Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back again, alas....

I've been away for the last week with Lady Sane, taking some well earned rest in Ireland away from the noise, crowds and general irritation of London. I didn't have access to the interweb during this time, but I did write up a couple of posts which I've posted below under their original dates.

Samuel Johnson famously stated that "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life." He was wrong, as anyone who has woken up to the below view for the last week would also testify.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Reefer madness

It appears to be fashionable once more for senior government members to disclose whether or not they smoked cannabis in their youth. Leading the way was new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith – now in charge of reviewing the 2004 declassification of cannabis from a Class B to Class C drug - who made her admission on GMTV yesterday. It was a stock politician answer: it was 25 years ago, I did it once or twice, I didn’t really enjoy it, I haven’t done it since, etc. What a big yawn. Harriet Harman did the same thing on the same programme this morning. It was a bland, forthright statement of fact. Even the interviewer John Stapleton couldn’t be bothered to probe much below the surface, his own indifference nearly equal to my own. A student? Smoking a joint? At university? I refuse to believe it! Next you’ll be telling me that students miss lectures, drink cheap beer, listen to indie music and have sex occasionally. The debauched animals!

Of course, the whole point of Smith, Harman, Darling, Kelly, etc, coming out of the cannabis closet is to once again put the spotlight on David Cameron and reopen the whole issue of whether or not he took drugs in his youth too. Cameron still refuses to play the game and increasingly one suspects that this is because his dalliances with illegal substances were perhaps a tad more extreme than the occasional toke of a joint at a student house party. Perhaps – and I’m trembling with trepidation at the mere suggestion of this – he smoked cannabis… regularly! And enjoyed it! Can you imagine? That is, after all, my own experience and, come to think of it, that of virtually everyone in my social network. So come on Dave, don’t be shy. Tell us about that good shit you smoked.

The whole affair underlines the rank hypocrisy and absurdity of the law surrounding the use of cannabis. Millions use or have used it on a regular basis, causing no harm to anyone but themselves, but become criminals in the process. And yet our own Home Secretary took it herself as did, it appears, a substantial number of the Cabinet. Of course, they all bleat now about the “folly of youth” and how they “regret it enormously” and all kinds of other platitudes that they feel duty bound to say, even though nobody outside of the offices of the Daily Mail or the Telegraph is in the least bit bothered by the revelations. (Speaking of the Telegraph, check out this reactionary rant by the deranged Simon Heffer.) The only real problem here is the fact that known ex-users of the substance will now decide the severity of the “crime” of future users as they redefine whether it is a Class C or Class B substance. They are determining how future users will be treated by the law even though it is patently obvious that the only sensible action is to decriminalise or even legalise the substance. When it’s legal it’s regulated, its supply is not determined by organised crime gangs, mobsters or terrorist organisations but, instead, licensed businesses. The strength and purity of the substance can be controlled, as can its availability. And, even better, it can be taxed and become a major source of income. At the present time and under the current legislation, none of the above is true. Instead we spend billions of pounds losing a war against a plant that grows naturally. The THC content is manipulated by the growers to dangerous levels, the content is mixed with other products, anyone of any age can buy the stuff pretty much anywhere. If they are caught in possession they risk a jail sentence and a criminal record for the crime of exercising their own choice over which poison they wish to consume. And it is about choice. Want to drink yourself to death? Go ahead - the choice and availability has never been greater. Want to smoke cigarettes? Oh, it might be forbidden in all public places now, but if you're over sixteen you can still take your pick from the various suppliers of the most addictive killer drug on the planet. Want to smoke a little weed and do no harm to anyone but yourself? Oh no, you deserve a criminal record or a custodial sentence.

Forget the ‘War on Drugs’, how about a war on nonsensical and downright hypocritical laws?

The cash for honours farce

After sixteen months of investigation at a cost of nearly £1million yielded no convictions whatsoever in the ‘cash for honours’ claims, only two things appear plain to me. Firstly, the long overdue abolition of the entire honours system is now more necessary than ever. An embarrassing colonial throwback, it is entirely inconsistent with our claims to be a modern democracy. What possible reason could there be to ordain somebody with the title ‘Sir’ in this day and age? MBEs and OBEs are even more of an anachronism: the United Kingdom is barely a cohesive entity at the moment, never mind titles referring to the age of Empire! Let’s ditch these silly little ceremonies right away. The other outcome should be a serious overhaul of the party funding system. As I’ve argued elsewhere, we should look at introducing state funding of major political parties. While this does cut across my own liberal principles (I generally favour less state involvement), I find it less offensive than parties auctioning their policy formulation to wealthy private donors, big business, professional lobby groups and trade unions. Although nobody has been prosecuted, the whole affair reeks of the sewer and the stench now hangs, rightly or wrongly, over the entire political system, thus reinforcing the level of mistrust and apathy that the British public routinely feel for their political system. This is a tragedy because, despite what many might tell you, we actually have one of the best democracies on the planet. Indeed, one could mount a case that the very fact that the police were investigating the issue at all, even interviewing the prime minister in the process (as a witness, not a subject) is testament to that fact. That said, it is not hard to see how the lack of any real outcome to proceedings has been very damaging. I rarely find myself agreeing with Sir (there we go again) Menzies Campbell, but he is correct when he says:

“This whole affair has diminished politics and politicians in the eyes of the public. Never again must there be any question of any link between preferment and financial support.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

You didn't think I'd let this one slip by did you?

As you can imagine, I was bitterly disappointed to learn that George Galloway might be facing an 18 day suspension from Parliament for "damaging the reputation of the house" with his comments following the inquiry into his Mariam Appeal charity. You see, I originally misread the story and thought the standards watchdog had recommended that he be barred for 18 months. So I was deeply saddened to learn the harsh reality. George Galloway not attending the House of Commons for 18 days? Who would notice? He's barely there anyway, busy as he is promoting his spoken word tours, hosting a radio talk show, appearing on trash television or praising suicide bombers.

He defended himself with the usual old bluster, highlighting the 'irony' that a 'pro-war' Parliament had attacked the leader of the 'anti-war' party. Except, of course (and we should never forget this) Galloway and the other contemptible clowns that make up the Socialist Worker's Party Stop The War Coalition are not anti-war at all. They are in fact very pro-war. They just happen to prefer the jihadist murderers that make up the other side.