As various Tory leadership candidates line up to confess to the usage of controlled and illegal substances in their youth, they are asking us to judge them not on the ‘mistakes’ they made many years ago, but on their record since. At first sight, this is an entirely reasonable request; I can see no reason why what people did when they were very much younger should be allowed to hold them back for the rest of their lives. There is more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy here though.
All of them, as far as I’m aware, support the current law and government policy on drugs, under which those who at any point possess or use class A substances – at least three of the current leadership contenders – can be charged, prosecuted, and sentenced to up to 7 years imprisonment. None of them seems to be proposing any changes to that law. And for those who get caught using such drugs (often people who are already disadvantaged in other ways) the criminalisation process can and does have a severe effect on their prospects for the future.
It seems to me that those Tories asking us to forgive and forget their ‘youthful mistakes’ are actually asking us to treat them differently from ‘common or garden’ drug users because a) they never got caught, and b) they come from a particular social demographic. I’d have a lot more respect for their position if their own experience had helped them to see how and why some people get caught up in drug usage and gave them something of an insight into the problems with over-simplistic criminalisation. Instead, all they seem to have learned is that people from the ‘right’ background who don’t get caught committing a criminal act can and should expect preferential treatment.