June 09, 2019
The former justice secretary and party leadership contender is slammed for legal double standards and may ‘face a US travel ban’
Michael Gove has previously been critical of illegal drug use by middle class professionals. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE
By Mark Townsend and Michael Savage | The Guardian
Michael Gove was battling to keep his campaign for the Tory leadership alive on Saturday night as he faced accusations of hypocrisy from drug experts and politicians, after admitting he had taken cocaine when working as a young journalist.
Figures from major political parties, along with former police officers and drugs charities, lined up to accuse the former justice secretary of double standards and of trivialising a debate on the harm caused by class A drugs.
A former senior drug adviser to the government, Professor David Nutt, said Gove’s disclosure was more proof that privileged politicians felt able “to break the law, but not for others to do the same”. Nutt also warned Gove that his confession might mean him being barred from travelling to the US to represent the UK, if he won the Tory leadership contest.
Following his admission in the Daily Mail, before publication of a book about him by the journalist Owen Bennett, Gove said that he “deeply regretted” taking cocaine “on several occasions” more than 20 years ago.
In a further embarrassment, it has also emerged that in 1999 he wrote an article in the Times setting out why he opposed what he called “London’s liberal consensus” on loosening rules on the use of cocaine and other drugs. In the piece headlined “when it’s right to be a hypocrite” he set out why he believed drugs laws should not be repealed.
“The knowledge that millennial demand for illegal drugs may lead to the potentially lethal adulteration of some substances hasn’t been used to explain to citizens that the law is there for a purpose,” he wrote.
“Instead it’s been acknowledged that some people feel they have to see in the new millennium in an altered state, so we’ve been given advice on how to ‘minimise’ risk.”
He stated that middle-class professionals were pushing to liberalise drugs laws to deal with their own guilt over taking drugs, adding: “There is a greater sin than hypocrisy. It is the refusal to uphold values because one may oneself have fallen short of them.”
Nutt cited the example of television chef Nigella Lawson who was banned in 2014 from travelling to the US after admitting using cocaine, and suggested the same restriction could be placed on Gove. According to the US Department for Homeland Security an individual can be denied entry for “violation of any law on controlled substances, except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana”.
“My view is that the attitude of politicians to drugs has always been very dishonest,” Nutt said. “They seem to feel that it’s OK for them to break the law but not for others to do the same.”
Nutt said Barack (Former US President) Obama’s confession to having taken drugs did not stop him getting elected and shouldn’t affect UK politicians either. But, he added, “they should be held to account if they don’t agree that when in power they will revise the drug laws in favour of harm reduction and treatment rather than prohibition and punishment.”
Crispin Blunt, a Tory MP who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform said: “The use of drugs by Michael Gove in his younger days, while illegal, was wholly unexceptional. Having admitted using drugs, he should have reflected honestly on the implications of a policy which has wholly failed to deter such drug use.
“Sadly Michael – like others before him – has delivered a politically crafted and deeply unconvincing handwringing statement of regret for committing a victimless crime. The victims have largely been created by policy and the law.”
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said: “Michael Gove and other Conservative leadership candidates have to be clear about where they stand on this issue – as a party they have to get their heads out of the sand. Gove’s article rightly points out using drugs may have a different impact on the life of someone depending on their background – the fact that is the case is another sign of a broken system and I hope he may have grown up enough in the past two decades to see change is needed.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “I couldn’t care less about what a politician did in private 20 years ago. What I can’t stand is the rank hypocrisy of potential prime ministers ‘owning up’ to drug use while backing policies that threaten those using drugs now with prison, and allows criminal gangs to profit.”
Senior Tories warned the admission would damage Gove’s chances of winning over the Tory membership if he succeeds in reaching the final stage of the leadership contest in which grass roots Tory decide between the final two candidates.
Last night Gove’s supporters said they suspected the cocaine story had been leaked deliberately by the camp of one of the other candidates as part of a “dirty tricks” operation.
The episode led to other candidates being asked about their drug use. Dominic Raab, who has already admitted taking cannabis as a student, told the BBC: “It was a long time ago and pretty few and far between. I have never taken cocaine or any class A drugs.” Andrea Leadsom said in a statement: “I have never taken cocaine or class A drugs. Everyone is entitled to a private life before becoming an MP.”
Boris Johnson has said he was offered a “white substance” at university, but none went up his nose because he sneezed. He said he has “no idea whether it was cocaine or not”.
Paul Goodman, editor of the ConservativeHome website for grassroots Tories, said the revelations might have a negative effect on Gove’s campaign: “I suspect that Michael’s admission will make much less difference among party members than might be supposed. The question though is not so much what activists make of it, but what Tory MPs think. So the admission could at the margin benefit some of Michael’s competitors in the first parliamentary ballot.”
Published: June 08, 2019