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JANET STREET-PORTER: Fancy-dress may get Boris some headlines but it will do nothing to help addicts

The last person qualified to preach about the dangers of cocaine use is Boris Johnson, who has admitted he sampled the class-A drug while at Oxford university. Well, like a lot of his Old Etonian chums, he could afford to, couldn’t he?

Maybe middle-age, a brush with death from Covid, becoming a father in senior middle age (yet again) and achieving his dream by residing in 10 Downing Street have brought about this astonishing change of attitude – who knows?

To launch his latest wheeze – a War on Drugs, Boris came up with a brilliant idea of dressing up as a cop extra from Line of Duty. It’s well known he can never resist work-wear for photo opportunities, usually ill fitting, so he ends up looking like Max Wall crossed with Norman Wisdom.

This time, our favourite ‘clown’ chose a black knitted hat and stab-proof vest, to tag along with the Liverpool police as they raided a potential drugs dealer.

Did he really think he ran any risk of getting stabbed?

There’s no-one as hypocritical as a senior government official (especially one in fancy dress) telling us ordinary folk that drugs are the root of all evil.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson observes an early morning Merseyside Police raid on a home in Liverpool as part of ‘Operation Toxic’ to infiltrate County Lines drug dealings

Admitting you tried them and actually enjoyed the experience is still seen as career suicide in the two-faced business of politics. Of course, many MP’s have puffed and snorted in their youth, but – according to Boris – they can remember nothing about what happened.

Michael Gove, Minister in charge of Levelling up, says he ‘deeply regrets’ indulging in cocaine over twenty years ago. As for cannabis – few MPs seem to have actually inhaled, unlike thousands of members of the public who regularly indulge every night.

The Minister for Justice, Dominic Raab has confessed he once smoked a spliff but I’m sure he went straight home and vowed to never do it again. I admit, I was busted by the Chelsea drug squad (who raided the Rolling Stones) when I started in journalism back in the swinging ‘60s – the police even took away my wedding cake and tested it for drugs (finding none) – but I ended up in court, and received a £5 fine for possessing a tiny crumb of hash!

Since then, more codswallop has been talked by our elected leaders about drugs than almost anything else. It’s taken fifty years, but finally countries like Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Portugal as well as 18 US states have backed off from the fruitless War on Drugs and decided not to prosecute recreational cannabis users.

Instead of tackling real issues (like whether legalising and taxing the sale of drugs would free up the police for more important work than arresting users and bring in millions of pounds in taxes) Boris announced his plan to combat drug crime by participating in a raid which could have been a scene from The Bill. There were men in uniform, dogs, and doors were bashed in. Well done, everyone!

Most senior police chiefs admit the war on soft drugs was lost decades ago as prosecutions for possession have plummeted. Faced with stringent cuts to funding and a depleted force, the police in most parts of the country have decided they have better things to do than raid dinner parties and night club toilets every weekend. They’re turning a blind eye to possession of small amounts of illegal substances for personal use.

JANET STREET-PORTER: Most senior police chiefs admit the war on soft drugs was lost decades ago

JANET STREET-PORTER: Most senior police chiefs admit the war on soft drugs was lost decades ago

The new £780m drug strategy splits the funding between treatment and crime-fighting. It aims to help addicts by offering hundred of millions for improved rehab services and support, while the police will receive £300 million to fight dealers and County Lines gangs, which entice thousands of young people and children into criminal activity.

The logic is clear – just 300,000 people in England (mostly addicted to heroin and crack), are responsible for an astonishing £20 billion worth of crime a year, as they steal and commit violent acts to fund their habit.

There’s been a huge rise (5,500 last year) in the number of deaths allied to drug use, so helping serious addicts back to health and away from a life of degradation and crime is long-overdue.

But Boris says wants to target another kind of recreational user – the middle classes who can afford to pep up dinner parties or nights out with some class A drugs. He wants the police to text warnings if your number appear on a dealers’ phone. If caught, part time users could face having their driving licences and passports taken away.

It’s ironic, because it turns out the Houses of Parliament are awash with these recreactional druggies, nice middle-class MPs and their young assistants who sneak off to the toilets and subsidised bars for a a quick spliff or a snort between debates and divisions.

A Sunday Times investigation found traces of cocaine in 11 out of 12 place they tested in the buildings in Westminster- certainly more than in any place I’ve worked in the allegedly permissive world of television.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse says it’s ‘not surprising’ as several thousand people work there. Yes, but, would we expect the same level of drug use in the offices of Marks and Spencer or the Nissan? One senior Tory MP wants the Speaker to bring in police sniffer dogs.

The reason why some people start using drugs for fun and then become addicts (although the word addict is being cancelled in Scotland – the land of Trainspotting – where the government has decreed that they are to be known as people ‘with a problematic substance use’ while the term ‘junkie’ is deemed unhelpful and degrading) is complicated.

It can stem from childhood abuse, low self-esteem and peer pressure. The impact on those around addicts (neighbours, family, partners) can be devastating.

A Sunday Times investigation found traces of cocaine in 11 out of 12 place they tested in the buildings in Westminster. Policing Minister Kit Malthouse says it’s ‘not surprising’ as several thousand people work there

A Sunday Times investigation found traces of cocaine in 11 out of 12 place they tested in the buildings in Westminster. Policing Minister Kit Malthouse says it’s ‘not surprising’ as several thousand people work there

The reason drink and drug addiction has spiralled to current record highs is because successive governments have cut funding to councils, charities and support agencies for the last decade.

Offering rehab and counselling is to be welcomed, but – like a great many of Boris’ Big Ideas, he hasn’t spelt out how this cash would be allocated.

At present, very few addicts are offered residential rehab – just 2,000 were in the last year. Around 5,000 were treated in day-centres, which are far less successful.

Addiction of any kind is an illness which can only be treated with immersive therapy, counselling and support. Day release – judging by the people I’ve spoken to – costs more and is not nearly as successful.

Addicts need one-to-one support on a daily basis, which is expensive, and the long-term success rate is not high. Since Covid, depression and mental illness have spiralled across the whole population, and the NHS resources are thinly stretched.

The NHS can usually only offer phone chats with a counsellor, there is a six month wait for face to face appointments and GPs know there are very few places available in rehab.

Given that legalising drugs will never be realistic with a Tory government, it’s right that police get more cash to crack down on the estimated 2,000 County Lines drug operators – who deal mostly in crack and heroin – because of their dreadful impact on vulnerable young people, not to mention the resulting rise in knife crime resulting from turf wars.

But threatening the relatively small number of middle class drug users (who don’t buy from County lines suppliers anyway) with removal of their driving licences and telling them off by text is a laughable diversion, a way of avoiding a real solution. I doubt it will make a single person change their ways.

Once again, Boris has unveiled a Master Plan that’s full of gaping holes, sketchy ideas and headline-grabbing ideas probably scribbled on the back of an envelope while taking Dilyn the dog for a poo.

And has anyone told his friends? 


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