Friday, August 15, 2008

How the Daily Mail dealt with the Julian Critchley story

As reported on our blog on Wednesday, the former head of the UK Anti-drug Co-ordination Unit (UKADCU – UK Anti-Drug Co-ordinating Unit) Julian Critchley, called for the legalisation of drugs. It was reported in the Daily Mail online thus ’Legalising drugs would cause less harm AND cut crime, says former senior civil servant’. It is fairly straight reportage with some entirely unexceptional quotes from the usual suspects.

For a number of weeks now, Transform has been talking about policy climate change – the developing environment, increasingly toxic to prohibition and more nurturing toward fundamental reform. So how does the Mail story stack up? Firstly the headline is not rabid, it is absolutely neutral with a nicely capitalised ‘AND’. Secondly, the majority of the story just reports the key parts of Critchley’s analysis. It isn’t until the end that the unreconstructed ‘drugs are bad’ nonsense kicks in - the comments - copy and paste soundbites - seeming extreme and rather bizarre relative to the more nuanced Critchley analysis. Thirdly, no leader comment to undermine what Critchley said and no rant from Melanie Phillips (I know she’s on holiday, but my guess is that they have a bank of Mel sound-alikes that they could have drawn on).

For me this explodes the myth that the Mail-type reactionary tabloids will destroy anyone that calls for significant reform and shows that policy climate change is happening. As I have said many times before, it would be bizarre for any tabloid to seriously attempt to defend prohibition (aside from the un-useful ‘drugs are bad’ generalisations) because there is no line of reasoning or evidence to support it. Indeed the Mail has historically been equivocal and sometimes supportive of debate.

I was called by the Mail.

It is crucial that we, as commentators on the drug policy issue, challenge the rhetoric that the tabloids have created, an atmosphere where it would be ‘political suicide’ for senior politicians to call for prohibition to be replaced with legal regulation of drug production supply and use. As we are calling for the evidence to prevail on the policy issue, we should also review the evidence on ‘political suicide’. David Cameron will, in all likelihood be our next Prime Minister. Not only is he on the record calling for a genuine debate on legalisation at the highest level, he’s also a former cannabis user. Added to that, his friend and cabinet colleague Alan Duncan, is a supporter of legalisation, as he proudly displays on his web site. This is the next Tory Government folks, not some parliamentary candidates for the Green Party. Forming the next Government is not ‘political suicide’. Paul Flynn MP, the most outspoken advocate of drug law reform in the House has been reelected three times with increasing majorities.

My conclusion - the Daily Mail is not responsible for closing down the debate on drugs and drug policy – politicians are. It is their cowardice, opportunism and careerism that they prioritize over telling the truth about the failure of prohibition and the need to bring the drugs trade within the law and the ambit of state regulation. And that applies not just to Labour and the Conservatives. The Lib Dems have hidden their far more enlightened drug policy so deep as to render it effectively invisible, for (misplaced) fear of taking flak from political opponents.

Politicians cannot continue to blame the media for their reactionary positions and overwhelming silence on drugs policy reform. And we must not let them off the hook by repeating the myth that they are basically in hock to The SUN and the Mail. It is incumbent on our elected officials to subject any long standing policy to substantive analysis and fundamental review – especially when it has been subject to such long running authoritative critique from a wide range of academic, parliamentary and NGO bodies.

It’s our money that they’re spending on the drugs war, and they’re fighting it essentially in our name. Buying into the rhetoric about ‘what the tabloids will say’ is to collude with political cowardice and opportunism. The tabloids are in fact potential allies in communicating policy failure and the need for change to the wider public. The target of our ire must be our elected officials and their dangerous propaganda. Don’t let’s shoot the messenger.

blog by Danny Kushlick - Posted by Steve


daksya said...

It's unfair to place all blame on the politicians. The media is a major influence, and the agenda of its masters also plays a role. said...

I'm no fan of the DM, but equally Julian Critchley, appears to lack any integrity. His job for which he was being paid, not to mention his gold plated pension and other perks was to implement and administer the strategies, regardless of how flawed they might be. Since he felt unable to do that, why did he not have the courage to resign, rather than presiding over 'meetings' which further served to undermine the strategies?

He is inaccurate in stating that the Government has lost control over the supply of drugs, since it has never had control. That rests with various organised crime cartels and terrorist organisations.

The simplistic views expressed by those who believe that legalising drugs will alter, or materially change that situation indicates that they are out of touch with reality. There is no way that either the crime cartels or terrorist organisation are going to relinquish their grip on the cultivation and distribution resources which they control with ruthless efficiency. It is therefore not surprising that those who are the supporters of legalisation have never offered any explanation of how or why they would do so.

The legalisation of drugs notwithstanding any restrictions placed on their use would not alter the fact that the cultivation and distribution of the raw materials used in their manufacture would still be under the control of criminals and terrorists. Legalisation would not and cannot change that, no more those engaged in what is laughably called the war on drugs have been able to control the escalating availability and use of drugs.

Nor would legalisation change or alter the diseases and disordes caused by drug use which manifestly includes the insanity displayed by those who not only use drugs but also by those who encourage their use.

Stephen said...

In response to Domlingus:

I see. So I suppose that in America the alcohol trade is still controlled by the mafia, and has been since prohibition ended there? I imagine that people are ignoring all the bars and liquor stores and continuing to drink illegal moonshine and bathtub-brewed beer in speakeasies run by mobsters?

Give drug users the choice between buying a legal regulated product from a licensed vendor with detailed information on what it contains or a bag of pills from somebody standing on a street corner and which do you think they'll choose? Or perhaps you think organised crime will transform itself into organised business and get itself into the legal drugs market, and take advantage of the legal protection that operating legally confers?

Stephen Kay

Steve Rolles said...

Dom - your comments makes no sense to me. In what way would or could organised crime still control the market for an illicit product if there is an alternative market product, produced and supplied legally at lower price and of known strength and purity? You seem to misunderstand the fact that organised crime are only involved because of prohibition in the first instance - for reasons of fairly simply supply and demand economics.

Some illicit market will always continue no doubt, but like currently legal drugs it will be a small fraction of the total and not offer the extraordinary profits on offer to the violent gangsters who control the illicit drug market today.

As to Critchley. He did his job and when he felt it was untenable did resign, waiting 8 years to speak out. Your attack on him is offensive and totally unwarranted. Should no civil servant ever speak out - even if they see injustice and unfolding disaster? What sort of world would that be?

Rob said...

OK so the Daily Mail writes up a neutral article and is generally quiet for once. This doesn't mean anything. The Daily Mail and the Sun are not potential allies, it actually sounds very naive to say such a thing.
As someone who is forced to read The Sun most days, they always pander to the worst instincts in people, throwing up a picture of Leah Bates on the front page when someone calls for Ecstasy to be legalised. I'm politically centre right in many respects- but the Mail and The Sun are the far right, just as much as The Guardian is the far left. Both sides lack any kind of introspection and most of all are pontificating bullies. Anyone who has crossed The Mail has been villified to their death bed; these are not nice people. If i was a politician wanting to keep my 60 grand a year, i'd probably be scared of them too.

Steve Rolles said...

Rob, I dont think Danny is writing a hymn of praise to the Mail or suggeting they are allies at this point, merely that the climate of debate is shifting, and that political cowardice (rather than ignorance) is ultimately not to blame - not media commentators.