Reading Michael Gove’s candid cocaine taking confession and those that have followed hard on its heels from Rory Stewart’s to Andrea Leadsom’s you’d be forgiven for asking whether there is anyone left in the Tory Party who hasn’t taken drugs.
It’s not surprising then that most of Mr Gove’s colleagues have avoided reacting to what had all the hallmarks of an unavoidable damage-limitation exercise. On Saturday’s BBC Today programme, Dominic Raab munificently opined on the principle of having a ‘second chance’. Mr Gove has since pleaded exactly for that.
He’s repeated his profound regret, though not remorse, for taking a drug that can harm, not that does harm. He’s admitted he committed a crime that he could have gone to prison for. He’s said his past actions should not be held against him, arguing in vindication that ‘he’s worked to help others redeem themselves’. Several of his colleagues who have re-endorsed him clearly agree. That however, society’s politically correct liberal non-judgemental posture, with all due respect is for us to decide, not for him to assume.
Cocaine use, as he’s previously articulated himself, perhaps after witnessing it first-hand, is not a victimless crime. There are good reasons why this Class A drug was and is against the law. No one has put it better than, in the past, Mr Gove himself.
What this confession of cocaine-taking at ‘Notting Hill’ type dinner parties and assumption of public tolerance highlights – but fails to address – is the metrosexual liberal media and political elite’s casual disregard of the law; the gulf between this culture and these entitled attitudes and the rest of us. It reflects a divide that is no longer one between Left and Right but between the liberal cosmopolitan and the social conservative.
Rod Liddle, in his recent article, ‘How to save the Tory Party’, put his finger on it: ‘Our Parliament does not remotely reflect the new divide, with five-sixths or more of MPs being effectively liberals, whereas polls suggest that the majority of the population are more socially conservative, traditional or communal.’
The majority of the population do not inhabit the drug-taking world that they – Mr Gove and his parliamentary and media colleagues – find themselves in contact with either socially or at work; that clearly leaves them more terrified of liberal opinion than of moral censure; and in a terrible quandary about categorically condemning drugs, should they even want to.
And it’s this, this default seal of social approval over the last twenty years since Mr Gove ingested it, that’s fuelled today’s costly cocaine crisis and driven its use up threefold, even though it remains a minority and London-centric activity.
How many people I wonder realise that so few can cause so much harm? Whether it’s the cardiac arrests or paranoia and destroyed lives cocaine causes, whether from criminal Colombian cartels to drug mules and county lines child exploitation – the damage in cocaine’s wake results from the behaviour of less than 3 per cent of the population and only 6 per cent of young people.
The mass of ordinary decent people don’t come across cocaine and don’t much like the drug culture that media celebrities take for granted, though they might think it unfair that the less fortunate are more likely to take the rap.
It is not the norm and most people don’t think it is OK, much as the LBC presenter Ian Payne, on whose show I was a guest on Saturday, might believe. Since we no longer live ‘in the 50s’ we surely should have a more relaxed attitude. No, why should we?
But it is the view grossly overrepresented in influential institutions such as the BBC, which itself suffers from an obsessive compulsive or pro-drugs legalisation disorder, forever providing opportunities for Professor Nutt et al to make their case for legalisation. It never and I mean never starts by explaining the history of, reasons and need for, our drugs laws, or how almost non-existent (and very far from draconian) their application has become.
The cerebral Mr Gove cannot be entirely unaware of this social divide. The question is, what does he really believe and who terrifies him most? Whose approval does he need more? That of his libertarian colleagues like Crispin Blunt who shout hypocrisy at him, or the ignored but true one-nation Tories who still understand ‘the difference between male and female genitalia’, who don’t want their children taught to love gay sex nor to be educated into how to make ‘informed choices’ about their illegal drug-taking.
It’s a moment of real choice – and Gove for all his regret is still flunking it.
His problem is not being ‘found out’ but trying still to walk the tightrope between the two cultures as the Conservatives’ pretence of conservatism becomes ever more tenuous. Sajid Javid, though on the moral high ground with drugs, is little better. As for Boris doing a social conservative Damascene conversion any time soon – no chance.
Are they liberals (in its modern sense) or conservatives? That’s the question. Though contradictory in her ‘Green’ authoritarianism and her drugs libertarianism and despite the speciousness of her case that the law being broken is good enough reason for the law to be dropped, it’s the gauntlet Caroline Lucas has thrown down. It needs answer.
Tories who think tax breaks are enough to reclaim the conservative heights are in for a rude awakening. However radical the tax manifesto that Michael Gove suggests, economic liberalism cannot save a Conservative Party which is no longer conservative, which no longer represents the values of its voter base, and which simply ignores the huge tax costs to society of its otherwise socially liberal agenda.
The problem is liberal attitudes to drug use. And they have to decide which side they are on, whatever their pasts. Liberalising drugs was and still is key to the culture wars, to the long destructive march we’ve witnessed though the institutions and everything of traditional value – right to the breakdown of family life and responsibility. Nothing better encapsulates the social liberal revolution since the 1960’s than drugs. And nothing more reflects modern Tory rejection of conservatism.
It’s about time that their prevailing drugs myths are added to Rod Liddle’s list of liberal canards (such as that immigration is ‘an untrammelled good’, Islam ‘a soothing balm’, that ‘the nation state is the wrong side of history’ and that ‘the UK has been a historical source of untrammelled wickedness’). They are one, that drug harms can be separated from drug use and two, that condemning drug use – or seeking to prohibit it – is more shameful than drug use.
These myths have been the death of many a man. The modern Tory Party’s Janus face on drugs may well soon be the death of it.