Monday, 26 April 2010

Nick Clegg should start asking which party will support him as Prime Minister

We have to break out of this ever-repeating cycle of boring press conferences where Nick Clegg is asked which of the other parties he'd be prepared to cosy up to in the event of a hung parliament. With our current poll rating and the clear indication in this YouGov poll that a Lib Dem government would be widely tolerated and a Lib-Lab coalition would be the next best thing Nick Clegg has to start saying he would ask other parties to support him as Prime Minister if he receives a considerable mandate in percentage vote share. People are already fairly resigned to a hung parliament. The way to maximise our vote share in this situation is to establish that more votes for the Lib Dems increases the chances of Nick Clegg being Prime Minister. Not Gordon Brown, not David Cameron, but Nick Clegg. We should be stating that if the Lib Dems win the popular vote, we shall be seeking coalition with a party that would be prepared to support Nick Clegg in the top job. If Labour come a distant third I'm sure they would be happy to have some say in the running of the country. If the Tories come 1st in seats, but the Lib Dems win the vote share, the ball would be in Gordon's court and Nick Clegg should ask to lead a coalition. We desperately need a vote Lib Dem - get Nick Clegg strategy that is plausible to the population. If they think the Lib Dems can lead the country if we win the popular vote, then they might just vote for us.

If the Lib Dems win the popular vote Nick Clegg should seek to govern. This tactic should discourage any Lib Dem supporter thinking of voting tactically. If we set an achievable target in winning the popular vote, people will want to give Nick the moral authority to govern and watch the other parties squirm.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

A letter to the Herald on Glasgow's heroin problem and it's ties to prostitution.

David Pratt asks in Friday's Herald "How can we stem the tide of heroin flooding our streets?" He also seeks to "starve the Taliban of their financial lifeblood." Up to 50% of Taliban income comes from the opium trade, and Western governments can most easily end this funding by making heroin available for supervised consumption in clinics as is being done in a growing number of European states. All the evidence from overseas and from UK pilot studies suggests that this course of action will reduce the acquisitive crime, drug dealing and prostitution that addicts engage in to fund their drug use and reduce the number of young people encountering - and becoming addicted to - heroin.

Provision of pharmaceutical heroin to addicts would also clear the way for the criminalisation of those men who choose to pay for sex. In Thursday's Herald Anne Johnstone called for the Scottish Parliament to follow the lead taken by Norway and Sweden on this issue. Her assertion that "Demand dictates Supply" is sadly a dangerous oversimplification. As I expect the coming Five Daughters drama will show, heroin addicts who choose to engage in prostitution do so because they need to find hundreds of pounds each week to hold off the intolerable pain of withdrawal. Reducing demand for their services won't suddenly make withdrawal more tolerable. Rather those who persist in trying to fund their heroin habit through prostitution will likely have to lower prices, seek more customers, and - perhaps most importantly - be less choosy and more hasty when negotiating with clients. Combined with the likelihood of persisting clients being at the end of the character spectrum that has least respect for the law, I can only foresee addicted prostitutes being at greater risk of meeting the same fate as the Five Daughters whose stories will be told on our screens in the coming days.

Should women cease trying to fund their drug use through prostitution as I presume Anne Johnstone would welcome, they may in desperation turn to acquisitive crime or dealing, which arguably have even greater negative impacts upon our society.

With problem drug users making up approximately 95% of street prostitutes, the prescribed heroin solution has the potential to allow the vast majority of street prostitutes to leave prostitution and crime behind them and try to get their lives back on track. If we want to eliminate street prostitution from our towns and cities then we would do better to tackle supply of prostitutes rather than further endanger these desperate young women by an albeit well-meaning attack on demand.

It's unclear which of Clegg and Cameron most supports drug policy reform.

The Telegraph has uncovered Nick Clegg's past support for drug policy reform, but has it uncovered David Cameron's

The party leaders are both very sensible on the issue of course... at least they were before they had an election to fight.

I suppose the Telegraph was intending to put Clegg on the back foot with this. He should express no regret. Rather he should ask why David Cameron expressed similar opinions in the past and has chosen to retreat back to the supposedly populist standard political position.

Only the liberal democrats are willing to consider evidence on drugs policy. Gordon Brown has stated clearly that considering evidence is not something he is interested in ( And the conservatives remain committed to fanciful notions of enforcement-led intervention and abstinence-based Drug Rehabilitation Orders.

The Telegraph may also kick themselves when they realise they have timed their article (I presume unintentionally) to coincide with a dramatisation of the lives of the five young women murdered by Steven Wright in Ipswich in 2006.

Five Daughters will start tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and its relevance to drug policy is highlighted by executive producer Susan Hogg's words on BBC Breakfast earlier in the week explaining why she wanted to make the film:

"Paula Clennell (one of the murder victims) gave an interview where she talked about having to go out on the streets because she needed the money and I suddenly realised that this was about drugs and not about these girls being on the street. Up until that point everyone had talked about them being prostitutes... there was nothing to do with who they were and I really felt I wanted to explore the victims and who these young women were and particularly because i knew it was about drug addiction and that was really really important."

A TV writer who has seen it already has confirmed to me that the film could have a really big impact on people's prejudices about drug abuse and street prostitution. The Telegraph has handily highlighted Nick Clegg's support for heroin to be made available under medical supervision. I hope many voters will recognise that the best way to ensure more daughters do not end up addicted to heroin and funding their habit through street prostitution is to implement that very policy.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ken Clarke's remarks are an open goal to ambitious Lib Dems.

Lets presume for a minute that Ken Clarke is right to say that a hung parliament would be a potential economic disaster. Lets say he's right that the country needs a party with a clear majority running the country. Which party is now positioned to provide that strong majority? Labour can be ruled out. The conservatives following the Liberal Democrat poll surge are realistically not going to become the consensus choice for change. They weren't even high enough in the polls to achieve a majority before people realised this was a three-party race.

From this analysis of some YouGov polling it seems quite clear that the Lib Dems can achieve a strong majority if the 49% of people who would vote for them if they thought they could win actually began to believe they could win. Only 21% of those polled would be dismayed at a Lib Dem majority. If either of the other parties are introduced into a potential outcome dismay in the outcome soars, with the least dismal being a labour-liberal coalition at 39% dismayed.

The only party that can achieve a strong majority government now is the Lib Dems. Ken Clarke says a majority is needed for us to avoid economic meltdown...

Also, how would the markets respond to George Osborne loose in the treasury relative to Vince Cable taking his seat at the money table? Vince has set out in some detail his plans for reducing the deficit and been honest about tough times ahead. George has plucked a £6bn tax cut out of thin air at the last minute in a desperate attempt to win votes.

I'm presuming of course that George is the Conservative choice to be chancellor, but given the rolling out of Ken to deliver the horrific IMF news, maybe there's been a change of plan...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The need for a Project "Project Prevention" Prevention

There have been a couple of articles in the Herald newspaper recently on the "Project Prevention" charity, most recently this morning under the headline "Social workers urged to refer addicts for sterilisation."

Barbara Harris, the Founder of the project - which hopes to pay addicts £200 each to go through a sterilisation procedure - appears to be motivated by a genuine concern for the wellbeing of children born with the same addiction as their mother and/or subjected to neglect and other abuse over the course of their childhood.

On the face of it sterilisation would achieve some positive outcomes: Fewer babies born with serious addictions and needing considerable hospital treatment, and fewer babies born into households where the parents' primary motivation is drug-seeking rather than their child's welfare. Many people will find the proposal morally abhorrent. But is this a morally dubious proposal that might just be an answer to some of our society's problems? Could projects such as these produce knock-on effects similar to those highlighted in the book "Freakonomics" following the legalisation of abortion in the US? The economist responsible for the research found that the considerable drop in crime in the US in the early 1990s could be almost entirely explained by the nationwide legalisation of abortion following the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling in 1973. The implication was that lower numbers of unwanted children being born led to lower numbers of people being brought up in an environment that fostered criminality. Could sterilising addicts not only prevent child suffering, but prevent the future crime that these damaged children might commit?

What then are the objections to this plan that could have such potential benefits? We could liken the procedure to the selling of a kidney in that you would be reducing your fitness for the benefit of others and for financial gain. But with Project Prevention's proposals the "client" might not only be motivated by poverty, but also by the physical pain of withdrawal. Were the procedure to be offered without financial incentive, judgement might still be clouded by the feelings of worthlessness and general low self-esteem that so often occur alongside addiction problems. For these reasons I am not confident that addicts are in a position to make a rational decision on their future suitability or desire to become a parent. This has both moral and legal implications, with it being unclear whether it is possible for informed consent to be given for a sterilisation procedure in the circumstances in which Project Prevention seeks to operate.

The word "eugenics" has been used to describe Project Prevention, but as a man who studied evolution with great interest at undergrad level, I am uncomfortable with this description. The term implies that drug addiction is a genetic trait which can be eliminated from the gene pool. While it is true that there may be a genetic predisposition to addiction and risk-taking behaviours, drug addiction is far more environmental in nature. Perhaps we could invent the term "euenvics" to describe the prevention of reproduction of individuals who would likely provide a poor environment for their children and thus risk those children becoming a greater burden to society than the average child.

Unlike genetic traits, drug addiction is something which need not be permanent. With the right intervention in addicts' lives, it is very possible for them to end their drug use and to become capable of parenting that need not lead to their child's suffering and/or criminality. The thought of sterilising addicts strikes me as jumping straight to plan Z following the failure of plan A.

I would suggest we should try to find a morally, economically and politically viable plan B instead. I believe this should be a plan that recognises that addicts should be able to seek treatment without fear of criminalisation or the removal of their children into care. For there to be positive outcomes for mother and child, the mother needs to feel she can trust the police, social services and health services to be doing everything they can to help her:
a) stabilise her lifestyle without the need to commit acquisitive crime, prostitute herself or deal in drugs to fund her addiction.
b) (if she wishes to have a family) come off drugs in a controlled fashion whilst using contraception that she is comfortable with.
c) raise the child in an environment conducive to a happy, healthy life.

I believe passionately that such conditions are more likely to come about if drug use is decriminalised and addicts have the option of stabilising on prescribed heroin.

To instead pay these women to be sterilised is to reinforce their feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem and to demonstrate we have given up hope that they can turn their lives around. Sterilisation also deprives these women of a great life-changing event and the responsibility to stay clean not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of a child that they love dearly and that would be utterly reliant upon their care.

We should be seeking to minimise the number of babies born to addicted mothers. An addicted baby goes through excruciating pain and requires considerable medical attention as they go through withdrawal. But the most humane way to achieve this is to treat addicts as just another patient group with a treatable medical condition. If we fail to assist women to cease drug use, then we need to recognise that addicts can hold down jobs and raise families just as well as the rest of us if they know when and where to get their next fix and they don't have to pay massively inflated prices for an illegal supply.

A facebook group has been started to resist "Project Prevention" in the UK.!/pages/No-to-eugenics-in-the-UK-Keep-Project-Prevention-Out-of-the-Country/100654733311568?ref=ts

And if you agree with me that we need to try a Plan B then why not join Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform at

Friday, 9 April 2010

If the Lib Dems want power we can't let the Tories win.

So the wash-up has been concluded and has left the AV referendum proposals washed-up on the rocky shore of Conservative self-interest. Gordon Brown has since come out with re-affirmed plans to hold an AV referendum early in the next parliament though. It is absolutely imperative that we emerge from this election with the possibility of these plans being put into action. If the conservatives get a majority, electoral reform will not be on the agenda and there's a real risk that Labour will not be so keen for reform next time around when they look to capitalise on the failures of Cameron and co.

It is quite possible that this election will be the best possibility for meaningful electoral reform in a generation, so all Lib Dems should be doing our utmost to ensure it happens. What should this mean on the ground? Sadly it means abandoning our principles in the Labour/Tory marginals and voting with our brains and not our hearts. A vote for the Liberal Democrats where we have no chance of winning and where the race could be tight IS a wasted vote that risks consigning our party to a fringe role for many years to come. A tactical vote for the Labour party in such seats increases the possibility of a hung parliament, gives the AV referendum proposal a real chance of becoming reality, and gives the Lib Dems a genuine chance at meaningful power at the next election. The end of tactical voting could give the Lib Dems a majority at Westminster within a couple of years if we cooperate to achieve the AV reforms and then stand well back as the Labour government fails to get to grips with the deficit to the population's satisfaction.

We also need to get the message out to genuine supporters of fringe parties that they should be supporting the Lib Dems in every seat we have any chance of winning. For The Greens, UKIP, and even the BNP the wise vote is for the party that has a commitment to proportional representation. Of course I have no expectation that many BNP supporters will be able to cast a "wise vote" but one has to try.

So Nick. Please ease off on Labour a little and please come up with better ammunition against the Tories than your not-very-credible VAT bombshell. We need to use our brains in this election so that the population can vote (for us) with their conscience in the future.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The greatest misuse of mephedrone: Using it as bath salts.

It certainly appears that the ACMD's terms of reference below have been overlooked in the hasty manner in which mephedrone's prohibition has come about.

The terms of reference of the Advisory Council are set out in section 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971(the Act) and are as follows:

It shall be the duty of the Advisory Council to keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to drugs which are being or appear to them likely to be misused and of which the misuse is having or appears to them capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem, and to give to any one or more of the Ministers, where either Council consider it expedient to do so or they are consulted by the Minister or Ministers in question, advice on measures (whether or not involving alteration of the law) which in the opinion of the Council ought to be taken for preventing the misuse of such drugs or dealing with social problems connected with their misuse, and in particular on measures which in the opinion of the Council, ought to be taken.

It is quite clear that the "misuse" (definition: noun: wrong or improper use; misapplication.) of mephedrone is promoted by both it's current legal status and its soon-to-be prohibited status. The ACMD set out quite clearly in their report (though whose report is it really if the members of the committee didn't see the final draft?) that mephedrone is manufactured purely for human consumption as a stimulating intoxicant. Using mephedrone as plant food or as bath salts is clearly to "misuse" mephedrone. Of greater concern of course is the fact that no advice can currently be given by vendors on the drug's safe consumption. It is clear therefore that current regulations prohibiting its sale for human consumption promote its continued misuse.

Consider now the situation after the drug's prohibition. Optimal use of mephedrone could surely be best described as the use of mephedrone which gives the user the most pleasurable experience with the minimum of unwanted side effects. Passing the manufacture, distribution and sale of mephedrone into the hands of criminals will lead to inconsistent purity and a lack of standardised, good-quality advice on safe consumption and optimal recovery. Surely it is clear then that prohibition promotes continued misuse of mephedrone?

What measures could reduce the "misuse" of mephedrone? Sale from licensed pharmacists with age restrictions; full education on health, social, and economic consequences of use before users are licensed to purchase the drug; and education programmes which encourage abstinence but yet at all times try to ensure young people are as safe as they can be no matter what choice they make.

That is the recommendation which would best satisfy the ACMD's terms of reference. If the terms of reference had been rewritten as "to quickly suggest incorporation of any emerging psychoactive drug into the existing classification scheme alongside drugs of similar effect" then the ACMD would have done well this week. This has not happened and the ACMD has failed miserably.

Not only has it failed on the action to be taken on mephedrone, but it has also identified the next potential legal drug of abuse in naphyrone or "NRG-1" as it is more commonly known. They may as well have distributed a press release stating:
"NRG-1 has potential to be the next big thing in legal highs. We know very little about it so it will remain legal for the time being. Anyone wishing to make a lot of money fast would be wise to buy lots of NRG-1 and sell it on for considerable profit."

It is utterly irresponsible to identify this drug in their report before they have detailed an appropriate response to the conveyor belt of legal highs that are passing into commmon usage in the UK. I can only hope that a "Class D" recommendation happens before we have a massively damaging public health emergency on our hands.

For more on Class D:

“What are the alternatives? One approach would be a new class in the Misuse of Drugs Act – the class D model, adopted in New Zealand to deal with BZP. This is a holding category where drugs can be put before they are well understood: sales are limited to over-18s; the product is quality-controlled so users know what they are getting, at doses limited as far as possible to safe levels; and it comes with health education messages. Society can limit sales and collect data on use.

Manufacturers and shops that disobey these regulations are punished, and the young are protected, but not criminalised. Last summer the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, when under my chairmanship, suggested this approach in response to the growing use of spice and BZP. It was rejected, they were both made class C, and possibly as a consequence young people began to turn to mephedrone.”