OPINION: Ruthless Blunkett's dope decision is a decoy

In a party renowned for its metamorphic qualities, none has undergone the political transformation more deftly than Home Secretary David Blunkett.

He is the only senior member of the Government who has managed to revamp his reputation from being on the far left to the far right without losing any facial hair, nor, until now, any political capital.

Blunkett is now described by The Sun as 'essentially a Tory Home Secretary' - and that is meant as a compliment. But the man once hailed by the Daily Mail, among others, as a possible prime minister has just staked his political future on the most cynical of calculations.

Blunkett's dope decoy has left us asking, is this the most ruthless man in British politics? The greeting of the little green weed is, in fact, nothing more than cover for massaging crime statistics and police numbers - a clever cover to con the public.

And all this from a man who has managed, thus far, to stand above the fray. There always seemed something rather trustworthy about his public image. The self-styled Blunkett brand placed honesty as its core value. It was as if a blind man couldn't lie. Yet his actions over the effective decriminalisation of cannabis have exposed him as the most expedient of New Labour's mob.

Dabbling with dope is a risky business for a politician, as former Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe will testify. Despite the chorus of approval from the chattering classes, you risk losing support in traditional Labour heartlands and in Middle England. Not clever for a man with his heart set on redecorating Number 10.

Leaving aside the rights or wrongs of making dope legal, the real motivations for this latest legislation were none other than tricking us into believing we are safer on our streets and cutting police numbers.

While all attention has focused on the social impact of decriminalisation, few have stopped to notice two important consequences of it.

First, decriminalisation means, overnight, a reduction in street crime figures. Blunkett wants to save Tony Blair's face over his rather reckless promise to have street crime 'under control' by September. The con is that nothing will have changed, there will be no less drug-related muggings and robberies, but the headline - and that's all that matters to this quiet master of spin - figures will drop. Feel better? You won't.

Secondly, the most celebrated aspect of the Lambeth experiment, upon which the legislation is based, is that it freed up police manpower. If your coppers aren't nicking people on the street for smoking dope, they've got more time to do proper police work, like nicking people on the street for selling crack cocaine. So if the police have more time to fight 'real' crime, then their claims and the public's demands for more police are seriously undermined. If each copper has a fifth more time, then calls for more police can be cut by a fifth. Clever.

But perhaps the most cynical move was the announcement on the day after the crime statistics were released that the Sangatte refugee camp near Calais would be closed by March in a new deal with the French government.

The announcement had the planned effect of knocking crime off the top of the news agenda, despite the fact that France's change of heart is dependent upon the UK making sweeping changes to its asylum system There are so many caveats on the Sangatte deal, it's about as likely to shut as Christine Hamilton's gob.

It's time to remove honesty and replace it with ruthlessness at the core of the Blunkett brand.

Charlie Whelan returns in our next issue on 2 August.

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