Tory think-tank pushes for easing of cannabis laws to be cornerstone of party’s election manifesto

Cameron urged to surrender in war on drugs

Whitehall Editor

David Cameron is today urged by Tory modernisers to abandon Britain’s 40-year “futile” war against drugs and make partial legalisation a key pledge in next year’s general election manifesto.

The provocative plan is contained among a series of policy proposals put forward by the influential Conservative think-tank Bright Blue, a group which is backed by senior ministers including Theresa May, Francis Maude, and the former minister Andrew Mitchell.

It suggests that drug reform would appeal to young and ethnic-minority voters, who are crucial to the party’s long-term survival, while saving millions of pounds of public money.

Other controversial policies put forward in The Modernisers’ Manifesto include abolishing universal winter fuel payments and excluding students and highly skilled workers from the Government’s net migration target. It also suggests introducing a requirement for new teachers to have at least a 2:1 degree in core subjects and abandoning automatic pay rises for doctors and nurses.

But it is likely to be the proposal for decriminalising drugs – put forward by the journalist and former Cameron adviser Ian Birrell – that will prove most controversial. In his article for the manifesto, which is reproduced by The Independent today, he reveals that Mr Cameron briefly flirted with the policy after becoming Tory leader in 2005. He said it was abandoned because of the fear of “hostile headlines”.

But Mr Birrell, a former Deputy Editor of The Independent, said changes since then had made the cause of decriminalisation right and electorally advantageous. He cites a recent poll that found a majority of people favour permitting cannabis use, while four in 10 Britons favour total decriminalisation. “It is hard to think of another policy with the same potential to challenge popular conceptions of conservatism,” he writes.

While the policy is unlikely to find favour with Ms May and others on the Tory right it does reflect a growing international trend following the legalisation of cannabis in some US states. The Liberal Democrats have already said they will set up a Royal Commission to overhaul Britain’s drugs rules and some within Labour would back a similar approach.

Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, said it was important for the Conservative modernisers to engage in this debate as well.

“What is clear is that much more needs to be done on the development of drugs policy in the UK as the current situation is both economically and socially damaging,” he said.

“We believe that the Conservatives at the next election need to be seen to be taking on the big, difficult issues facing society and not be distracted by the Ukip agenda of Europe and immigration.”

Mr Shorthouse said Bright Blue would not go as far as Mr Birrell in advocating the complete legalisation of drugs but partial decriminalisation needed to be looked at.

Tory modernisation: What is Bright Blue?

Bright Blue is a Conservative think-tank that was set up in 2010 to keep alive the flame of Tory modernisation in government. While not specifically linked to any wing of the party, its ideas tend to be relatively liberal and several key Tory modernisers such as David Willetts and Francis Maude are on its advisory board. Those connected with the group are concerned that too much focus on immigration and Europe, to combat the Ukip threat, will alienate centrist voters and could deprive the party of victory next year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Recruitment Genius: Invoicing Clerk

£14500 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are contractors to...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy