Theresa May has walked into the sunshine again after a few awful days. Such is the magic of politics.
Just a few days ago, much of her shine as a tough and competent Home Secretary had worn off. Her child abuse inquiry appeared doomed before it had begun. With the prospect of an expensive and endless white elephant ahead (what the experience of both the Saville and Chilcot probes portend) as she apologised to the victims, she must have been ruing the day she ever gave into their demands.
Yes, it was just a few days ago that she could please no one. Her insistence on opting back into the European Arrest Warrant infuriated her backbenchers and left the Eurosceptic public astonished. Could she really be giving carte blanche for us to be picked off our own streets and dumped in a Latvian, Czech or Bulgarian gaol where due process, habeas corpus and so forth are, despite their EU member status, still pretty much conspicuous for their absence?
Then at the nadir of her fortunes up she comes smiling. All thanks to the Daily Mail – and very grateful she should be to them too – she was handed Norman Baker’s scalp on a plate.
Overnight she became the new scourge of the Lib Dems, to the joy of her party and her admirers.
Nick Clegg, the Mail discovered, had encouraged the BBC to give airtime to the drug-legalising organisations (Transform and Release) to promote the controversial and highly (Lib Dem) spun Home Office report pushed by his Home Office placeman, one Norman Baker.
This report was already proving a severe embarrassment to her, adding to her woe.
Opening up the drug debate to ‘legalising liberals’ had never been of her choosing. She was bounced into it. At the time of the Home Affairs Select Committee report and Nick Clegg’s demand for a Royal Commission on Drugs Policy (a couple of years ago now), giving permission to her then (Lib Dem) Minister, Jeremy Browne, to go on a jaunt (sorry, I meant an international drugs policy fact-finding mission) must have seemed infinitely preferable.
But instead of subsequently chucking into the bin the contents of this ‘jolly’ (to the drug-loving countries of Uruguay, Colorado, the Czech Republic and Portugal, to name but a few of those selected) – which she should and could have done on the basis of its questionable content – she sat on it.
At that moment she made herself a hostage to fortune. Specifically, she made herself a hostage to Norman Baker, the conspiracy theorist, ageing hippy and would-be rock star that Clegg had chosen to replace the more cogent and intelligent Mr Browne.
But for the Daily Mail scoop, but for their forensic research, which exposed the report’s dodgy facts, but for their pinning the whole thing on Calamity Clegg and Barmy Baker, Theresa would today still be doing daily battle with an unbearably smug Norm and seeming rather less than in charge.
Indeed, she still might be blissfully unaware of the civil servant porkies they so glibly presented in her name as ‘evidence-based’ policy – of the false facts it took the Mail to expose.
“It is clear that there has not been a lasting and significant increase in drug use in Portugal since 2001”, the civil servants, who drafted the report with Baker’s blessing, asserted.
Except there has been.
In the decade following decriminalisation, school-age drug use, as the Mail correctly pointed out, rose from 12 per cent to 19 per cent of the age group. Back in 1995 (before decriminalisation) only 8 per cent of this group had tried drugs.
Either the researchers were not going to let an inconvenient fact get in the way of good story or they just didn’t bother to do their homework.
That’s why anyone interested in reading through the entire report is advised to put down the rose-tinted spectacles accompanying it.
It skates through medical marijuana in the United States, legalisation of cannabis in Colorado and Uruguay, drug consumption rooms, ‘assisted heroin injecting’ and other liberal ‘harm reduction’ but ethically dubious policies in other countries. It ignores swathes of criticism of these back door to legalisation policies and lacks the rigour and detail to provide a credible basis for discussion.
Predictably, it treats Portugal’s ‘dissuasion commissions’ on a par with the USA’s longstanding, 2,500-strong federal wide and much respected drug court network – of which independent evaluations have demonstrated positive outcomes and over whose time span cocaine use has dropped by 75 per cent.
Frankly, Mrs May is lucky to no longer have this dodgy dossier still hanging round her neck.
With all the plaudits that have been raining down on her – from the Mail to the Telegraph – for being the longest-serving Home Secretary since Rab Butler, for surviving one of the most difficult senior roles in Cabinet, for regaining the top spot in the battle for the Tory succession in the regular poll of activists by Conservative Home and accompanying fulsome praise – she’d do well to reflect how lucky she has been.
She might think it is time to sharpen up those micro-management skills that The Times’s Francis Elliott rather kindly supposes to have kept her on top.
The Daily Mail scoop and the Lib-Dems’ shenanigans and spin surrounding the publication of a report that she herself signed off show these much-hyped qualities have not been much in evidence.
A bit more micro-management and she’d have sent her civil servants back to the drawing board and queried their ‘facts’, instead of letting Norman’s day arrive and allowing the report’s publication on the very same day as ‘loopy’ Caroline Lucas’s much heralded and Russell Brand-supported parliamentary drugs debate.
For all her apparent skills this is far from her first mistake. She made a far worse one on her first day in office when she signed off Harriet Harman’s horrendous and costly Equalities Act without any further discussion or reflection.
She didn’t stop there but published her own ‘right on’ Contract for Equalities. There is nothing that ‘We’re all in this together’ does not cover.
I guess we just have to be thankful she didn’t then, this last week, under Lib Dem pressure for ‘evidence-based policy’, action equal access to illicit drug use by decriminalising it. Her featherbrained new feminist minister Lynne “gay marriage” Featherstone (responsible for crime prevention) is bound to suggest it. Be warned.