It’s hard to find a worse Prime Minister than Boris – a man whose legacy includes partying when people couldn’t visit their dying relatives. But Liz Truss is really up for the challenge, bringing total chaos to the Conservative Party in only a few weeks. It feels rather ironic now that she has repeatedly attempted to present herself as a 2022 incarnation of Margaret Thatcher (or, as one voter said, “Margaret Thatcher without the intelligence). The reality is that she’s a tragic tribute act. The Iron Lady was “not for turning”; the Tories have now made more U‑turns than a Grand Prix.
Look at the 45p top rate of income tax fiasco, the ludacris notion espoused by Truss that if we cut tax for people who are on a salary of £150,000 or more it might somehow benefit everyone else (this is Reaganomics, AKA trickle-down or supply-side economics, and it does not work and has never worked). This policy proved so humiliatingly unpopular among her own party that a revolt was immediately on the cards. Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, angrily claimed that MPs had “staged a coup”, which forced the PM to swiftly change the policy, immediately making her look weak and politically impotent with her first major policy move.
At the recent Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, a group of Tory police and crime commissioners made the case for moving cannabis up to a Class A drug from its current status as Class B. “It’s time we realised that it is not just a little bit of weed,” they said. This was followed up with a feature in the Sunday Times reporting that Braverman was also in favour of upgrading weed to Class A. She was on the “same side” as the police and crime commissioners who said: “We’re seeing it because it’s a gateway drug. If you look at the young people in treatment, the number one drug they are in treatment for is cannabis.”
It’s 2022, so it’s unbelievable that we’re still discussing the long-debunked “gateway” theory: the idea that if someone uses weed they are invariably sent along a drug escalator; weed to coke, coke to LSD before arriving at a horrific death resulting from injecting opiates into each eyeball. There’s no logic to this theory. Most weed users started off using legal drugs before smoking a spliff – nicotine, alcohol, caffeine – so why are they not branded “gateway drugs” and given a Class A stamp? Anyway, it doesn’t matter because just when it looked like the Tories might be making weed a Class A, they weren’t anymore.
On Monday, a Tory spokesperson said there are “no plans” to make weed a Class A despite reports suggesting the Home Secretary supports such a move. “Our priority is on cracking down on illegal drugs and the crime they drive,” the spokesperson says. “We’ve launched a drug strategy backed by record investment to deliver a whole-system approach to tackling supply and demand.”
This crippling indecision and inability to form a cohesive party line when it comes to cannabis policy is in sharp contrast to many other nations. We are about a decade behind plenty of drug legislation. The recreational use of weed is legal in loads of places now – South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Georgia, 19 states in the USA, while Germany is in the process of legalising it – but the UK is stuck in the past, sounding like yesterday’s people still talking about “gateway” drugs.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced a blanket federal pardon for people who’ve been caught with personal amounts of weed, as weed is still illegal at the federal level. “No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” he said, justifying his comments by citing current unfair restrictions on employment, housing and educational opportunities for those caught with the plant. However, the Republican governors of 28 states are unlikely to heed his plea, as he has no real power to stop state laws from punishing drug users. And it also won’t affect the prison population of 6,500 jailed for drugs, as nobody has been incarcerated in the US at federal level due to weed alone.
“The call to make it Class A [in the UK] seemed to be pure political theatre on the part of a new home secretary keen to establish her ‘tough on drugs and crime’ credentials,” Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, tells THE FACE. “I suspect to garner a few tough-on-drugs tabloid headlines.” He added: “It would be almost impossible to pass politically anyway, it isn’t supported by the ACMD [the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs], the police or any health bodies.”
This tumultuous decision-making and an inability to agree on basic policies appears to be reflected in the opinion polls: the latest shows that the Tories are tracking between 19 and 33 points behind Labour. “I’m genuinely unclear,” Truss fumbled, while answering a question on Labour’s criticism of her energy plan, during a particularly disastrous PMQs on Wednesday. So are we, Liz. We are unclear what you are doing here with no mandate, no credibility and not even any support from your own backbenchers.
Will the senior Tories want to be seen kicking out another leader already, given the fact that it looks like a pig high on acid could do a better job at this point? Let’s see. This political party has descended into nothing more than a ridiculous farce. And your average person in the street, after getting kicked in the face with inflation and austerity and economic downturn and a badly-managed pandemic and the Brexit disaster, is unlikely to be forgiving when they cast their vote at the next general election.