Cameron on defensive over call to downgrade ecstasy

Mr Cameron, 39, is widely thought to have allowed David Davis back into the Tory leadership contest after his rival won a points victory in their head-to-head debate on the programme on Thursday night.

He sounded rattled yesterday when he claimed he did not care "what other people think'' after the Home Office dismissed as "irresponsible" his remarks on the programme in support of ecstasy being downgraded from its current status as a class A drug.

It is the second time Mr Cameron has become embroiled in a row over drugs having earlier refused to say whether he tried drugs as a student and the issue threatened to engulf his campaign. Last night his supporters were calculating what, if any, damage the re-emergence of the issue would have as more than 250,000 ballot forms were sent out to Tory members for the leadership election.

Mr Cameron said he was standing by remarks about downgrading ecstasy during his head-to-head clash with Mr Davis, 57. "What people want is a realistic and sensible policy that gets to the bottom of the drugs' problem," he said yesterday while seeking votes from Conservative Party members in Winchester.

He added he wanted to see ex-drug addicts going into schools to talk about the dangers of drugs and also to tell pupils the difference between substances such as heroin and ecstasy.

Mr Cameron said this was a "tough" drugs policy. He added: "Frankly I do not care what other people think about it."

Earlier there appeared to be an attempt by his aides to distance Mr Cameron from his comments on the programme which could do his leadership campaign harm among traditional Tory supporters, especially as they came on the tenth anniversary of the death of Leah Betts from ecstasy. His spokesman confirmed the issue would be examined if he became leader but added: "It would be a matter for the party to decide."

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, made it clear he had no intention of lowering the classification of ecstasy. He said: "Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably and there is no such thing as a safe dose."

Mr Cameron's support for reclassifying the drug stemmed from a term on the cross-party Commons select committee on home affairs, which recommended that the Home Office should change the law on ecstasy and cannabis. Its recommendations were rejected by the Home Office and attacked by then Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

Members of the Cameron team insisted his stance would not damage his prospects because he had been consistent. Ken Clarke, the former Chancellor, who still carries support in the country, said he was inclined to support Mr Cameron but he admitted in a GMTV interview to be screened tomorrow "he is a bit of an unknown quantity, even to me to a certain extent".

During Thursday night's programme, Mr Cameron said: "The most important thing we thought was to make sure that the drug classifications make sense to young people and were credible. And I had a concern that if you put ecstasy and heroin in the same classification, people just don't take it seriously."

Asked specifically about downgrading ecstasy, he said: "Yes. I think that is right, looking at the science."

Mr Davis, the shadow Home Secretary disagreed, saying: "Ecstasy has been responsible for deaths - Leah Betts most obviously, but others as well."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory