Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Minister for a Day

This is a piece I penned recently for a regular slot titled 'Minister for a Day' in Whitehall and Westminster World 21 April

Danny Kushlick
becomes Home Secretary for a day

7:00am Wake up, shaking myself into comprehending that yes, David Cameron has included me in his new government. My kids think it’s hilarious, having heard me sing: “Build a bonfire, build a bonfire; put the MPs on the top.” So shoot me, I’ve sold out. However, as young men we both experimented with cannabis, and he did call for a serious discussion of drug legalisation as a backbencher on the home affairs select committee back in 2002, so here we go. My brief is to kick into gear the process of getting the UK out of the drugs war. I’m looking forward to having fun.

For nigh-on 20 years I’ve campaigned against successive governments’ attempts to convince the Great British Public that the drug war keeps them and the wider world safe from the threat of ‘drugs’ (bar, of course, the legal ones: alcohol and tobacco). With the upcoming publication of a comprehensive impact assessment of global prohibition that I’ve commissioned, people will begin to see the flaws in that policy. Despite the evidence, my predecessor seemed more willing to discuss her husband’s viewing habits than legalisation and regulation of drugs.

I guess hiring me for a day to deliver this message is probably the easiest way to deal with the inevitable controversy. It’s got to be better than wasting some genuine ministerial talent, like David Davis.

8.00am First meeting of the day is with the permanent secretary and senior departmental colleagues. No love lost here, but a job’s a job. Like George Best in his heyday, Sir David Normington turns on a sixpence and says he has convened an interdepartmental meeting to announce the end of UK support for a prohibitionist drug policy.

I begin by letting the assembled group know that there will no longer be a need to mislead voters into supporting the very regime that creates the ‘drug menace’. Drug policy will now protect the public, rather than party political interests. No more will the UK support a policy that operates as a price-support mechanism for illegal drug traders, and turns plants into products worth more than their weight in gold. We will be taking £160bn a year away from the international criminals and at the same time drastically reducing crime (government figures suggest half of prison inmates have some kind of drug habit). No longer will drug policy punish the poor and disadvantaged the world over.

Concerns about half-empty prisons, redundancies amongst customs officers and organised criminals, and lack of material for draconian commentators such as Peter Hitchens, Melanie Phillips and Simon Heffer to froth over are raised and rebuffed. We’ll talk about resource reallocation later, I tell my officials.

The real concerns about increasing levels of drug use are discussed within Mr Cameron’s newly adopted framework of promoting overall wellbeing. It is now widely recognised that high levels of use and misuse are most closely associated with high levels of inequality and more general disparities in health. The Home Office will now be tasked with genuinely identifying and tackling low wellbeing as a cause of crime.

Oh, and we will also be releasing documentation, withheld under the misnamed Freedom of Information Act, that shows that UK governments have privately discussed the benefits of legalisation for at least 20 years.

Just as they stand up to leave, I tell them that the PM is minded to abolish prisons entirely. “Only joking,” I tell them – sadly.

10.00am The interdepartmental meeting. Chancellor Vince Cable begins by informing the group that we will no longer spend £4bn a year fighting a battle that creates £16bn worth of costs – and a living hell from Afghanistan to Colombia, and on the streets of every industrialised nation on earth. UK policy will now follow the sage analysis proffered (but then buried and ignored) by the PM’s strategy unit in their drugs report of 2003: that prohibition is the problem. Defence, intelligence and Foreign Office bods seem delighted that a significant source of insecurity will disappear from their in-trays. As we leave, two senior officials tell me sotto voce that they used to be warned away from discussing legalisation, lest it damage their careers.

12.00pm Time for a legally boozy lunch with Hillary Clinton (you didn’t seriously think that Cameron would go it alone, did you?). Time for the ‘special relationship’ to work for peace rather than war, methinks.

3.00pm As I walk back to my (very temporary) office, I am about to call key journalists but feel an infinitesimally brief pain in the side of my head. As the afternoon sunlight fades to grey, the last words I hear are my own: “And I thought I was on a roll. I was so looking forward to being president for a day. I could have ended world poverty… So shoot me…”

4.00pm The PM wrings his hands (eat your heart out, Tony Blair) as he issues a press statement confirming that a gunman of Colombian origin was shot while fleeing from a book depository overlooking Parliament Square. Meanwhile, rumours persist that Damian McBride and former drugs tsar Keith Hellawell had been emailing each other about the whereabouts of a grassy knoll.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent work Minister. I hope you got your expense claim in before you were struck down!