Keith Hellawell, former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, is not most folks’ idea of softie liberalism: he’s supported the return of capital punishment for the murder of serving police officers. Yet he incurred the wrath of Paul Dacre, the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail, after his appointment by then Prime Minister Tony Blair as the UK’s “Drugs Czar”. Hellawell’s crime was not merely that he had taken up an appointment on the Blair team – Dacre never warmed to Blair as he has to Pa Broon – but that he showed signs of being “soft on drugs”.
Hellawell had been honest enough to state the obvious: that the status quo was not working. His solution, however, was nowhere near as radical as the Portuguese idea of decriminalising drug use, but did tackle the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts. This was enough to provoke the personal attacks and even the doorstepping of family members by the Mail. And here is proof of the size of this hurdle: there is an established body of media that is ready to round on anyone who even suggests a “less tough” approach to existing policies on drugs.
The success of Dacre as editor of the Daily Mail lies in his ability to know how his target audience views the world, what they see as good and evil, the threats and opportunities, and of course their aspirations. He then feeds that audience a diet of stories that confirms and reinforces their view. Thus the Daily Mail is not only a comfort blanket, but part of a vicious circle. In the world of the Daily Mail, illegal drugs are by default not merely bad, but singularly evil. This view is reinforced by horror stories on the effects of drugs, illustrated routinely with scenes of squalor, of those who have fallen out of the mainstream of society.
And the Daily Mail is not alone in taking a particularly robust stance against anyone perceived as “soft on drugs”. The Murdoch red tops – the Sun and News of the World – can be added to the roll call, as can the Daily Mirror. As for Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s increasingly cheap and nasty titles, the Express and Star, had they known of the Portuguese approach to drug use, the lurid headlines would have been a sight to behold:
“Maddie kidnapper off his head on crack – Express exclusive: how Portugal’s loony politicians gave green light to crazed junkie pervert”
I missed the shock horror outrage sensation probe bit, but suspect the point got across. To get a change in the drug laws, this body of righteous but, in reality, wrong headed opinion has to be turned round. And if the misery caused not by drugs, but the padding and other adulteration that is routinely added to them, is to be tackled, then the role of organised criminality must also be addressed.
I’ll look at that next.