The Power Hungry Politicians and the Professors

… whose opinion would you be more likely to trust? – Thought so!

It was Samuel Goldwyn who wrote – I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs. Samuel was, of course, talking before the 1984/Animal Farm society brought to us by New Labour. The story is hardly novel to children who read The Emperor’s New Clothes. Nothing, as in so many things, has really changed.

In the last few days we have seen the dismissal of Professor David Nutt, his ‘crime against the State’ was telling the truth, a truth that the politicians, having faffed about with the classification and reclassification of drugs, just didn’t want to hear until they were safely in opposition. The timing meant that it has exposed the farce that happened ‘on their watch’. You could almost see Home Secretary, Alan Johnson – ticking the days on his ‘Training for Freedom’ diary – start to flinch. Some of his comments since have shown the true colour of the fake red rose. How dare those ivory tower types take public money, public appointments and be so ungrateful? Basically what the rest of us said when the politicians’ feng shui accounting practices came to light.

Anyway, the point at issue has, of course been spun, and the usual suspects brought onto television programmes to take sides, except Mr. Johnson, now conspicuous by both absence and silence. When in a hole, stop digging! Professor Nutt had the audacity to suggest that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than many illegal drugs. Now, given that statistics, scientific opinion and a quick look round any town centre bears his views out, you may wonder…why the inordinate sense of outrage and hurt from this month’s holder of office?

Well, as far as H.M. Government goes, it is all right to use Class ‘A’ drugs for pain management via prescription (morphine) but not Class ‘C’, ‘B’ or whatever it is when we get to print, (cannabis?) in the same way. This is in the face of medical evidence regarding relief to those living with MS, glaucoma, etc. How could we see the Government as anything other than up to ‘speed’ (if you’ll pardon the pun)?

This, however, is the same Government who tried to convince us that they were addressing binge drinking by introducing 24-hour licensing hours! This was also, let’s remember, done in the face of medical opposition. Who could possibly think something as revolutionary as A & E doctors, nurses and the police possibly knowing a wee bit more than the politicos? In 2001 there were roughly 1,500 deaths in the U.K. ascribed to illegal drugs. There were 6,000 related to alcohol alone and many, many more to tobacco. That gap continues to grow.
It is clear that professor Nutt was not suggesting the immediate legalization of cannabis, ecstasy and the like, but, merely pointing out that, in the drug death league table there are greater dangers sitting in most U.K. homes. He, and his colleagues (two of whom have resigned in protest), have no axe to grind. Science, as juries are often told, has no emotional connection to the case, no vested interest in a certain outcome.
There, perhaps, is the crux of it – H.M. Government, in the form of the Revenue, most certainly has. The tax revenue of alcohol and tobacco is vast. The estimate is that taxation of tobacco products alone brings in eight times the amount it costs the N.H.S. to treat the illnesses and diseases linked to tobacco.

The mayhem of alcohol related crime fills the courts daily, from shame-faced breaches of the peace to murders. Maybe the Government had a feint hope that those who tend to indulge in the more serious end of crime would be too busy getting even more ‘refreshed’ whilst filling the Treasury coffers with each round. Am I treating this madness lightly? Far from I, but clearly, bald logic doesn’t work against vested interest.

I’d love to think that this episode will be the catalyst to a scientific, medical and social debate but ‘rent an opinion’ (a friendly opinion mind!) scientists will be engaged to defend the indefensible and muddy the waters.
Just as Clive Fairweather, gifted, honest and therefore, former Inspector of H.M. Prisons and Sir Alistair Graham, former head of the Parliamentary Standards Committee discovered, if the Government casts you in the part, they also want to write the script, direct and edit the reviews.

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