As I write this, half the Conservative Party is in the running to be the next party leader and, in a kind of two-for-one offer that’s built into British politics, since the Conservatives are the ruling party, the next prime minister. For at least a brief time, since the Conservatives have a fragile hold on power. They don’t have a majority, just more MPs than anyone else.
But that’s not why I’m tossing a bonus post onto the blog on a Monday morning. It’s because one of the candidates, Michael Gove, admitted this weekend that he took cocaine when he was what the papers are describing as a young journalist.
Gove is the secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs, and he was, before this, generally considered to be polling just behind Boris Johnson, the party members’ goofball favorite. In the British system, the ruling party gets to pick its own leader, and if it’s in power the prime minister, according to its own rules, so the only people whose opinions count in this poll are the Conservative Party’s members.
The Conservatives aren’t a party that attract a mass membership, even when they can attract a big vote, so this is a small slice of the country picking the next prime minister.
If you’ve seen photos of the competitors, Gove is the one who looks like someone drew a face on a balloon, then added a tie. I keep wanting to say a bow tie, but in the photos I’ve found he’s not actually wearing a bow tie. He just happens to look like the kind of balloon who would.
But never mind his looks. I’m not above making fun of them–it’s unfair and I won’t defend it too much, even if I’ll do it anyway. But they’re not why I’m writing about him. It’s because of the cocaine. He made his announcement just ahead of the publication of a book that would have broken the story anyway. If he was trying to take control of the story, it hasn’t worked.
Back in 1999, he wrote an article for the Times criticizing what he called “London’s liberal consensus” on drug use–a consensus that he argued wanted to loosen drug laws.
In a TV interview since the story broke, he said that didn’t make him a hypocrite.
“The point that I made in the article is that if any of us lapse sometimes from standards that we uphold, that is human.
“The thing to do is not necessarily then to say that the standards should be lowered. It should be to reflect on the lapse and to seek to do better in the future.”
By the evening after the interview, the Times was reporting claims that just hours after he wrote the article Gove hosted a party at which cocaine was taken. Please note the vagueness of that “was taken.” I’m not sure who took it, so we’ll just let the stuff blow around a bit and not ask who inhaled and who didn’t.
Anyway, it’s all okay as long as the standards aren’t lowered.
Interviewers have been asking Gove if, as prime minister, he’d be allowed into the U.S., since the visa application asks about drug use. It’s all been just a tad embarrassing.
All this led to other leadership contestants confessing their drug use and non-use. I’ll skip the non-use and stick with the interesting stuff.
In 2005, Boris Johnson said he thought he was once given cocaine but he sneezed so none of it got up his nose. Then in 2007, he said he tried cocaine and cannabis at university (translation for Americans: that means college) but that it had no effect on him. Which presumably makes him still a virgin. It all depends on what your definition of is is. (Possibly unnecessary translation for non-Americans: That’s a Bill Clinton reference when he was trying to argue that sex with a White House intern wasn’t actually sex because of where the relevant body parts weren’t.)
Jeremy Hunt said he thought he had a cannabis lassi when he was backpacking in India. After which he thought that everything was very beautiful and that the lassi was the most delicious thing he’d ever poured down his throat. And after that he thought it didn’t affect him even a tiny bit.
Dominic Raab used cannabis as a student but “not very often” and “it was a mistake.” Besides which, “It was a long time ago.” So that doesn’t count either.
Rory Stewart smoked opium at a wedding in Afghanistan. He added that the family that invited him was very poor, so there may have been very little opium in the pipe. Which means they were smoking air. It’s hard to keep air lit, but it puts itself in the pipe without human help, it’s free, and it’s legal everywhere.
Someone who isn’t Matt Hancock said Matt Hancock “tried cannabis a few times as a student.” We’re still waiting to hear why that wasn’t really drug use.
Esther McVey said she had “ never taken any class A drugs, but have I tried some pot? Yes I have. When I was much younger.” That has the virtue of not disowning the experience, but I don’t hear her–or any of the other candidates–pushing for changes to the drug laws or calling for anyone who’s been convicted of the same offense they weren’t charged with to be pardoned.
Possession of marijuana carries a sentence of up to five years and an unlimited fine, or both. Possession of Class A drugs, including cocaine, carries a sentence of up to seven years and an unlimited fine, or both.
Please note, those five to seven years are in prison, not in the House of Commons.
Have you noticed that if you have money and connections, you try drugs and that if you don’t, you use them?
Stay tuned. The race to be leader of the Conservative Party can only get better.