Monday, April 12, 2010

The Labour Manifestos on drug policy 2005 and 2010

The Labour Government today publishes its election manifesto, 'A future fair for all'. Here's what the manifesto tells us we can look forward to over the next 5 years or so in terms of drug policy, all fifty five words of it, in the rather unpleasantly titled 'crime and immigration' chapter. In the chapters on health, education, family and 'a global future', nothing (save two general (non-drug) references to national security relating to stability in Afghanistan). Bear in mind that this is a policy area on which they will continue to spend at least 4 billion of your taxpayer pounds each year:

"On drugs, our message is clear: we will not tolerate illegal drug use. We have reclassified cannabis to Class B and banned 'legal highs'. More addicts are being treated, with a higher proportion going on to drug-free lives. We will switch investment towards those programmes that are shown to sustain drug-free lives and reduce crime."
Truly, then, a drug policy for the twitter generation (a full 2.5 tweets worth, unedited). We leave you to make of that what you will, and whether it is likely to contribute to "a future fair for all". It hardly seems to warrant a detailed deconstruction here (argubly more significant for what it doesn't cover), beyond noting that it looks as if Labour is seeking to reduce the rhetorical gap between themselves and the Tories.

The Government does have a drug strategy to which it is signed up for the next five years.

For context, copied below is what Labour had to offer on drug policy in their 2005 manifesto.

The first reference to drug policy, which again featured in the Crime chapter (more specifically titled: 'Crime and security' and subtitled 'Safe communities, secure borders. Forward to neighbourhood policing, not back to rising crime') features in the general intro:
"Today, there is less chance of being a victim of crime than for more than 20 years. But our security is threatened by major organised crime; volume crimes such as burglary and car theft, often linked to drug abuse; fear of violent crime; and anti-social behaviour. Each needs a very different approach. We are giving the police and local councils the power to tackle anti-social behaviour; we will develop neighbourhood policing for every community and crack down on drug dealing and hard drug use to reduce volume crime; we are modernising our asylum and immigration system; and we will take the necessary measures to protect our country from international terrorism."
The new Labour case

"The modern world offers freedoms and opportunities unheralded a generation ago. But with new freedoms come new fears and threats to our security.
Our progressive case is that to counter these threats we need strong communities built on mutual respect and the rule of law. We prize the liberty of the individual; but that means protecting the law-abiding majority from the minority who abuse the system. We believe in being tough on crime and its causes so we will expand drugs testing and treatment, and tackle the conditions – from lack of youth provision to irresponsible drinking – that foster crime and anti-social behaviour."
(The bit about testing is used as a large pull quote). Whilst not sure that 'new fears and threats to our security' should follow, as implied, from 'new freedoms', it is still interesting to see how threat-based rhetoric that was being deployed in the first post-911 election, both directly and indirectly linked to drugs (this blog from last week also explores this theme).

In the same chapter there was much more detail on drugs and crime:

"We will increase, by at least a half, programmes targeted at young people most at risk of offending and will expand drug-treatment services for young people."
"Cutting crime through cutting drug dependency
"Communities know that crime reduction depends on drug reduction. There are now 54 per cent more drug users in treatment and new powers for the police to close crack houses and get drug dealers off our streets. We will introduce compulsory drug testing at arrest for all property and drugs offenders, beginning in high-crime areas, with compulsory treatment assessment for those who test positive. Offenders under probation supervision will be randomly drug tested to mirror what already happens to offenders in custody."

"From 2006, the Serious Organised Crime Agency will bring together over 4,000 specialist staff to tackle terrorism, drug dealers, people traffickers and other national and international organized criminals. And in consultation with local police authorities and chief constables we will re-structure police resources in order to develop strong leadership, streamline all police support services, and focus upon national and regional organised crime."
On the following page, in a paragraph introduced with: 'We will tackle reoffending.':
"Our new National Offender Management Service will ensure that every offender is individually case-managed from beginning to end of their sentence, both in and out of custody – with increased effort targeted on drugs treatment, education and basic skills training to reduce reoffending. Voluntary organisations and the private sector will be offered greater opportunities to deliver offender services and we will give local people a greater say in shaping community punishment."
The following paragraph:
"Making sure crime does not pay
Those who commit crimes should not profit from them. Already we have introduced laws that enable the courts to confiscate the assets and property of drug dealers and other major criminals.We will enable the police and prosecuting authorities to keep at least half of all the criminal assets they seize to fund local crime-fighting priorities."
There is then nothing (in the chapters on education, health, and families) until chapter 7 on international policy ('International policy: A stronger country in a secure, sustainable and just world') which lacks specifics but is introduced with:
"Domestic interests and international action are entwined more than ever before. Action on drugs, terrorism, people trafficking, AIDS, climate change, poverty, migration and trade all require us to work with other countries and through international organisations. The best defence of our security at home is the spread of liberty and justice overseas."
The first sentence of the above paragraph also warrants a half page pull quote.

It is interesting to speculate why the prominence of drug policy, even whilst it remains effectively ghettoized within criminal justice, has diminished so dramatically between the two manifestos, to the point where it has now become almost invisible. The assumption has to be that whilst once viewed as political strength, drug policy - even in its populist get-tough criminal justice formulation - is now viewed as a liability (with no evidence that it has improved domestic or international security).

The invisibility of drug policy in the 2010 manifesto perhaps, therefore, reflects the ongoing historical failure of the prohibitionist paradigm, and, if we can try and be positive about things, reflects progress in the debate and public discourse - at least in so far as the critique of prohibition has exposed its failure on its own terms.

We will cover the drug policy commitments from the other parties as they emerge during the week.


Sunshine Band said...

The message is clear - they will not tolerate illegal drug use. Shame you won't put them straight - there are no illegal drugs and in any event, it's not illegal to use a contrlled drug (except opium) anyway. They are talking bollocks.

strayan said...

People should not be punished for what they choose they put into their own body.

Sunshine Band, that's something that will need to be settled in court - are you putting together a case?