Could “Daily Mail-speak” be having less influence?
Will Labour’s first big Labour onslaught on David Cameron after, as expected, he becomes Tory leader on December 6th be on illegal drugs. Not only would an attack focus further on the ambivalence of the 39 year-old’s personal statements but it’s the one policy area where he has said a lot on the record that Labour spinners could use against him.
For one aspect of Cameron’s relative lack of front bench experience is that there is a dearth of material of him saying things on key policy issues in public. One of the reasons, I believe, why Jeremy Paxman was less effective on Thursday night was that there wasn’t much for Newsnight’s researchers to get their teeth into.
On illegal drugs the Cameron approach is to take a much softer line than we have been used to and it will be fascinating to see if this is a vote winner or a vote loser. The danger for Labour in using the issue is that society has moved on and attitudes to drug use might be much less close to a Daily Mail front page than they were a few years ago.
We got a touch of it in yesterday’s second leadership debate on ITV’s Dimbleby programme. Cameron put the emphasis on education and treatment urging the creation of proper residential rehabilitation. Rejecting suggestions that he was soft on drugs he argued that it wasn’t credible that ecstasy and heroin were in the same drugs classification.
Davis responded in the typical “Daily Mail speak” hard-line manner that has characterised Tory drug policy. The reason, he said, why ecstasy and heroin were in the same category was that they both killed – while cannabis always caused harm and downgrading sent a disastrous signal.
A young man in the audience echoed what many have been saying – that the criminalisation of what several million people do in private discredits the political process and the rule of law.
Will the Cameron soft-line hold under the likely Labour barrage or are we seeing a change in the accepted orthodoxy that being less tough on drugs is a vote loser?