Tory leadership contenders join long list of politicians to admit past drug use

Trend for political confessions dates back at least to 1992, when Clinton said ‘I didn’t inhale’

Peter Stubley
Saturday 08 June 2019 20:25 BST
'People should tell us what they've done and move on in life' Jeremy Corbyn reacts to Michael Gove's cocaine-use admission

Politics has come a long way since 29 March 1992, when Bill Clinton admitted to trying marijuana as a student at Oxford University.

“I didn’t like it,” said the Democrat governor for Arkansas during his presidential campaign. “I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.”

His infamous confession became the set-up for countless jokes, including one by Barack Obama, who later commented: “When I was a kid, I inhaled ... that was the point.”

It may also have made it much easier for high-profile politicians both in the UK and the US to talk about drug-taking.

In 2000, Mo Mowlam, the former Northern Ireland secretary, and Tory MPs Francis Maude and David Willetts, were among those to admit to the odd “puff” of cannabis.

The same year Norman Lamont admitted he had eaten cannabis in a ”space cake”, adding: “All I can say is I enjoyed the cake but that is all.”

Another surge in political drug confessions followed in 2007, when Boris Johnson, now the frontrunner in the race to succeed Theresa May, admitted to trying cocaine as a teenager at Oxford University.

The Tory MP told GQ magazine: “I tried it at university and I remember it vividly. And it achieved no pharmacological, psychotropic or any other effect on me whatsoever.”

Referring to cannabis joints, he added: “There was a period before university when I had quite a few. It was jolly nice. But apparently it is very different these days. Much stronger. I’ve become very illiberal about it. I don’t want my kids to take drugs.”

However, fellow Old Etonian David Cameron refused to be drawn on the subject of drug taking, saying: “Like many people, I did things when I was young that I shouldn’t have done and that I regret.

“But I do believe that politicians are entitled to a past that remains private.”

The same year several ministers in Gordon Brown’s government, including chancellor Alistair Darling, home secretary Jacqui Smith and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, admitted using cannabis in their youth.

Yvette Cooper, then minister for housing, said cannabis use at university was “something that I have left behind” while Andy Burnham, now mayor of Greater Manchester, admitted smoking the drug.

The most recent trend began last week when Conservative leadership hopeful Rory Stewart apologised for smoking opium at a wedding in Iran.

Jeremy Hunt also revealed he had a “cannabis lassi”, a yoghurt-based drink, when he was backpacking through India in his youth.

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Environment secretary Michael Gove has stepped forward to say he “deeply regrets” taking cocaine “on several occasions” two decades ago.

He was followed by Andrea Leadsom, who admitted to smoking “weed” at Warwick University in the 1980s.

Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, has previously admitted to smoking cannabis at university but denies taking cocaine or any other class A drugs.

Similar admissions have been made in the US by candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential campaign. Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rouke and Bernie Sanders have all acknowledged trying marijuana in their youth and back legalisation of the drug.

Additional reporting by PA

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