These days of reefer madness may yet lead to a saner debate on drugs

Share

There are encouraging signs that the Tories' brief episode of reefer madness may be drawing to a close. William Hague's statement yesterday that Ann Widdecombe's zero tolerance policy on cannabis, announced only last Wednesday, was subject to "further consultation, discussion and debate" was one of the more dramatic U-turns of recent times. It also went quite a long way to trashing what little remains of Miss Widdecombe's credibility as a "home secretary in waiting". This was always going to be a difficult concept to sell to the voters, and it is surely only a matter of time before her energies are redeployed within the Shadow Cabinet. If there is a battle for the heart and soul of the Tory party being fought out between authoritarian Widdecombe-ites and libertarian Portillistas, with Mr Hague seemingly content to hold their coats, then it is the shadow Chancellor's allies who have won this particular round.

There are encouraging signs that the Tories' brief episode of reefer madness may be drawing to a close. William Hague's statement yesterday that Ann Widdecombe's zero tolerance policy on cannabis, announced only last Wednesday, was subject to "further consultation, discussion and debate" was one of the more dramatic U-turns of recent times. It also went quite a long way to trashing what little remains of Miss Widdecombe's credibility as a "home secretary in waiting". This was always going to be a difficult concept to sell to the voters, and it is surely only a matter of time before her energies are redeployed within the Shadow Cabinet. If there is a battle for the heart and soul of the Tory party being fought out between authoritarian Widdecombe-ites and libertarian Portillistas, with Mr Hague seemingly content to hold their coats, then it is the shadow Chancellor's allies who have won this particular round.

But rivalries and machinations within the Tory front bench only go part of the way to explaining why Miss Widdecombe could be so spectacularly and humiliatingly rolled over. The more fundamental reason is that the policy went so badly against the grain of public opinion, which has been moving inexorably towards a much more relaxed attitude to the private consumption of modest quantities of cannabis.

Fewer and fewer of us, it seems, mind about dope-smoking very much, still less consider it a criminal matter to be pursued by the police with zero tolerance and fixed penalties - a point powerfully, if implicitly, made by the recent "confessions" of seven Shadow Cabinet members. We're cool about soft drugs. Not for the first time, our politicians - including ministers such as Jack Straw - display rather less sophistication and common sense than the public or, indeed, the police.

But in all this concentration on Miss Widdecombe, there is a danger of neglecting the culpability of the Leader of the Opposition. It was Mr Hague, we should remember, who approved Miss Widdecombe's policy; it was he who endorsed it in his leader's speech to the conference the next day, and, above all, it was he who appointed her to the job of shadow Home Secretary, which appeased traditionalist grassroots sentiment, but which has proved to be an error.

Mr Hague's enthusiasm for Miss Widdecombe as a "great crime-fighting home secretary" is not quite in the same league as his support of Jeffrey Archer as a man of "probity and integrity". But it is another example of poor judgement.

Whatever else, the row Miss Widdecombe provoked has given us just a glimpse - admittedly inadvertently - of what may one day be called the "New Conservatives". It would be a party that complements its economic libertarianism with social libertarianism - although we would hope that this could be tempered by a "one-nation" social conscience. Such a revamped party could be more fleet of foot in outflanking Labour on issues as varied as liberalising the drugs laws, permitting civil gay marriage, and democratising the House of Lords.

Unthinkable? Today, perhaps, but thinking the unthinkable and a capacity to adapt to changing social conditions have proved to be formidable Tory strengths in the past. In any case, a few days of reefer madness may be a price worth paying for a saner level of national debate on drugs.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New rules mean individuals will no longer be allowed to register other people in their household  

A political voice that really needs to be heard

Rebecca Armstrong
If Miliband is PM, it is expected that Cameron will stand down as party leader quickly  

Election 2015: The Ed Miliband I worked with in Downing Street

Nick Rowley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living