Tom Sutcliffe: Confused? You will be in this drugs debate...

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The Independent Online

I'm planning to tinker with my brain chemistry next week. The method I'll be adopting is a relatively recent addition to the long list of mood-altering activities that cascades down the centuries and it isn't, the statistics confirm, entirely without risk. But I've found it takes me out of myself – as the saying goes– and I'm inclined to think that the high I get weighs up reasonably well against the potential downside.

The white powder I'm intending to employ is known as snow – not cocaine but the steeply-angled snow of the Alps. And fortunately – barring a bit of ecological head-shaking – society doesn't yet disapprove of this particular method of getting a rush. Indeed all the evidence is that it regards ski-ing as a perfectly acceptable form of self-endangerment. Should I be injured, no policeman will arrive at casualty to caution me about potential criminal charges and I can even pay for insurance against the possibility that something might go wrong.

I confess that I don't entirely understand why this is – or rather I don't understand why some forms of personal risk-taking are regarded as morally culpable while others are simply down to personal taste. I'm with Professor David Nutt, on this one – head of the Advisory Council on Drugs Misuse, who got himself into trouble over the weekend for suggesting that there was "not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy" when it came to an assessment of potential social harm.

Cue an entirely predictable spasm of knicker-twisting consternation. The ACMD distanced itself from his comments (though it, at least, had some purely tactical grounds for doing so), and commentators called for his resignation – the ability to think dispassionately about such matters apparently disqualifying you from serving on a body specifically tasked with dispassionate thinking. "If his personal view conflicts so very strongly with his public duties, it would be honourable to consider his position," suggested one opponent – effectively arguing that it was Professor Nutt's public duty not to think at all. His personal view is, after all, quite likely to come into play if he's appointed to an advisory role – and he wasn't commenting on the relative attractions of horse-riding and ecstasy (a subjective matter), but on their relative casualty rates, which is a matter of hard facts.

Jacqui Smith – who currently has good reason to distract the press – accused him yesterday of "trivialising" the dangers of ecstasy (when in truth he was simply attempting to counter the "sensationalising" that accompanies virtually all political and journalistic discussion of drugs). She also – and I think only the word "disgusting" does justice to the craven political opportunism of this request – called on him to apologise to families whose lives have been damaged by ecstasy use. I look forward to her similarly calling on the manufacturers of bicycles (who heedlessly peddle this known hazard to very young children) to apologise to those bereaved by affected by road fatalities.

Sadly, her nervous illogic typifies political thinking on this matter. The ACDM is shortly expected to recommend that ecstasy is downgraded from a Class A drug to a Class B one. The Government is expected to ignore them, just as they ignored a previous recommendation about cannabis. Instead they will take their expert advice from the Daily Mail and The Sun, those unimpeachable authorities on moral panic knee-jerk instinct. Come to think of it, Professor Nutt should do the honourable thing and resign, along with every other member of a body that now seems to have no purpose other than to make the Government look good to the tabloids.

A not entirely unexpected victory for the home team

British triumph at the Baftas appeared to be the general top-spin for Monday's reports on the film award ceremony. Or – as The Sun more pointedly put it – "Brits Beat Brangelina", as if a foreign invasion had been pluckily fended off. One doesn't want to sniff at any bit of good news just now – and I'm very glad that Slumdog's human warmth – for which its director Danny Boyle collected a an award, left – defeated the cloying sentiment of Benjamin Button.

But British success at the Baftas is about as unexpected as the news of Peaches Geldof's divorce. The awards list specifically ring-fences three prizes as Brits only, and the electorate is overwhelmingly British, and thus inclined to look fondly upon their own. Besides, since three out of four of the acting prizes went to outsiders, there must at least have been a case for the tabloids rolling out their other stock response to the awards – "British stars robbed at Baftas".

If only we could hear an interview with Keats

I got a letter from the British Library the other day asking me to sign a licence agreement so that a recording of an ICA talk I once chaired with the writer Vikram Seth could be made available through their Archival Recordings website. I blushed to remember the occasion, which I recall as being an unintended master-class in how not to conduct a literary conversation.

But I confess that I felt a tiny flicker of pleasure at the possibility that some assiduous postgraduate might, in 150 years' time, hear the thing again in the course of researching a doctorate on Indian literature of late 20th century. Imagine how intriguing it would be to listen to the voice of Keats, say, however clumsy the questioning was. And what would you give for a recording in which Garrick and Dr Johnson did a round-table on Shakespearean characterisation?

It made me realise that the relationship between posterity and its heroes is going to be utterly different in the future, far more intimate and face-to-face. And I quite like the idea of being there on the sidelines, even as one of posterity's who-he's.





*I was passing through Liverpool Street last Friday night, emerging from the Tube to find the entire concourse packed with people, and even more crammed against the balconies to see what had drawn the crowd. I assumed, from the cheers and the phone cameras held aloft, that it was a boy band, but it turned out that the crowd had drawn itself – critical mass being achieved by a flashmob event, which then sucked in yet more gawpers until the station had to be closed for safety reasons.

It struck me as a perfect plot for a thriller. Nefarious jihadi puts advert on Facebook inviting people to a mass chorale of "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". Waits until a sufficient density has gathered. Presses button. No need for all the palaver of going through security. The casualties assemble themselves. I'll stick to watching these things on You Tube.

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