For some reason, they think that being mealy-mouthed about their student experiences will make them more popular
When politicians talk about drugs, they adopt a weird language that for the life of me I just can't fathom. It's about as commonplace as Urdu in the Highlands – and certainly not how you or I would describe a couple of puffs on a spliff a decade ago. As Gordon Brown contemplates reclassifying cannabis from category C to B, making penalties for its possession and use far tougher, a whole gang of former potheads in his Cabinet have decided to come clean about their drug-using years.
All these "revelations" only reinforce my long-held belief that most politicians do not inhabit the real world. They honestly believe that we'll be impressed by the self-serving bilge that issues from their mouths. When this newspaper originally campaigned to legalise cannabis, most MPs denied that they'd every used drugs; statistically, we know that they were lying. If a journalist dared to ask an MP about drugs as thousands of our teenagers participated in the E culture of the late 1980s and early 90s, all they got was "no comment".
After Leah Betts's death, MPs were quick to condemn Ecstasy – even though, when averaged out, far fewer people have died from hallucinogenic drugs in the UK than from alcohol or drunk driving. Bill Clinton famously admitted to smoking dope, but he didn't inhale! Among the readers of this newspaper, I would be very surprised if I could find more than one in 1,000 who had smoked dope but deliberately never inhaled. Never inhaling is something that only politicians do, not ordinary members of the human race.
Have you noticed how politicians never enjoy drugs either? Now, you might have had a bad trip on acid or an E; you might have smoked a spliff so strong you had to sit down for a couple of hours. You might have eaten a hash cookie and turned into a giggling idiot for six hours. But nine times out of 10, people who take drugs actually enjoy the result – that's why they've taken them in the first place. It's only politicians who take drugs so as not to enjoy them – funny, that.
Our new Home Secretary is no different – she smoked dope at Oxford in the 1980s – but she's "not proud" of having done so. Ruth Kelly did too, but soon realised it was "foolish" and stopped. John Hutton and Andy Burnham dabbled with pot "briefly". Hazel Blears had a puff or two, but "it didn't work". Are we meant to applaud these eight Cabinet members who are so forthright and honest about their former drug use? And what about the others who refused to comment? Perhaps they are following the example of David Cameron, who has said that politicians are "entitled to a private life" after persistent allegations that he had dabbled with drugs at Eton and Oxford.
The Tories who have owned up to drug-taking all follow the traditional "no fun" line: Oliver Letwin was tricked into it by friends who "put dope in his pipe"! David Willetts has owned up to "two puffs", as has Francis Maude. The only politician who has ever said she smoked dope and enjoyed it was the late, great Mo Mowlam, who clearly inhabited an honesty zone few of her party members feel able to occupy.
I happen to agree with Mr Cameron that all politicians are entitled to a private life. I concur with the vast majority of senior police officers, who do not want cannabis reclassified as it will confuse the public and waste even more of their time filling up jail cells with people who shouldn't be there. But there must be a way that the group of people we have elected to run our country can at least stop being so mealy-mouthed about soft drugs. A lot of drugs are pretty inoffensive – puffing on a joint isn't a criminal offence or something that will scar you for life. It is perfectly possible to be the Home Secretary and not have to express "regret" about something nine out of 10 students were doing while you were at university. At this rate, the chances of having a sensible debate about legalising any drugs in Britain is zero.
Let Joseph bring out your inner naffness
I promised myself at the start of the year that I would do stuff I had never done before; it was supposed to include learning to drive a car with gears, and I haven't got around to that. But last week I managed to sit through the new production of 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' at the Adelphi theatre in London – a feat which most of my culturally aware friends thought was impossible. I must be one of the few people who has never seen a version of this show. First of all, the chorus of kids in rainbow T-shirts is a bit of a worry; I kept picking out the precocious brats who must be hell to live with, but they were outnumbered by the real sweeties singing their hearts out. Once I'd got over Lee Mead's naff hair – more Gilbert O'Sullivan than a biblical icon – I realised he had a very pleasing voice. The make-up is dire and the Elvis impersonator toe-curlingly awful. But the music was so catchy and the lyrics so entertaining that I couldn't fight the standing ovation at the end. It might be naff, but what the hell.
Television viewers will always be held in contempt
The BBC is going to train all staff in "honesty". But there are already dozens of guidelines governing output, many relating to truthfulness and accuracy. More importantly, how do you change the mindset of workers who think that viewers are mugs?
Most television researchers and producers are middle class – they don't inhabit the same world as their audiences. I'm always struck by the fact that at the very time (6pm-7pm) the most popular programmes are being transmitted, television staff are either travelling home from work or downing their first glass in the local wine bar.
Many people in Britain outside London eat their main meal of the day at this time, but media folk have no concept of what life is like in ordinary homes, and under what conditions their programmes are actually watched. They've been ordered to "involve" the audience at all costs, and when no one rings up and participates in a quiz, they are fearful they will lose their jobs or the show will be scrapped.
But let's not be too hard on the BBC; I am sure that if ITV conducted a thorough investigation as the BBC has just done, it'd find more than six examples in the past year when viewers were deceived.Reuse content