Leading article: The stench of hypocrisy

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Instead, Mr Cameron is now beset by furious demands from certain quarters to state publicly whether or not he has ever taken drugs. His stonewalling has merely intensified the outcry among his critics, many motivated more by the desire to see an unexpectedly powerful Tory leadership bid come unstuck than any real concern for observance of the law.

Mr Cameron is right to stick to his guns. It was good to see that after he, once again, firmly rebuffed the pressure to answer during an appearance on the BBC's Question Time on Thursday night, the audience cheered him. Indeed, it is worth noting there were similar cheers at that fringe meeting in Blackpool from an audience stuffed with elderly Tory activists. These are heartening indications that this country is developing a more mature attitude to drugs - and beginning to understand that even politicians have no need to be perfect. Voters have a right to be able to judge from an individual's private behaviour whether he is fit for public office, but they do not have the right to peer into every nook and cranny of their private life.

Of far more relevance is Mr Cameron's policy on drugs. Here he has shown a welcome desire to break with the outdated "war on drugs" stance, instead airing sensible ideas including United Nations legalisation and regulation of the drug trade, more emphasis on rehabilitation plus the introduction of "shooting galleries" for heroin addicts. The revelation yesterday that a member of Mr Cameron's family has undergone treatment for drug addiction underscores his understanding of the complexities surrounding substance abuse.

Mr Cameron must be judged on his political qualities, not on any minor misdeed in his youth. These hysterical assaults reflect badly on his accusers, carrying with them the whiff of hypocrisy from sectors of the media that like to complain about the paucity of talent in Westminster and lionise the likes of Winston Churchill. Our troubled democracy would be the loser if youthful indiscretions prevent political careers. Perfectly behaved people do not always make the best politicians.