I realise it’s the nature of the beast, but it is a shame that while in government ministers are clipped, incapable of stating the truth. Only, it seems, when they are out of office, an election lost, do they come to their senses and suddenly, like a fluffy rabbit pulled from Tommy Cooper's hat, do sensible ideas occur.
And today, out of the woodwork, pops Bob Ainsworth calling for drugs to be legalised to fight crime. He had a pretty undistinguished ministerial career including times as Defence Minister and a Home Office drugs minister, speaking with entertaining bluster accentuated by his 19th century moustache. If Robin Day had not already dubbed John Nott a 'here today gone tomorrow' politician, it would be an epithet reserved for Mr Ainsworth.
But yet he speaks up now and congratulations. Never did hid he come forward with a policy as sensible as this during his ministerial career.
For today he has declared that the war on drugs is ‘nothing short of a disaster’ and it is about time governments across the world started to look at the alternatives. And he harks back to a time when alcohol was banned in the United States, something which didn’t exactly help the crime rate.
‘After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.
‘Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities. Prohibition has failed to protect us.
‘Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harm to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor hardest hit.
‘We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safe healthier place, especially for our children.
‘We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.’
And there, in a few short sentences, Mr Ainsworth is right. Why, oh why, did he never pipe up when he was a minister? I can't doubt him on the argument, hell I agree with him. But what on earth is the point now as no one, other than weirdos like me, will pay any attention?
Drugs policy across the planet is in an unsustainable situation. Only the other day, a cable supplied from WikiLeaks showed the extent to which West Africa is becoming a major player in drug trafficking, despite the efforts of the UK and US. In Mexico, tens of thousands of people are being killed every year - most of them utterly innocent - in a ridiculous, unwinnable war. Across the planet, drug dealers' coffers are being filled by the appalling WAR ON DRUGS.
And today Bob Ainsworth says it should stop. He might have a silly moustache. He might have been a blustery minister. But he is right now.
UPDATE: I should have pointed out that it isn't just Labour who come up with a sensible drugs policy when not in power; most famously of course, David Cameron.
In 2002, when still a young fresh faced MP and on the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into drugs, he voted for a recommendation which stated 'We recommend that the government initiates a discussion within the Commissino on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways - including the possibility of legislation and regulation - to tackle the global drugs dilemma'.
And even more recently, in 2007, now deputy prime minister Nick Clegg insisted the 'so-called War on Drugs was failing'.
Needless to say neither say anything like that now they are in power. Indeed, now they want to remove scientists from the Drugs Advisory Panel, following in the wake of Professor David Nutt's expulsion. The policy is now entirely based on outdated ineffective dogma and prejudice.
Ed Miliband's reaction to Bob Ainsworth's plea is also depressingly knee-jerk and the sad fact is, I believe the Labour leader probably agrees with the former Defence Minister but fears the reaction of the right-wing press were he to back a mature discussion.
A friend of ours has a sister who has been addicted to heroin for many years now and the trials and awful experiences of what it's like for family members can be read here . Reading the entries make it impossible to think the illegality of drugs - forcing addicts, therefore, to constantly mix with drug dealers, pimps and the world's worst people - combined with an unsympathetic police force can help. The circumstances are just too appalling and unsatisfactory.
And for further reading on the waste, pointlessness and inepititude of the War on Drugs, Misha Glenny's McMafia provides excellent insight.
Chaotic scenes at Westminster Magistrates’ court as the two sides of the legal argument played bail ping pong over Julian Assange with District Judge Howard Riddle acting as umpire. At the end of it all, the WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief still finds himself in Wandsworth Prison and is likely to remain there for a couple more days, though I imagine he will be released in the fullness of time without a conviction.
Mr Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens, the Bonny Bernard to Geoffrey Robertson’s Rumpole, has been making a lot of noise about conspiracy and ‘show trials’ and while there are odd aspects of the case hearing, I struggle to think Mr Assange’s continued detention is an international plots. Certainly the £240,000 security to be paid in advance of jail is certainly unusual; it’s an awful lot of money for someone who has not been charged with any offence and is, at this stage, only wanted for questioning.
And the very nature of Mr Assange’s supporters in court today – John Pilger, Tariq Ali, Jemina Khan, Ken Loack, Peter Tatchell, Bianca Jagger, et al – has transformed what the authorities claimed is a simple case of extradition proceedings into something of far greater international significance.
Yet, if there was a conspiracy, with the US applying pressure on the Swedish authorities to reopen and pursue the case, on the Swedish prosecutors to change their mind and appeal the bail ruling, it would rely on elements of the British legal system, including judges, to be lent on and that seems unlikely to me. Perhaps I’m just being naïve; after all, the US has certainly applied extra-judicial pressure on Amazon, Paypal, Visa, Mastercard et al.
The United States, though, are very keen to see Julian Assange prosecuted but one of the biggest problems they face is what on earth to charge him with. According to an interesting piece on ABC News, the problem with the Espionage Act is that it ‘makes felons of us all’.
Law professor Stephen Vladeck is quoted as saying:
'One of the flaws in the Espionage Act is that it draws no distinction between the leaker or the spy and the recipient of the information, no matter how far downstream the recipient is.
'There's no difference in the statute between Assange and someone at home who opens up something that Assange has posted on his website knowing that it's classified.'
So I'm as guilty as Assange. So are you if you've read The Guardian recently. And it reiterates the point that it is not the government in control of information. Several authorities have, in meek terror of an angry government, warned their employees not to read the WikiLeak postings, including students at several universities.
The Espionage Act has only one been used against someone 'other than the thief iof secret information' once and it failed. US authorities are still keen to pursue the avenue but short of drafting a new law for Assange himself, it's hard to see what will stick at the moment.
Incidentally, Mr Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens repeatedly claimed outside the court that he was in ‘Dickensian’ conditions on Wandsworth prison. It’s worth noting, a source from inside Wandsworth has informed me Mr Assange himself requested solitary confinement as in the wing he had been on previously notes kept being pushed underneath his door. How true this is it’s hard to say, but it provides another interesting angle.
And when he does get released, it appears he will be required to spend much of his time in the mansion courtesy of Vaughan Smith, a friend and founder of the Frontline club (which has an excellent restaurant by the way). Mr Smith himself appears to feature in the below photograph of the mansion; perhaps it was his own wedding.
It doesn’t appear as though Jacob Zuma has particularly thick skin. He has decided to launch a $700,000 defamation suit against a cartoonist who depicted him, admittedly in a very unflattering light, in the South African newspaper, the Sunday Times, in 2008.
It’s doesn’t appear to me to be a particularly good cartoon; the caricatures are crude and the message lacks subtly, but it clearly defines a target and Jonathan Shapiro, the artist in question, clearly feels Zuma’s respect for the legal process and structures of the state are severely lacking.
And so it proves to be as two years later Zuma launches the suit claiming humiliation and degradation, as well as damage to his reputation. I hardly think pursuing this illiberal lawsuit will do much to restore much trust in his reputation.
Now I know Nelson Mandela is a pretty tough act to follow, but Thabo Mbeki was pretty hopeless so Zuma could at least have made an improvement upon him. But Zuma appears to have inherited Mr Mbeki’s paranoia, with added financial incompetence, and it’s a pretty worrying sign.
Former home secretary Kenneth Baker has long been a fan of political cartoonists, claiming that to be depicted in one is a sign that a politician has arrived, has made a significant enough impact on the national conscientiousness that it is worth a scabrous artists targeting them.
In an article for the British Journalism Review, published in 2007, Lord Baker writes:
'Cartoonists like to draw blood – their mission is to make people laugh at their targets and ridiculing the mighty is great sport. Some do it for a political purpose, others simply to puncture the pompous.'
And he concludes:
'Prime ministers and politicians can be hurt by cartoons, but they should remember the cartoonist's role is not to couch favour or approval. They should ignore the cartoons that flatter and resist wincing at the ones that ridicule. If, at times, the attack does strike home, they should never let it show. The reputations of the real political giants have not been impaired by the images created by the cartoonists. Great politicians rise above the invective, no doubt sufficiently confident of their own reputation to allow their achievements to be judged by history, rather than by cartoons.
And of course, none of this is new; political cartoonists have been targeting leaders for centuries. The below cartoon is particularly unpleasant, artist unknown, attacking Robert Walpole, an early corrupt Prime Minister.
So Zuma would be well to heed such advice from Lord Baker. By reacting in this absurd way, not only does he demonstrate how highly he regards himself, a very serious weakness, but also undermines the legal process, thus making the subject of the cartoon more accurate as a response.
And while it might currently be a simple legal case, it does have wider implications. There are worrying signs in South Africa. Rumours of corruption concerning Zuma himself swirl vigorously; just because they have been dropped is not reassuring, much like no one was much convinced when Berlusconi or Chirac escape similar charges. And the ANC itself is suffering with figures such as Julius Malema, the head of the party's youth league who, unsurprisingly, himself features in Shapiro's cartoon as one of the figures holding the masked woman down.
Under his control, personal details of critical journalists were released after allegations of corruption involving government contracts. He said the following at a rally: 'Let us make it clear now: we are prepared to die for Zuma. Not only that, we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.' Now, I can't even imagine a member of the Young Conservatives saying something like this.
He is most notorious perhaps for his penchant for the 'Kill the Boer' song which has rather chilling echoes of the hate music which filled the radiowaves of pre-genocide Rwanda.
Of course, it's nothing like that bad but these are worrying signs for the Rainbow Nation.
So there are two losers today. The Liberal Democrats are now doomed as a political party after a stunning display of mendacity and betrayal. Those who voted against the rise to tuition fees might be the rump that survives the cull that will surely come at the next election, those who voted for it are surely doomed, with Nick Clegg at the head of the list. As for those who abstained, who cares? They are a cowardly bunch.
The second set of losers are students and in two ways. Firstly, of course, that they are to be lumbered with debt for the rest of their lives as a consequence of this shockingly appalling policy. Secondly, they have not won any friends for the violence on the streets. I spoke to several policeman today and they seemed pretty reasonable though the sight of horse charges, riot police armed with their shields from early in the day, but they were sorely tested. I don't want to look overly at student violence but it does seem many, a tiny minority of course, were planning to have clashes with police. The truth of the situation will come out over coming days as the extreme behaviour on both sides comes out.
But back to the policy, it's a complete, unmitigated mess.
The government keeps saying 23 per cent will pay less. Yes, that might be true, but it means 77 per cent will be paying more. In most cases much more. The graph here on page 9 shows what graduates will have to pay back. Only the bottom two deciles will pay less back than the current system. Every other group will pay back substantially more.
Any claim from Clegg, Cameron, Cable etal that universities will benefit is also false. They will only break even if they charge £7,500 as a consequence of huge cuts in the teaching budgets.
Mortgage advisers have already warned the debts students will have an impact on their ability to get on the housing ladder.
And all of that is before we get to the simple fact this change - which was disgracefully voted through without a White Paper so didn't get the scrutiny it serves - changes the nature of university tuition forever. Now learning for learning's sake is not enough.
But briefly, back to the Lib Dems. They deserve to wither on the vine. They have made a success for years in local government for promising all things to all people. They made a promise to the electorate before the election which, it seems, they had little intention on keeping. And now their duplicity has been shown and they will be judged accordingly.
One can only hope it might convince other Labour and the Conservatives to use their election manifestos as a programme for government rather than a pre-election package of lose promises, lies and misappropriated goodies.
The war is won but the battles are still to be fought.
Governments are fulminating at WikiLeaks for their release of more than 250,000 cables sent from US embassies across the world and are doing whatever they can stop their incessant publication.
But the information is out and there is nothing any government, US, Chinese, British, Russian, French, German, Italian, can do to prevent it from being published and disseminated across the world.
And today has been fascinating to see the opening salvos of the information war erupt; two sides - a simple prerequisite for a war - can suddenly be identified.
On one side are governments and the corporations who so pathetically and limply severed their links with WikiLeaks after pressure from the US administration. Mastercard, Visa, Palpal have all decided to stop allowing donations to the whistleblowing website after receiving such pressure. Those racist chappies amongst you, don't fear; you can still use such sites to donate to the KKK.
And on the other, are hackers - 4chan, Anonymous etc, journalists - strangely forming alliances from those on the left and the libertarian right, freedom of information campaigners, believers in democracy, believers in independence, believers in freedom, believers of the idea it is the citizen who holds the power and governments are their representatives and servants, and not the other way round.
Rather like the 'War on Terror' and the 'War on Drugs', the 'War on the Web' is not one any government can hope to win. It can throw money at the problem, it can introduce high level technologies, throw up cyberwalls and encrypt information all they like, it will be of no use. There is so much desire for information from so many hundreds of millions of people across the world, the technology to acquire such knowledge so simple and widely available, the pressure will now always exist and will just increase in volume and noise.
Even if WikiLeaks is shut down - highly unlikely, but let's think theoretically - others will spring up in its place and replicate and amplify. Governments are rather like Canute, trying to hold back the oncoming waves.
And now those companies which have folded after receiving pressure from the US government are targeted by hackers, bombarded with DDoS attacks they are ill-prepared to withstand. Mastercard and Visa have seen their websites crash, their secure payments systems disrupted. More will come.
Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, bears much of the blame here so it's no surprise to see his website targeted by hackers.
No crime has been committed. Rather like Judge Dredd, Lieberman seems to think that simply saying something is illegal, means it is. He has no court authority, no legal backing, no judgment; just prejudice really.
This is what he told Fox News:
'To me, New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship. And whether they've committed a crime, I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department.'
Why? They have acted entirely properly. They got information from a whistleblower and have behaved honourably as they plough through the mass of information and publish what they deem to be in the public interest. It's not actually up to government to decide what is in the publics' interest really, it's ours.
No, Lieberman appears to be almost to referring to the publication of these cables as a thought crime; 'an act of bad citizenship'? What the hell does that mean? It's worthy of North Korea. Thank God this man never became vice-president.
The odd thing is, much of the detail of the WikiLeaks publications thus far has been tittle-tattle and hardly a surprise. Some of it is in the public interest, some of it is not. Hearing the opinions of embassy staff describe Robert Mugabe as a ‘crazy old man’, Kim Jong Il as a ‘flabby old chap’ is not particularly revealing. Aides close to Silvio Berlusconi are worried over his health as he has because apparently ‘frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest’. Hardly the shock of the century.
Likewise, is anyone surprised at the revelations the US government gets its diplomats to spy at the United Nations? Spying, at the UN? Whatever next?
There are items of more value of course, such as the extent to which Shell has infiltrated the Nigerian government is a worrying sign and worthy of reporting, though perhaps too esoteric for many.
So governments need to decide a sensible response. It’s all too easy to see administrations drifting further into authoritarianism, accusing WikiLeaks and their supporters of ‘terrorism’, launching cyber attacks, legal weapons and whatever else they have at their disposal. But it will ultimately be futile.
The latest revelation to emerge from very leaky United States government is there is somewhere, within Hillary Clinton’s State department, someone with a sense of humour.
As Julian Assange is banged up in Wandsworth nick after being hauled to City of Westminster Magistates’ court facing charges which had been dismissed in August only for them to be revived, it appears the State Department is ‘pleased to announce’ the United States will host Unesco’s next World Press Freedom Day, May 1 to May 3, 2011.
According to the release, issued by Philip J Crowley, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Public Affairs:, the event will ‘promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press’.
It’s hard to believe this release is actually real, but it goes on:
‘The theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts.
‘New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information.
‘We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.’
Quite breathtaking really. Just remember how the US government is supporting press freedom when Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Senate homeland security committee, tells Fox News: ‘To me the New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the justice department.’
And when the ludicrous Sarah Palin calls for Assange to be treated like a terrorist, an ‘anti-American operative with blood on his hands’ who should be ‘pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders’ (that should give him at least a nine year head start then), just remember; she and her country really celebrates press freedom.
And of course Mike Huckabee is another fan of press freedom shown when he said ‘Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty'.
It takes an unusual level of idiocy to be this hypocritical.