Boris Johnson is making an all-out attempt to move the headlines on. But all I can think about is last year’s alleged Downing Street Christmas party
It’s a terrible thing, when you can hear a man sweat through the radio. The Home Office minister Kit Malthouse was being questioned by Mishal Husain on the Today programme this morning, about last year’s Downing Street Christmas party. If it was as described – two-score people at least, in the same room, drinking and playing party games – then how could it have been within the rules? “This is hypothetical,” Malthouse kept saying, as if he was tapping into an ancient interview woo-hoo, the magic word you could say to make it all stop. Unfortunately, he was not. Finally, he executed his handbrake turn: he couldn’t comment on the party, because he didn’t know what had happened; he couldn’t find out what had happened, because he was much more focused on the war on drugs.
Mired in terrible headlines, one story of corruption or incompetence after another, each untoward event reminding the world of some past promise that never materialised, the prime minister has seized the agenda by the throat. He has a new enemy (drug dealers); a new feral underclass (drug takers); a new initiative (take away all their passports and driving licences); a new slogan (it’s a war on drugs); and a new load of old blarney. “Drugs … are not going to make you cooler,” Johnson said. “They’re bad news.” Not since Zammo’s rap has such an unarguable message had such a counterproductive messenger. Nothing has ever made me want to take drugs more than this wreck of a man telling me they’re bad news. And I’m writing this at nine in the morning.
There’s so much to pick apart in the initiative. The “war on drugs” is, in fact, not new; the war is as old as the drugs, and the drugs, so far, have always won. Taking away drug users’ passports is obviously chillingly authoritarian, and will surely be challenged on civil rights grounds to the point that it never materialises as policy. But it’s also peculiarly lacking in insight. The last thing an addict wants to do is go abroad. It’s way too risky to take drugs with you, and just adds 10 layers of complication to the business of buying them. I know this first-hand, having once found myself in Latvia with another Briton who was a massive cokehead. He had no prior knowledge of what a Latvian drug dealer looked like, spoke no Baltic languages, and was armed only with the rumour that there was cocaine in Russian cough medicine. We ended up in a pharmacy, trying to do a cough in a Russian accent. Fair play, we didn’t have the internet then. Maybe it’s easier now, but I would guess only fractionally. This passport idea is like removing a bicycle from a miscreant fish.
Recent history teaches us, however, that it takes more for an initiative to fail than simply for it to be stupid and make no sense. Happily, there is more: because just as Johnson was delivering his half-asleep lecture, some newshound was testing the toilets of parliament to check for traces of cocaine, and – waddayaknow? – finding plenty. In the toilet next to Johnson’s office, in the one at the top of the stairs in Portcullis House, and in the one at the bottom; for brevity, let’s say pretty well all of them.
This is a scoop as old as time. I remember being sent to the Royal Opera House scouting for gak in its lavatories in the 90s. Lacking any inherent news value, this kind of exercise is only ever undertaken for mischief, but nobody could have planned how all these stories would swirl together, in the emotional segment of the brain. People in Westminster taking drugs at work while the prime minister sermonises against drugs; government officials partying while the government enjoined the nation not to party. I’m past caring about the hypocrisy, and would prefer to be locked down for ever than engage in whatever the hell Conservatives do for party games. But I am quite worried about how they’re all going to conduct their government business without a passport.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist