Richard Ingrams: It's hardly a war on drugs – more like a skirmish

Notebook

It is reasonable to assume that in Malaysia, where a British woman was this week sentenced to death by hanging for dealing in heroin, there is less of a drug problem than there is in Britain.

I am not suggesting that we should necessarily follow the example of the Malaysians.

I merely raise the issue to point out how inappropriate and misleading it is for people in this country to talk about a "war on drugs" – one which they usually go on to say has singularly failed. But there has been no war, and certainly nothing of the kind that Malaysians would recognise as such.

I remember in the distant days, when I frequented trendy West End clubs, being surprised to find how casually many of the members sniffed cocaine in the toilets. Since then I have often seen drug dealers selling cannabis on the streets of the capital.

If there was a war going on, the only casualties were the unfortunate addicts, not the dealers. The point was vividly made by the former Labour minister Bob Ainsworth, who this week joined the ranks of those politicians and pundits calling for the legalisation of all hard drugs.

Ainsworth proudly pointed out that during his time as a minister he had made some progress, instancing the advice given to clubs and discos that they should provide water for those taking ecstasy. He may consider that to be magnifique, but it certainly isn't la guerre.

Alas, New Labour never went away

Ed Miliband's claim to have put New Labour behind him and banished the memories of Mandelson and co will look a bit less convincing since his appointment this week of Tom Baldwin as his chief spin doctor.

Those of us familiar with the Iraq story, which did so much to undermine the Labour Party, will remember only too well the important role played by Mr Baldwin in the chain of events that led to the death of the weapons inspector Dr David Kelly.

In July 2003, Baldwin's great friend and ally Alastair Campbell, by then desperate to get his revenge on the BBC and its reporter Andrew Gilligan, persuaded Tony Blair and his advisers that while nobody would name Dr Kelly directly as the BBC's informant, they would confirm the name if a reporter suggested it.

It was Baldwin who then came closest to identifying Dr Kelly in The Times, thereby making it almost inevitable that he be exposed. There is little doubt that Campbell had briefed Baldwin, with whom he had always had a close professional relationship.

There can be little doubt, for that matter, that Campbell is the man who has now recommended his old friend Baldwin to Ed Miliband – a depressing sign that for all the talk of a new look the same old villains are still pulling strings behind the scenes.

Truth, lies and the way to happiness

I wrote recently about Hannah Lycett, the 13-year-old who appeared on 4Thought – Channel 4's answer to Radio 4's Thought for the Day – to extol the wonders of Scientology.

Hannah's father, Alastair, now writes to the editor of The Independent from East Grinstead, headquarters of the self-styled church, enclosing a little booklet entitled The Way to Happiness, written by the founder of Scientology, the late L Ron Hubbard.

"I would be grateful if you could pass this on to Mr Ingrams," Mr Lycett writes. "I suspect that had he had the opportunity to read this in his childhood he may have led a less bitter and twisted adult life, attacking those people who actually have done something to make the world a better place."

"Do not tell harmful lies," writes L Ron. "The way to happiness lies along the road to truth." It is only one such pious reflection in the little book. But is it true? After all, it was L Ron himself who decreed that "the only way to control people is to lie to them". So it might not even be true that he wrote The Way to Happiness.

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