by Egypt to include other WMD, reflecting the serious concern around chemical and biological warfare in the region. A resolution on achieving a WMD-free zone was adopted at the 1995 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Subsequently, the 2010 NPT Review Conference identified five steps necessary towards the goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including convening a regional conference in 2012 and appointing a facilitator.

As this conference draws near (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s (CND) free international conference, Building towards a nuclear weapons-free Middle East: Civil society input for a new Helsinki process, which draws together anti-nuclear activists from Britain and the Middle East to discuss input and raise the profile of this crucial issue, takes place in London on Saturday, October 13.), not surprisingly, questions over whether it can succeed are surfacing. But the consequences if it should fail are unthinkable.

Regional insecurities

While Israel steps up its rhetoric over Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, it continues to ignore the part its own nuclear weapons play in regional insecurity. Meanwhile, other states have made it clear that if Iran did develop a nuclear weapons capability, they would seek their own.

As one senior Saudi Arabian official in Riyadh said: “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that… if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”

Preventative diplomatic action must be taken now to halt nuclear proliferation and ensure the disarmament of WMD within the Middle East. Building support for the UN’s conference not only in both high-level meetings, but also within grassroots movements is crucial.

To this end, CND is holding a free public conference in London this weekend. Drawing speakers from around the Middle East, we are seeking to discuss how civil society can input into and support this process – as Jaakko Laajava has himself requested – and highlight the urgency of action (for more information see here).

Amid escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, both policymakers and the public in the region would do well to look to the African and Latin American examples. They demonstrate how regional security can be far more effectively achieved through co-operative, transparent and rigorously verified security frameworks.

Building genuine security

In the Treaty of Pelindaba (Africa), South Africa set a precedent, becoming the first state with nuclear weapon capabilities to enter into a NWFZ: preferring the long-term benefits of collective security over the totemic status but ultimate insecurity of maintaining a nuclear arsenal.

In the Middle East, the proliferation of WMD has persistently been a strain on diplomacy. In a region where one state is widely acknowledged to have nuclear weapons, four others have at some point violated their safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and another has been found conducting undeclared activities, transparency is key to building trust.

Open discussions about security concerns and weapons capacity will be vital to the success of this zone: and it begins with opening channels of communication which are the building blocks of peace and genuine security.

There are of course significant obstacles to overcome before this conference can succeed, but certainly, the biggest threat to the region would be failure. Failure to move forward in establishing a WMD-free zone will mean that the stakes will remain higher in any potential conflict. And the stakes are always a human cost.

In a document submitted in May to the planning committee of the NPT Review Conference in 2015, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the Arab League sees the Helsinki conference as an important crossroad with regard to its nuclear policies. If realistic and practical steps towards WMD disarmament cannot be agreed upon, then nuclear proliferation will become a dangerous reality across the region. The international community should do all it can to avert this.

NWFZs are fundamental mechanisms for tackling precisely these insecurities and subsequent escalations. The Treaty of Tlatelolco (South America) included two competing treaty members, Argentina and Brazil, both with large nuclear power industries with the capability of developing nuclear weapons. The treaty provided the confidence-building framework and a norm of non-proliferation which defused the potential and perceived need for pursuing nuclear weapons systems.

And it is not unthinkable to suggest that this is a feasible outcome in the Middle East: the landmark co-operation and negotiations which would be essential in establishing a WMD- free zone would be positive for intra-regional relations. And while states may be cautious in their approach, if they believe that this can be a serious framework for peaceful co-existence then of course they would be supportive. Such caution can be gradually turned to confidence, through robust and transparent verification measures, as well as binding mechanisms with teeth.

This Finnish-led UN conference represents a significant moment which we would do well to seize upon. To allow this momentum to falter could well result in a hitherto unseen scale of nuclear proliferation across the region, the implications of which are grim. But if we are to build on this momentum it could represent a significant step towards global disarmament and completely transform security relations within one of the world’s most unstable regions.

Dr Kate Hudson was chair of the UK-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from 2003 to September 2010, when she became general secretary. She is a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner nationally and internationally.




Hello! Over here …in the long grass!

Hello! Over here…I’m in the long grass….just having a poke around to see what I can find. What’s this? ‘Political Party Funding’? Well there’s a surprise! And what’s this attached to it? A note from Sir Christopher Kelly, “Do something before this one blows up in your face”. Good advice, Sir Christopher, but  I don’t think anyone’s paying much attention…an accident waiting to happen? Sure is.

After months of prevarication and delay, Sir Christopher Kelly, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, was finally able to produce his report, ‘Political Party Funding,’ in November last year. How was it received? After a few good words from the Deputy Prime Minister, everybody dashed off on their Christmas hols, and nothing has been said or done about the report since.

In a nutshell, the Kelly report recommended that donations to political parties should be limited to £10,000 and that the state should increase its funding of political parties to make up the shortfall. Kelly recommended a level equivalent to 50p per elector, per year.

Mr Clegg, just before he booted the report into the long grass, ventured to suggest that the electorate would consider 50p a price not worth paying for ‘clean’ politics. Times were far too tough. But not tough enough for the coalition to spend £125 million on an election for police commissioners that nobody wants and hardly anybody will vote for. No, this was a report no politician or political party wanted, so into the long grass it was kicked.

Christopher Kelly’s view is that an increase in state funding “Is the only reliable way of making it possible to remove the current corruptible big donor culture which is so undermining of public trust in politics”. He’s right and Mr Clegg is wrong. The electorate are more than happy to pay the equivalent of a first class stamp to put an end to the buying of influence by large donors.

But the real nub of the problem is that the political class don’t want change.  Why? Because influence in their world (and their world is a very different one to the one you and I inhabit) is currency. It’s what makes their world go round, gives them power – and it’s a two way street.

Actually, the political class are actively hostile to any reform. Over many years they have become a class apart, fiercely guarding their economic base, their privileges and a unique ‘club’ which allows them to maximise self-advancement and personal advantage.

Because of this and the fact that the system allows wealthy donors to call the tune regardless of the needs or opinions of the electorate, democratic politics no longer does the job the electorate expect it to do. And as recent events involving the Murdoch press have shown, the political class have further sought to undermine the traditional institutions of state, and the traditional methods of representative democracy, by governing through the press and broadcast media.

The Kelly reforms are important not only because they would remove the big donor culture which is undermining democratic politics, but because the reforms would force politicians to reengage with the electorate and for true democratic politics to become a part of British political life once more.  Now there’s a novel concept!

Politicians need to grasp the nettle. The consequences of not doing so may be greater than they imagine.