It's an interesting question. Do we, as a nation, consider drug users to be (a) victims or (b) libertarians, people exercising their right to choose? Were one to put this to Harriet Harman's now famous court of public opinion, it would be fascinating to see how the country split.We don’t need to try, mind you, as Melanie is happy to tell us what we think:
It might be close. The caring professions, the liberal consensus, the tolerant and the gentle would vote for “a”, while the pragmatists, the no-nonsense, hard-working centre Right and everyone who takes recreational drugs would opt for “b”.Well, that’s cleared that up…
The question is important, given the prevalence of drug use, but the schism runs deep. Our public policies are indeed founded on the liberal notion that drug users need support, but the opposite view prevails in the country. The result is an underlying tension that, for the most part, we successfully ignore.Until we can’t ignore it. Like, for instance, when it impinges on the cozy middle-class existence:
As a teenager in South London, Jake, now 20, became a user of the addictive and powerful form of cannabis known as skunk; on the receiving end, many would say, of peer pressure. His parents, worried about their younger children, gave him a chance to reform and when he didn't, they changed the locks. Jake was taken in by a friend's parents.I’d say the latter! And he’s almost certainly not alone…
Did the Myersons do the right thing? Was it a child they threw out, a victim of drugs; or an abusive young man who needed to be shown the consequences of his behaviour?
Victimhood, however, is a crowded town to live in. Jake condemned the book this week, saying that he did not want it published. He resents that his mother has been writing about him “for the past 16 years”.Hmm, the scales are dropping from eyes now, aren’t they?
He's not an addict, he says, describing his parents as naive, insane and emotional about his use of drugs. And there we have it: a man-child who feels rejected, exploited, his rights abused, who says that the drugs are no big deal. A victim, in other words. And a mother who feels understandably violated by her child's drug use, and who has, probably brilliantly, turned private trauma into literary victimhood.
Everyone is on ambiguous moral ground. The Myerson case is, in many ways, a classic example of how confusing it can be when a comfortable, creative lifestyle rubs up against the harsh realities of drug use.Well, yes. That’s the inevitable consequence of viewing violent, shiftless inadequates as somehow ‘not responsible for their actions’. Drugs, naturally, being only one way in which the liberal elite excuse barbarism:
In the case of Brandon Muir there was no cosy lifestyle, but the same questions about a drug user's rights and the fallibility of liberal attitudes are raised. How far must we consider the drug user as the victim? Sometimes, until they kill someone other than themselves.
Brandon was not on any at-risk register. Why should he have been, when social policy emphasises that drugs users be supported in their lifestyle, not told to wise up? From top to bottom in the existing system, that ethos rules.Heh! What’s that old saying about a conservative being a liberal who’s been mugged?
Addicts are official victims. They are not regarded as people with a choice. The presumption, therefore, is on keeping their children at home with them, not removing them. Suggestions that contraception be a condition of receiving methadone for addicts caused an outcry in Scotland, with accusations about eugenics.
Looks like Mel’s been mugged – by reality!
Which take precedence? The human rights of the infant born to the junkie, or the right of the junkie to have both lifestyle and children? At the moment, it is firmly the latter. Social policy remains studiously non-interventionist; non-judgmental; passive. Hence the confusion. Hence the increasing number of babies raised in addict households; and hence - if you like- the increasing number of screwed-up middle-class teenagers.Hurrah! Finally, the penny drops…or does it?
According to an Audit Commission report today, children's services deteriorated last year and remain the least good area of councils' work. We should not be surprised. Among both families and professionals, only confusion and lack of confidence will reign until we begin to address the moral status of drug taking.No, no, no!
We don’t need to simply start getting judgemental about the drugs, Mel; they are merely one factor – we need to go back to being judgemental about the whole lifestyle.
Otherwise we are merely tinkering around the edges of the problem, and risk losing focus and producing legislation that will criminalise the minor, occasional users while leaving the major offenders alone. In other words, like almost all of the rest of Nu Lab’s legislation to date…