LEADER: Another chance for Brown to get it right

When will this Government learn that it is dangerous to underestimate the electorate? The latest round in the important cannabis debate is another test case in communications strategy.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

Still reeling from its decision to abolish the 10 per cent tax rate - which much of Labour's core working class vote perceived as a misguided move to win positive headlines - Gordon Brown is now set to ignore the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The ACMD has advised that cannabis should remain as a class C drug, a decision made by Tony Blair's administration, based on years of studies.

But Brown is understood to want to reclassify the drug as class B. To be fair, a minority on the committee backs such a move, concerned about new evidence that stronger variants of cannabis, such as skunk, are causing mental health problems.

However, there is a lingering suspicion that this is another example of Brown pandering to the sentiment of the Daily Mail, which has long campaigned for reclassification.

One can understand how pollsters may advise such a strategy, based on the Daily Mail's perceived power in key marginal seats. But is it really representing the views of Labour's heartland?

Last month, Brown said he wanted to 'send a message' to young people that using cannabis was 'unacceptable'. In other words, the decision may be, once more, based on media headlines rather than rigorous evidence.

The ACMD is hardly complacent. It is calling for stricter penalties on drug dealers and a 'concerted' public health campaign. Moreover, is there really any reason to believe that young people tempted to use cannabis are going to listen to the Daily Mail, rather than the latest scientific evidence, which will be widely circulated on the internet and by word of mouth?

Surely it is much more credible to leave such decisions to the experts, which in this case include judges, doctors, police and drug counsellors.

Email: danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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