Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Selling drug law reform to the Tory Dragon's Den

In what is hopefully the final installment of the Tory blog triple-whammy (well it is Tory conference week after all) here is a link where you can listen to the Radio 4 program Broadcasting House, a sort of satirical - but occasionally bit more serious - political and current affairs show that goes out on Sunday mornings. It features a section where they did a spoof of BBC Dragon's Den program, where instead of entrepreneurs punting their radical inventions and business ideas to a bunch of venture capitalists, they had policy folk (including me) punting 'radical' policy ideas to a bunch of Tory capitalists. The four Dragons then decide on the basis of the pitch whether they were 'in or out', and whether they would 'invest' in it being a new Tory policy. They were actually Tory pundits from newspapers and think tanks rather than MPs or party movers and shakers and it was, in theory at least, supposed to be a 'fun' piece. hmm. You can judge for yourself how well you think I did, but as far as it goes I thought I did OK, given that I was trying to persuade them to adopt a very progressive drug law reform position including the phased legalisation and regulation of currently illegal drugs.

Interestingly enough one of them 'bought in' to the idea, showing that perhaps its not quite as alien a concept for the Tories as the sniffing from some of the other 'Dragons' might suggest. It highlighted that there is an interesting fault line within the Conservative ranks between the libertarian and authoritarian wings of the party. There have infact been high profile Tories who have been passionate advocates including former ministers Alan Duncan and Peter Lilley to name a few (see the the Transform Hall of Fame for quotes).

I tried to sell the idea as an authoritarian position (the personal freedoms angle may be strong intellectually but it doesn't have any legs politically), arguing that it was about crime reduction, putting gangsters out of business, and bringing strict regulation into a market that is currently totally deregulated criminal anarchy - but this didn't seem to really sink in for most of them who seemed convinced I was talking about heroin in sweet shops. I should point out that there were several key bits of my ranting that were cut including where I described the different models of regulation and how they would be applied according to drug harms, that David Cameron is already on record supporting a debate on legalisation, and my barnstorming finale where I offered drug policy as a great opportunity to attack a conspicuous Government failure and do what opposition parties should do - offer something different and better. Ho hum.

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