Mark Pritchard is the Member of Parliament for The Wrekin. If you would like to contribute a post for Platform please email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individual experiences shape lives. For politicians those experiences can also shape public policy. For too long Britain has lacked leadership on drugs policy and in recent times the government has sent out confusing messages that has led to fewer police arrests and increased drug use – especially among Britain’s children. In my own County of Shropshire, school buses are now stopped and searched for drugs. No longer are drugs sold at the school gates by mysterious men in dark cars, but by entreupenrial fourteen year olds whose pencil cases contain more than just pencils and coloured pens. Some social commentators say drug use amongst school children is spiralling out of control – the evidence in schools up and down the country suggests they are right.
My personal view is, that any politician, aspiring to become Prime Minister, should be prepared to say how their own exposure to drugs, or lack of it, will impact on their government’s drugs policy. What leadership would they provide? Would they liberalise drugs laws still further or would they toughen up the laws? These questions should not be no-go areas for any politician. Politicians are public servants and they should not expect to pick and choose what questions are put to them – however uncomfortable the questions might be. Seeking to be shielded from difficult questions is extremely naive for any would-be Prime Minister. Confronting thorny issues head-on is a policy I have long advocated. Scrutiny should not be seen an irritant but an opportunity to express views and a platform for a new type of politics. If, as a new backbencher I am prepared to come clean about my own limited exposure to drugs, albeit a quarter inch of a cannabis joint back in 1980, which was spluttered out rather than inhaled, then so should those who seek to lead our Party and country. For the record, I have never taken hard drugs. My constituents are more concerned about no-go areas in drugs blighted rural and urban communities throughout Britain, including some parts of Shropshire, than no-go questions for aspiring Prime Ministers. This should not come as a surprise given the increasing levels of aggravated robberies and assaults up and down the land – much of it fuelled by addicts looking to finance their next fix. Whilst some elements of the metropolitan liberal media may wish to claim the drugs experience of national politicians’ is a non-issue, or it is bad form to raise such questions, many parents and families ripped apart by drugs are desperate for national politicians to provide political clarity on the issue.
I also do not believe I am in a minority when I suggest that cannabis is harmful. Cannabis users are more likely to suffer from depression, from psychiatric problems and are more likely to attempt suicide. There is also strong evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of cannabis users go onto use hard drugs. However, it may be a convenient distraction to try and narrow this debate to cannabis alone, for much of Britain the issue is now the increased availability of cocaine – crack cocaine. It is also not enough for politicians to say that more rehabilitation places should be made available – there is cross-party consensus on this, but it is not a policy for deterring drugs supply or demand. What is needed is a new national and legal framework that makes it crystal clear that the supply and possession of drugs feed one another and that the laws of the land, set by politicians, will bear down heavily on those involved in peddling and using this social poison.
Leadership is about tackling difficult and complex issues, and for many urban and rural communities up and down Britain, rising crime fuelled by drug use, concerns them greatly – not Europe. If we are to have a new type of politics then all the candidates should be open and transparent about their exposure to drugs and how this might shape their drugs policy. Perhaps then, we can all move on and Britain may at last have a national drugs policy that sees a reduction in drug use rather than an increase.