- June 09, 2019
For the last three years UK politics have become a collective political hallucination that makes Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds seem like a script for a gritty sociorealist documentary. Instead of rocking horse people eating marshmallow pie, it’s a country stalked by grifters, fascist thugs, unicorns and monsters; where demagogues accuse politicians of treason and politicians who have abandoned any notion of the common good compete with each to offer their impossible or improbable Brexit deals to a startled, bewildered and increasingly bored population.
Even within this dizzying descent into hyper-reality, as we watch the political class fragmenting before us like the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, I did not expect to find Tory leadership contenders queuing up to confess to the drugs they once took in their youth.
We knew that Boris Johnson took coke and smoked dope, because he once said so, even though he later said that he didn’t. We knew that the Camerons hung out at ‘cocaine-fueled parties’ and that Cameron did things at uni. Some of us may have seen pics of the future chancellor of the exchequer dancing to Spandau Ballet at his dominatrix’s pad.
But who would have thought that Andrea Leadsom – Good Housekeeping‘s answer to Boudicca – once smoked weed at uni? Or that mild-mannered little Rory Stewart of Arabia would have taken opium at a wedding in Iran? Or that Jeremy Hunt would have consumed a ‘cannabis lassie’ when ‘backpacking in India’ like a character from William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced?
Well they were, and I have to say I didn’t see any of this coming. Of course they regret it, so much that it hurts, so much so that you really imagine them waking up in the night thinking ‘why, oh why did I get so wasted all those years ago?’
In Stewart’s case, there was a less hedonistic purpose behind it. He was apparently in Iran to investigate the ‘damage that opium causes’. So method reporting then, except that the opium apparently had ‘no effect’ on him because he was walking ’25-30 miles a day.’
Thank God for that, because suppose it had had an effect on him? And just when you’re trying to imagine Stewart, wandering through the mountains of Iran like some ecstatic Sufi mystic on a vision quest, we find Michael Gove, fessing up to having taken cocaine on ‘several’ occasions.
Gove, like the others, ‘regrets’ it. In fact, as he told Andrew Marr today, he ‘deeply’ and ‘profoundly’ regrets it.
Like his fellow druggies, it’s clear that the only thing that Gove regrets is the fact that someone else knew what he’d done – maybe Johnson’s team – and was about to reveal and therefore shoot down his leadership chances. So he’s tried to manage the message and engage in damage limitation.
In fact, the whole Tory drugfest is like a variant of ‘I’m Spartacus’ in which each contender suspects that someone else knows that they sniffed, smoked or popped something, and they better get their confessions in so the conversation can move on from hard and soft drugs to hard and soft Brexit and they can still have a crack – apologies – at the BIG JOB.
So far so transparent. But Gove is much, much worse than this. For many people who have been arrested in possession of cocaine, it actually doesn’t matter whether they ‘regret’ it or not. The punishment for cocaine possession is up to seven years in jail, and/or an unlimited fine. For supply and production it’s a life sentence.
Not for the former justice secretary it isn’t. As the Mail revealed today, Gove held a millennium party at his ‘Mayfair flat’ – where else? – where cocaine was freely available. Even as Gove and his cool cat guests were hoovering up the white powder, the oleaginous little eel had an article coming out the next day which opposed drug decriminalisation and criticized the ‘middle class professionals’ who were taking cocaine and proposing legalisation. In it he asked
What institutions, what arguments, still proclaim that we have a duty beyond the slaking of appetites, a responsibility to something beyond our chemical selves? Who dares point out that the civilisation we enjoy was not built by lotus-eaters, that the self-absorption which is the end of drug use is an exile from others, and imprisonment as real as an incarceration?
So even as Gove and his guests were busily slaking their chemical selves, these stirringly Churchillian words were tumbling off the press. As George Orwell might have said, all lotus-eaters are equal but some are more equal than others. In 2011, as part of its campaign for drug decriminalisation, Release produced a report showing the racial disparity in the prosecution and policing of drug offences in England and Wales.
The report found that black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs even though they used drugs less than white people; that black people were charged for possession of cannabis at 5 times the rate of white people, and that the Metropolitan Police in 2009/10 charged 78 percent of black people caught in possession of cocaine compared with 44 percent of whites.
Release used this report to persuade the Coalition government to support decriminalisation – proposals that were supported by the Lib Dems and opposed by the Tories. In 2014 Gove’s education department introduced a code of conduct that disqualified teachers convicted of possessing Class A drugs.
So ok for the Education Secretary, but not for teachers. On one level Tory druggate reveals yet again how a ‘war on drugs’ that acts as the lubicrant for racial incarceration, enables more well-off white ‘lotus-eaters’ to slake their chemical selves without any consequences.
But there is also a more specific lesson to be drawn: that Michael Gove is a sanctimonious hypocrite on an epic scale, in this as he is in so much else. No profession of regret will do anything to disguise that.
In Gove’s case it really is true that the ‘drugs don’t work/they just make you worse’. And just because he once liked to have his coke and eat it, doesn’t mean that we have to let him get away with a phony confession just so that he can get into Downing Street.
And the same could be said of his fellow-contenders, regardless of whether they inhaled or not.