Leading article: Hooked on headlines

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The Independent Online

There were some sensible policy proposals in the drug strategy unveiled by the Government yesterday. These include better financial support for grandparents who look after the children of drug-users, more help for addicts seeking employment, and greater use of community sentences (rather than jail) for those convicted.

But this good work has been spoilt by some populist grandstanding by ministers. It is two particular ideas that rankle. The first is the proposal to seize the assets of suspected drug dealers on their arrest, rather than after conviction. The second is the suggestion of cutting the benefits of addicts who fail to attend treatment courses.

It is, of course, dangerous, to suggest that the state should have the power to seize a person's property without due process. And, in any case, this proposal is most unlikely to be followed up. Its primary job is to grab headlines. The idea of cutting benefits for addicts is potentially even worse, because it is possible to envisage ministers actually carrying it out. Those who work with addicts argue that such tactics are likely to result in an increase in crime, as users are forced to steal to feed their habits.

A depressing pattern is emerging under Gordon Brown. Sensible policy announcements come wrapped in crude gestures designed to appease the right-wing press. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, claims that the Government wants to "send a clear message that drug use is unacceptable". But the only message this Government is sending out is that it is still too timid to pursue progressive policies with the necessary vigour.