Daily Archives: 10 February 2009

The Home Secretary: an unacceptable risk?

I can’t help but feel that this statement reveals all too much about the mental state of our beloved Home Secretary:

Speaking during Home Office questions in the House of Commons, Ms Smith said: “I’ve spoken to him this morning about his comments. I’ve told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article reported.”

She added: “I’m sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.

“For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs.”

Ms Smith also said: “I made clear to Professor Nutt that I felt his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect of him as the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

“He apologised to me for his comments and I’ve asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy.”

No-one is questioning the validity of Professor Nutt’s statistics; indeed they are a matter of public record. However, simply mentioning them in the same paragraph is enough to get an “independent” advisor publicly excoriated. Talk about inconvenient truths.

If nothing else sums up madness raging within the Home Office and other government departments then this does the job. Faced with the choice between a hard headed risk assessment and an unquantifiable dread, Jacqui Smith goes for the fear and loathing every time. It reminded me of her petulant whinging at the end of the 42 days debate (which she lost). At least with our war on terror (which of course officially isn’t a war any more), they can hide behind that amorphous thing called “national security”. With the war on drugs (still officially a war as far as I know), she has no such safeguard.

Yet the fact is that you are more likely to die of ecstacy, however low those odds may be, than be killed by a terrorist. Think of all the billions of pounds, all those liberties compromised, all that unneccessary fear aroused, for something that remains an extremely low risk. A something that is intended to spread fear and dread and thus fulfils its objective if governments react in this way.

People die on the roads, fall off horses and die of preventable diseases every day. Smith accuses Prof Nutt of “trivialising” the deaths of ecstacy users, but since when were those deaths more significant than all the others? Ignoring the real risks of drug use (and terrorism) is to fetishise it. If anyone is in the business of trivialising deaths, it is Smith.

A final word on Carol Thatcher

I haven’t been able to avoid this story in the way that I would have wished. One thing that I’ve been wondering about this whole debacle is: why didn’t the BBC insist on Thatcher doing race sensitivity training?

It’s a serious question. It is now clear that she was referring to a black man and not Andy Murray and that being the case, there is no question whatsoever that it was a racist and unacceptable remark. That is not the same thing however as saying that Thatcher herself is racist. Meral Ece, herself justifiably rather intolerant of the special pleading brigade, makes the following point which I think is crucial:

What may have been acceptable 40 years ago, is not anymore. As the ‘Paki-gate, and Sooty-gate’ episodes, and now this, demonstrate that some sections of the privileged classes in British society seem to be living in the era of the Black & White Minstrel Show – hugely popular in its time.

Taking no action whatsoever would have been clearly unacceptable, but I remain unconvinced that simply sacking her was the answer. The resultant row hasn’t changed a single mind about racism and it has degenerated into a partisan spat. The only tangible effect has been to bring back a term that I for one hadn’t heard for years – and you can bet it is now doing the rounds on the school playgrounds. What has burning the witch actually achieved?

By contrast, forcing her to go on a course – possibly at her own expense (or rather, taken out of her own pay) – would have been far more difficult a prospect for those who rushed to Thatcher’s defence to object to. She might well have learned something. And if she had refused to go on the course, she’d have looked very silly indeed. Wouldn’t it have been a more proportionate, and ultimately productive, response?

Finally, let me give the last word to Iain Dale. I try not to make a habit of being nice about Iain, but Derek Draper’s hounding of him over the past few days verged on the bullying, and he makes an extremely astute point here:

Draper’s crowd should be proud of themselves. They rail against imagined racism, yet introduce laws which allow muslim women to be traduced like this.