Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Why I’d Rather Vote For A Mass-Murderer With An Ostensible Conscience, Than One Without…

This weekend a fantastic sequence of events occurred and, in their occurrence, I was reaffirmed in my self-hating decision to vote Labour in the General Election.

My decision to vote Labour in 2010, despite being disgusted by their nearly thirteen years of continuing the exact same foreign and economic policies as the Tories, and never before voting for them in my life (thus far it’s either been Lib Dem or Green all the way), is one I’ve discussed several times on this blog.  The basic motivation – to remind the long-term-memory-deficient – is to put up a strong front against the expected Conservative victory by voting tactically for their closest opposition because, though Labour are bad, the Tories are arguably worse, and I’d rather vote Labour and get Labour, the lesser of two evils, than vote with my heart and allow David Cameron to win by default.

Still, it makes me feel dirty to lend my support – if only strategically – to a party and government responsible for so much death and destruction during their time in power.  From Hawk Jets to Indonesia, to the ongoing horrors of Afghanistan and everything in between; from tuition fees and the private finance initiative to academies and the new deal; the Labour Party might well be the lesser of two evils in that, under an ostensibly left-wing government there are always superficial yet significant real-world improvements alongside the business-as-usual thrust of continuity capitalism, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that they’re not still an evil.  I do not support the Labour Party; I merely oppose the Conservatives. 

But when I read the paper on Saturday morning and re-lived Gordon Brown’s shameless and unapologetic defence of the Iraq war during the Chilcot Inquiry, there was a very real moment of despair.

I can’t vote for these blatant murderers, I thought.  I really can’t, in good conscience, place a cross in the box for a man who bankrolled the illegal and unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation and still cheerleads that decision today…

But then I read the story underneath the report on Chilcot.

The one about the Young Britons’ Foundation.

The Young Britons’ Foundation, according to the Guardian, are a right-wing group “whose leadership has described the NHS as ‘the biggest waste of money in the UK’, claimed global warming is ‘a scam’ and suggested that the waterboarding of prisoners can be justified.” They also have suggested that police should shoot down protesters. 

At least eleven prospective Conservative Party candidates running in the upcoming General Election have undergone training at the YBF, a group that it’s chief executive, Donal Blaney, calls a “Conservative madrasa”, designed to “radicalize” young Tories into extreme neo-conservativism, and at the recent annual YBF parliamentary rally at the House of Commons, shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox and Conservative Party chairman, Eric Pickles both spoke.  Former YBF speakers include David Cameron’s former chief of staff, Alex Deane, shadow education secretary, Michael Gove, shadow arts minister, Ed Vaizey, Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, and former Tory ministers, John Redwood and David Davis.  In other words, if you vote for the Tories this spring, then you will be getting graduates and supporters of this rather ugly neo-conservative boot camp, with close links to neo-con groups in the States, forming your next UK government.* 

That’s why I’ll be voting Labour – because as bad as Labour is, the Conservatives are still worse.  Gordon Brown might be a murderer, but at least he’s an accountable murderer. 

And just to punctuate the point that a right-leaning left-wing government is still better than a right-leaning right-wing government, lo and behold a leaflet for the BNP came through my door the very next day.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: the ideas expressed by racist and fascist groups like the BNP are so detestable that I always assume some level of sophistication in the way that they manipulate and recruit people to join them; so it always amazes me when I read some of their moronic campaign literature and realize that it is simply written by idiots, for idiots.

Thousands of pensioners freeze to death every winter because Labour cares more about foreign aid than they do about our old folk.  The BNP would put British people first”

No.  Capitalism is what causes pensioners to freeze every winter, because utilities companies care more about profits than they do about human life.  The extortionate price of gas bills have nothing to do with foreign aid, and if you wanted to subsidize the elderly and give them free heat during the winter you could do that by taxing the rich, properly taxing businesses, decreasing the military budget, and a million other simple solutions that have nothing to do with decreasing the pitiful amount of money we give to countries like Haiti and Chile when they need help.  The real undertone here is clear: we hate giving foreigners money and think helping old people makes us sound caring.

As a working family we know what it’s like to be taxed to death and what effect Labour’s mismanagement of the economy has had on our house price.  The BNP would ensure British jobs for British workers.”

Can you see the theme emerging?  Here it is even more blatant than in the last one, because giving British jobs to British workers really has nothing to do with the tax policy the BNP is ostensibly aggrieved about in the first passage of this promise.  A logically coherent second sentence would read something like: As a working family we know what it’s like to be taxed to death and what effect Labour’s mismanagement of the economy has had on our house pricetherefore we promise a progressive new scheme of taxation whereby working people won’t be taxed so much and rich individuals and corporations will be taxed much more.  Even a traditionally racist BNP approach of …therefore we will increase the taxes paid by foreigners living in the UK by 2000% and lower the taxes for “indigenous whites” because we hate foreign people and have no meaningful sense of history or mathematics would have made more sense than what was actually written.  But the BNP weren’t looking for “sense” here, or coherency; they were just looking for invoking that now-familiar racist undertone: the needlessly proffered fear of “British” jobs being lost out to “foreigners”, and an even more insidious allusion to house prices falling – a common refrain for racists who believe their neighbourhoods to be “overrun” with ethnic minorities.

Speaking of which…

The government prioritises immigrants when it comes to housing.  The BNP will house British families first – it’s only fair.”

Actually, it’s not “only fair” to house British families first over immigrants who may need the housing more desperately – it is prejudiced and discriminatory.  And as the leaflet provides no real information or statistics to prove that the claim the government prioritises “immigrants” over “British” families is true, then we have no real reason to believe that it is.  Also, it should be noted that for the government to have anything to do with an “immigrant” in an official capacity, then it must be presumed that the immigrant in question is a legal immigrant, working within the system and not outside of it, in which case, technically, they are now a British family too, and any housing they are given is therefore going to a British family.  The BNP do not really mean “immigrant” here though – they mean: people of colours other than white. 

The NHS is in decline and many of our friends find it hard to get operations – yet we’ve fought for this country and paid in all our lives.  The BNP is the only party that listens.”

Considering that the NHS is mentioned by every political party during election time, the BNP are demonstrably not the only party that listens.  They are, however, the only party who randomly invoke the idea that “we’ve fought for this country” in the middle of an argument about underfunding of the NHS.  Because that is the cause of the NHS’s “decline”: underfunding.  A solution, and easy way of improving the service provided by the NHS (which, despite all its faults, is still a million times better than any private alternative) is – and now you might spot my recurring theme – more taxes on big businesses and the rich, and a change of priorities in the budget so that more is spent on healthcare and education, and less is spent on defence and corporate welfare.  The money is there if only it was spent correctly.  Parties like the BNP (and the Conservatives) are only too happy to harp on about the cost of benefit cheats on taxpayers, but when you consider that, in 2009, individual benefit fraud cost UK taxpayers just £900 million, whilst corporate tax evasion, tax avoidance, and tax “efficencies” cost us £18.5 billion each year, it is clear to say that the real criminals are getting away with defrauding our system, including the NHS, year after year after year.

The BNP’s statement about the NHS, however, is not a meaningful policy statement regarding our health services.  Nor is it intended to be.  Again, the undertone is clear: they do not point to the causes of NHS “decline” or offer any solutions.  They simply say: “we’ve fought for this country and paid in all our lives”, which is, again, code for the idea that those who haven’t fought for this country and those who haven’t paid in all their lives – read: bloody immigrants! – are somehow coming over here and taking away our emergency services, so now grandma can’t have her knee operation.  The ignorance is astounding, and it only gets worse:

We have children and we want them to be brought up in a Christian country and taught about our religion, culture and traditions in school.  The BNP opposes the Islamification of Britain”

Well, firstly, let me just say that I went to a state school in the UK where the Christian religion, culture and traditions were first and foremost on the agenda (“Nothing without God” was our school’s motto).  We also learnt about other religions and cultures in RE lessons, but the primary spiritual concern was Christianity and the Christian faith.  Despite the school’s best efforts at indoctrination though, I came out the other end an atheist.  The reason being: we are a free society and not a fascist state, and despite all the best propaganda in the world, we are still free to choose what we believe.

This is the reason why the UK today is a very different place culturally, ethnically and spiritually than it was, say, fifty years ago.  Not because bloody immigrants have come over here and corrupted our children with their crazy foreign gods and cultures…but because, as life has gone on, society has evolved.  We’ve learnt more about other cultures, religions and traditions, we’ve re-assessed our own, we’ve integrated the bits that we liked and we’ve ejected the pieces that we didn’t.  We are in a constant conversation with each other and that conversation has allowed new ideas to flourish, old ideas to adapt and grow stronger, and a diversity of equally valid lifestyles, beliefs and value systems to blossom and evolve alongside each other for the common good. 

The fact is, the BNP may want their children to be brought up in a Christian country, but in 2010 the UK is simply not a Christian country.  And this is a good thing.  Christians can still be Christians here, but now also Hindus can be Hindus, Sikhs can be Sikhs, Jews can be Jews, Buddhists can be Buddhists, Atheists can be Atheists, and, yes, Muslims can be Muslim.  The existence and acceptance of other religions within our society has not diminished the Christian church at all, but it has freed up the spiritual life of British individuals and shown them a variety of different options of belief.

The biggest threat to the Christian church today is not Islam; indeed the same thing which threatens Christianity is equally a threat to Islam, and is taking believers away from the Qur’an as much as it is from the Bible: it is atheism.  It is the fact that we, as a culture, are slowly moving forward, out of the intellectual dark ages, and as people like myself grow up and re-think the superstitions of our elders, we begin to grow out of these silly and outdated religions and seek a non-religious spiritual and ethical alternative for ourselves.  Sadly for the BNP, this exodus away from religion and into the realm of the humanist and the rational is nothing to do with immigrants, Muslims, or any of the other usual scapegoats of the far-right, it is simply the result of free-thought and free-will: two innate human capacities fascist groups like the BNP seek to wipe out.

We opposed the war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.  British troops are losing their lives for a war which only serves out-of-touch politicians.  The BNP would bring our boys home NOW!” 

This final statement is seemingly meant to be the BNP’s big selling point in 2010.  Indeed, the cover of the leaflet says in big, bold writing: “PUTTING BRITISH PEOPLE FIRST! NO to Crime.  NO to Immigration.  NO to EU Rule.  NO to High Taxes.  YES to Bringing Our Troops Home!” all written over a patriotic backdrop of soldiers in the desert sands.  The back of the leaflet says: “BNP: THE ONLY PARTY COMMITTED TO BRINGING OUR TROOPS HOME…Our troops are being sent to their deaths in the Middle East for a political crusade which serves no British interest.”

Now, ignoring for a moment the historical ignorance here which shows the BNP clearly have no real idea why these wars are being fought (the “British interest” at stake here is what it always is in unnecessary foreign invasions: political power and economic gain.  It is not a war which “only serves out-of-touch politicians” – it is a massive albatross around most politicians’ necks and will probably cost Labour the election.  It is a war which, like all wars, serves their capitalist masters and the geo-political dominance of elites, and which we need a massive overhaul of the political and economic system to change); the first question one has to ask here is why exactly the BNP wants to bring our troops home?  One dreads to think what uses Nick Griffin would put our armed forces to at home if he were in power, nor should one be surprised that a fascist party wants to make sure a well-armed military is at their domestic disposal and not stranded overseas where they can’t be easily deployed.

Although the anti-war message is populist at the moment, the philosophy behind it from the BNP is severely hollow.  They are not opposed to the war because it was wrong, unjust, illegal, or immoral.  They are not opposed to it because we have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan and murdered countless numbers of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.  They are not even opposed to it because they disagree with invading foreign countries so long as it is in the “British interest”.  No.  They are only opposed to it because “our boys” are being killed over there for what seems on the surface – if, like the BNP clearly do, you believe the propagandist lies of our government – a war to help out undeserving nations in the Middle East.  In other words, it’s the same old racist undertone that we found in all the other promises: why should we help those brown-skinned people over there?  Why should our troops be dying just to save a bunch of Arabs from themselves?

The BNP leaflet exposes the emptiness and the prejudice of their policies, all wrapped up in a Union Jack and garnished with creepy master-race-style pictures of smiling all-white families.  That people might actually read it, and choose to vote for these racist thugs on the basis of the ill-thought-out drivel inside, speaks more to the stupidity of our nation than it does to the skillful manipulation of the British National Party. 

Still though, again, it was a gentle reminder of why I must vote for the warmonger Brown on election day, despite opposing so much of what he stands for.

Though Labour might be despicable, they at least operate on a level where you can have a serious conversations about their actions, and they have a political base they must appease with social programmes, welfare, diplomacy, and all the other expectations of the left, even if it goes against their elite power-interests.  When you get Labour, you get disappointment, but at least you have a basic framework of shared social understanding – rights, duties, responsibilities, ethics – if only on the surface, by which you are to judge them. 

With these hooligans on the far-right, however, and their more respectable brethren in the official opposition, it is like undoing decades of social progress and starting again from square one.  It is championing ignorance, greed, selfishness, meanness, cruelty and stupidity.  It is voting for racists.  It is voting for homophobes.  It is voting for delusion and pig-headedness.  It is voting for oppression, intolerance, violence and brutality.

The Labour Party might well be a shell of their former selves, and they might even betray everything that they once stood for – but at least there is a shell and a sense of betrayal – with the Conservative Party, and especially with the BNP, you are simply getting exactly what you voted for. 

Voting for Labour might make us feel temporarily dirty, but a Conservative victory will never wash off.

*As I wrote this blog, Conservative Chairman, Eric Pickles, denounced the YBF and tried to sever Tory links with the group following the report in Saturday’s Guardian.  Though the move may be politically expedient now that the YBF have come under fire, it does not really explain why the Conservative politicians listed were happy talking and training with the YBF until it became politically damaging to do so.  I suspect here not a change in belief and policy, but a change in public perception that has necessitated a public distancing from the controversial organization, but not from the ideas which first brought these two groups together.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Throwin’ Out The Trash #4

Late Friday afternoons are traditionally the time that politicians, businesses, celebrities, etc, release bad news to the public in the hope that they won’t see it. Season 1, episode 13, of The West Wing calls this “Take Out The Trash Day”. Each week, there are so many fucked up stories and newsy bits and pieces that cross my path in this 24/7 media blitzkrieg that we’re living in, and I simply do not have the time or inclination to write a full-on commentary piece about all of them. Throwin’ Out The Trash is my chance each week to clear the decks of all these niggling odds and sods without ignoring them completely…


First off I simply have to comment on the eye-opening horror with which I have recently been re-reading Howard Zinn’s amazing People’s History of the United States.

The first time I read this book, I was sixteen years old, and though I got its basic gist and was shocked by much of what I read (it never let me look at history the same way again), there was a certain youthful naivety that went into my reading of it. For one thing, having not been raised in America and thus not been taught the formal lessons of US history directly from the mouths of the victors, it presumed a basic knowledge of the standard version of events that, at the time, I just didn’t have. For another, there is a depth and scope of the argument that surrounds the historical accounts – the real philosophical meat of the book – that I was really too young to fully understand at the time. Or at least too ignorant of the wider political context to make it meaningful.

Since that first read, I have gone back to the book many times. But usually only for chapters on specific subjects which I was writing about at the time. I hadn’t read it chronologically – from start to finish – since I was a teenager, and when Zinn died a month ago, I decided it was high time to return to his magnum opus once again and check it out all these years later from beginning to end, with the eyes of an adult and the brain of a much more learned man.

As of last night, I had reached up to the First World War, and though – having read it before, and studied bits of it on and off throughout the last twelve years – I was well aware going in of all the terrible things about American history that it exposed, the most depressing thing about it reading it now, as an adult, is seeing how everything awful that is happening in the world today has been happening over and over again since 1492. Though the resistance remains permanent, and at all stages of history there has been uprisings and rebellion from the oppressed masses – just as there is now – the lie beneath the benevolence of our “democratic” system is lain out in stark black and white: laws that control and make obedient; wars for private profit; the rich getting richer via the exploitation of the poor; the intentional quelling of revolutionary rage through legislative bribery and misdirecting jingoism; people consistently being manipulated to work against their own interests for the benefit of their masters… Everything I hate about the world now, everything that is ingrained into our system; in A People’s History you see the entire foundation for our current oppression be built brick by brick by a minority of elites who treated nations as playthings for their own amusement and wealth.

If you haven’t read this book already: do. If you have read it before: read it again.


As I write this, Gordon Brown is giving evidence at the Chilcot Inquiry.

Should I be watching it? Should I be concerned with what he says? After seeing Blair’s performance – and the pass he received from the media and his colleagues for expertly lying with a smile – I have no interest in what Brown has to say for himself. I don’t need a public inquiry to know the facts: an illegal and unjustified war was declared, and Brown, as Chancellor, willingly wrote the cheques and continued the war when he became Prime Minister.

What else is there left to say?


It was nice to see the Armenian genocide finally called the Armenian genocide.

I really have no informed opinion on this matter except that when I was a kid listening to the first System of a Down album, I remember Serj (the band’s front-man) used to talk about the Armenian genocide (and it’s deletion from history) all the time. Serj was cool and his politics were sound: if Serj says it was genocide, then I decided it was genocide. Evidently, 95 years later, so too does the U.S., despite Hillary Clinton’s best protests.


The underlying philosophy of this Blog has always been that, though an avowed anarchist, and believer that all mainstream political parties represent elite interests and not the genuine interests of the population they claim to represent, until we see real political change we have to operate in the world that we’ve got. As such, there is an argument to support parties of “the left” over parties of “the right”, if only because – on a very minor scale; the only scale that we have – the propagated differences between the two main parties must at least be paid lip service to, in order to maintain the illusion of democracy. These superficial differences, to which parties are publically perceived to be bound, therefore create a genuine and distinct difference in the tone of our oppression under governments of the left and governments of the right. Though we are oppressed in all cases – and must continue striving to change the system entirely if we ever want that to change – our oppression is “better” under governments of the left because their ostensible guiding philosophy does not allow – in the public’s eye – for the same extreme transgressions as found in governments of the right.

I’ve always said that, when choosing between left and right, you just have to look at each side’s more extreme ends in order to assess which one is objectively better for society. On the left, the most extreme form of bomb-throwing terrorists are throwing those bombs because they want an end to tyrannical government who oppress and exploit the majority of their citizens, and wish to establish a world where the people are in control of their own lives, their days are not spent enslaved to bosses and banks, and a more humane and free society will evolve, based on mutual cooperation and freedom instead of competition and greed.

On the right, we have Nazis.

And in America at the moment, according to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, there has been a 250% rise in extremist right-wing “patriot” groups since the election of Barack Obama.

"Already there are signs of ... violence emanating from the radical right. Since the installation of Barack Obama, right-wing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers. Racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the nation's first black president. One man from Brockton, Massachusetts – who told police he had learned on white supremacist websites that a genocide was under way against whites – is charged with murdering two black people and planning to kill as many Jews as possible on the day after Obama's inauguration. Most recently, a rash of individuals with anti-government, survivalist or racist views have been arrested in a series of bomb cases."

The surge in such groups and their associated violence is, according to the SPLC, in part because their views are now aired nightly on places like Fox News and Conservative talk radio, with crack-pot conspiracy theories once considered extreme and discredited now forming part of the mainstream debate.

Weird huh? The conservatives who are coming after Obama claim that it’s nothing to do with his race (it’s to do with him being a communist – a bank-lovin’, war-expandin’, non-healthcare providin’ communist!), yet their arguments are helping to fuel this distinctly racist fire…


Speaking of Obama not being the Communist the right believe him to be, who else is sick of the pantomime surrounding the ill-fated healthcare bill?

Now that any attempt at dialogue between the two parties have allegedly failed, the word is that the President shall be attempting to fast-track his bill through Congress.

What seems to be lost in all this irrelevant conversation about who’s won what – will the bill be a victory for Obama; or will concessions found within it be a victory for the Republicans? – is the fact that this is supposed to be about providing universal healthcare to American citizens, not about which political party is best at getting bills through Congress, and on that count the President’s bill – and every bill that came into either house – spectacularly fails.

The American people want single-payer, universal healthcare as is available in every other industrialized country in the world. Boasts that a new bill might cover 96% of the people or 98% of the people just aren’t good enough: 100% and it should be free. That’s what we have here in Britain, and it’s what America should have over there.

There is literally nothing complicated about this once you take away all the vested interests – you pay through it with taxes, and if you need more taxes you tax the rich, but even if you tax the people a little more than you currently do, without them having to pay for health insurance, they could not only afford it but it would be cheaper. Everyone is covered – no one dies unnecessarily; no one goes broke because they got cancer or had a baby. End of discussion.

Obama, Republicans, Democrats – their failings to get this done is, to them, not a failing. It is an expertly played piece of political theatre that makes it seem impossible for their citizens to have the thing they actually want and sells them a twisted form of compromise which they can then sell to voters as a victory.


I was going to write something about the Californian guy who got eight years in jail for stealing a piece of cheese…but what more can be said about the stupid three strikes rule?

45000 people die in America per year because of lack of healthcare, yet is anyone being arrested about that?

What about those war criminals Bush and Cheney? And now Obama, Biden and Clinton?

Tough on crime: so long as it’s the right crime.


Still no word from Councillor Dawkins regarding my reply to his last letter – I guess he’s realized I won’t be voting for him or his party so I’m probably not worth the email anymore (or he’s waiting for answers from head office).

If there’s one thing I learn from watching Question Time each week it’s that politicians don’t like being called up on their spin. Seriously – look at these people’s faces whenever they’re asked a follow-up question regarding a talking-point statement or statistic that they’ve dutifully churned out. It’s like a rabbit caught in the headlights. And then they give Dimbleby this headmaster’s look to a naughty schoolboy, the one that says – now you know you’re not allowed to do that David – before returning to avoiding the question and talking about something else instead.

How has it come to the point where we allow these people to do that? Talk show guests who are only there to sell their products, political guests who are only there to sell their policies. Whatever happened to journalism?


Finally, Max and the Marginalized are a band I only found out about a few days ago and yet they are quickly becoming a huge favourite. Relevant, political, and putting their art and activism before their profits, here’s the video that set the ball in motion for me…

If you like their stuff, check out the website. You can download their songs for free or buy a sweet $5 zip file of all 62 tracks!

Monday, 1 March 2010

SCANNER REPRINT: Nov ‘09: The Science of Politics

For those who didn’t catch it on Scanner the past few months – here’s a reprint of my previous JWTMTR column.  For the latest, check out: http://www.scannerzine.com/danmckeefebruary2010.htm



In late October, 2009, Professor David Nutt was sacked from his position as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), following two major clashes between official government drugs policy and his "outspoken" personal views.
The first clash came from an academic paper Nutt published in January, 2009, entitled Equasy, an over-looked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms. In this paper, the well-respected expert in neuropsychopharmacology argued a very simple premise: the harm caused by illegal drugs is equal to harm caused in other, more socially acceptable, legal pastimes; yet it is only drug-based harm which is penalized and legislated against.

Nutt focused, in the paper, on the love of horse-riding, or "equasy", as he jokingly called it (a made up term to describe a condition he dubbed as "equine addiction syndrome"), comparing the harm caused to self and others by "equasy", to the level of harm to self and others stemming from the use of the illegal drug ecstasy. The conclusion was as compelling as it was simple: when ten deaths a year and over a hundred traffic accidents are caused by the perfectly legal pursuit of "equasy", why is it that horse-riding is considered any less dangerous than taking ecstasy? And if one form of similarly harmful behavior is deemed to be legal and socially acceptable, why then isn’t the other?

Although this was an academic paper, written in Professor Nutt’s professional capacity (and not an official government document, released under the auspices of the ACMD), the paper sparked a knee-jerk furore from those appalled by Nutt’s bold suggestion that the drug might not actually be the unequivocal poison it is traditionally depicted as being in the media. Indeed, he was forced to apologize by then-Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and, when the ACMD later made the suggestion that the drug be downgraded from being a Class A substance to being a Class B, the advice was roundly ignored.

Recognizing that political prudence and real scientific fact were two very separate things (and that he was, first and foremost, a scientist, not a politician), Nutt did not ignore the science behind his position on drugs just because it was revealed to be politically unfavourable. Although a government minister, necessarily concerned with public opinion, might choose to ignore rational argument and empirical data if the conclusions they yield turn out to be a PR nightmare, a scientist dedicated to a factually supported and objectively researched understanding of truth does not have that luxury. Despite his official advice being ignored, Nutt remained committed to his well-supported position and, over the summer, gave a private academic lecture on the relative risks of a wide variety of drugs, in which he concluded that the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, were much more harmful than many illegal drugs currently criminalized in the UK, such as: cannabis, ecstasy, and even LSD. Further still, Nutt argued that Jacqui Smith’s proclaimed "precautionary principle" method of dealing with drug-laws was often counter-productive; targeting her move to reverse the decision to downgrade cannabis. By doing this, he argued, the drug not only gained a new notoriety and cachet on the streets, which made people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested more eager to seek it out, but it also served to confuse the public, who were now seeing a consistent clash between the supported scientific evidence about drugs, and the direction of government strategy.

"It starts to distort the value of evidence," said Nutt. And clearly he is right. If all the real and demonstrable scientific evidence points to, say, cannabis being an objectively less harmful drug than alcohol, yet the policies we have in place – in spite of all that evidence – continue to treat marijuana possession as a prisonable offence whilst keeping wine and beer flowing freely on the streets, it implicitly puts forward the message that verifiable scientific evidence is no better a tool for seeking truth than unsubstantiated, knee-jerk opinion. Yet it was for making these valid criticisms of current government drugs policy – a defence of hard science, logic and reason against inconsistent and baseless politics, with no justificatory intellectual foundation – that Smith’s successor, Alan Johnson, finally decided to fire Professor Nutt from his position on the ACMD. Nutt, according to Johnson, had over-stepped his remit, and undermined the government’s attempts to send out a clear message on drugs.

As a leading expert on neuropsychopharmacology, however, (the effects of pharmaceuticals on the brain) who was hired to be the government’s chief adviser on drug’s policy; to me, it seems plain that any inconsistencies between what Professor Nutt and his office were saying, and what the government was actually doing, must be placed squarely at the feet of the government, and not with Professor Nutt. By not following the guidance of the scientific evidence on this complicated issue, and pursuing instead a policy based solely around how legislation would play in the tabloids this close to a general election, the British government have undermined the credibility of their own message on drugs all by themselves. Chasing favorable headlines – instead of what might actually be best for its citizens – two consecutive Home Secretaries have now ignored the empirically based conclusions of its senior scientific advisor on this particular issue because their practical ramifications were unpalatable. When the dissonance between the policies they were pursuing and the truth of the actual evidence became too threatening, they chose to shoot the messenger rather than confront his sound but inconvenient truths.

Now, before anyone reading this gets the misconception that I am some brainwashed and bitter stoner, angry that my precious drugs are being re-criminalized by my government, and frustrated that the holy grail of legalization has once more been taken away, let me lay my cards out on the table. Far from being a habitual user of recreational drugs, I am what people round these parts would call: "straightedge" (though it’s a title I personally eschewed for years because of the unpleasant cult-like mentality some of its advocates developed during the late-nineties). This straightedge lifestyle isn’t a recent development; I am not making up now for past abuses by going cold turkey on old habits and taking a crash-course in sobriety. In my near-three decades on this planet I have never once done a single non-prescription drug, never once smoked a cigarette, never once drank a beer, never even tasted spirits or hard liquor, and – apart from one glass of white wine at the age of twelve, and a couple of celebratory sips of champagne when I was even younger and didn’t know what I was doing – I have never willingly drunk alcohol in my life. I have never been "high", I have never been drunk, and, despite the usual moments of peer pressure in school toilets and ill-advised teenage gatherings, I have never felt the need to light up a burning stick of deadly carcinogen and inhale it into my lungs for pleasure.

I do not oppose the firing of Professor David Nutt because, like thousands of other pro-legalization supporters, I am sick of risking my freedom every time I want to smoke a joint. I oppose the firing of Professor David Nutt because my straightedge belief that all drugs are harmful, stupid and unnecessary distractions to a meaningful and fulfilling life, (used to keep populations docile and psychologically controlled via the quick-fix solution of ephemeral false-pleasures that make people too stoned and vacant to effectively fight the real causes of their anxiety and despair; thus sacrificing real and permanent change and happiness – possibly of the revolutionary variety – for hollow and artificial hallucinations that keep them compliant and enslaved) is, at its core, a belief in putting science, reason and fact before mindlessness, irrationality and false comfort. The cornerstone of my own personal rejection of drugs and alcohol is the idea that an authentic sense of happiness and wellbeing is a much better pursuit for each of us than its numbed and synthetic, narcotically-induced facsimile. By prioritizing that which is true and meaningful over a patchwork of easy, but empty, lies, the same commitment to truth and clarity over illusion and unthinking that makes me personally opposed to taking drugs, makes it impossible for me not to defend scientific evidence like that of Professor David Nutt’s over the unfounded and reactionary drug policies of a headline-pandering government. I may not personally like drugs, but I cannot deny the science and logic behind calls for their legalization.

As David Nutt made clear: alcohol and tobacco demonstrably kill thousands of people in the UK each year. According to the British government’s own Office of National Statistics, there were 8,724 deaths from alcohol in 2007 alone (with some sources claiming the real number to be even higher, once alcohol-related deaths are taken into account too). Tobacco, meanwhile, kills an estimated 100,000 people a year. As unnecessary and dangerous, non-essential items in our lives, there is no compelling reason for either of these drugs to be legalized, yet both of them are freely sold – and profitably taxed – by governments around the world. Once you have permitted these two confirmed killers to be sold without a problem though, you then have either one of two logically consistent options regarding the legal classification of any other drug that is demonstrably less dangerous: you must either legalize those other drugs too, on the same argument – whatever it is – that made you legalize alcohol and tobacco in the first place, or, you must concede that all drugs are dangerous and completely ban them all.

The history of prohibition has shown us what happens when governments try to ban things for which there is an insatiable market. Indeed, there is no better example of how prohibition doesn’t work, than the world’s thriving drugs market today: every banned substance on Earth can still be easily acquired by those with the money to pay for it. Even our prisons – right at the heart of our criminal justice system, right under our police officer’s noses – are swamped with an influx of easily accessible narcotics and home-brewed hooch: prohibition doesn’t solve the problem, it merely sweeps it underground.

This undeniable truism – that banning these substances doesn’t work – is the underlying argument used to validate the continued non-criminalization of alcohol and tobacco. It is an argument I agree with, and it is an argument which clearly applies to all other drugs too: whilst total prohibition simply doesn’t work, sufficient regulation of potentially harmful substances can demonstrably help temper some of their dangers and keep their usage under control.

Right now, there is a hugely lucrative black-market in illegal drugs – the people who want them are not denied their vice just because it is illegal; they just have to work harder to get it – and when the hard science continues to tell us that some of these currently banned substances are much less harmful to us than the two highly prized drugs we have arbitrarily decided to allow into our societies – alcohol and tobacco – there seems to be no good reason at all why we shouldn’t just throw up our hands and concede defeat at these ridiculous attempts to police people’s appetites: clearly, criminalization does not work.

Not only does it not work regarding the basic issue of keeping the drugs off our streets, it also doesn’t work because, by making drugs illegal, we create a whole host of brand new problems and dangers on top of any legitimate chemical concerns.

By forcing those who crave drugs to buy from criminal markets, we create those criminal markets. People become beholden to the exploitative extortionate prices of the mob, with no other choice of supplier; some even going on to commit other crimes, such as robbery or murder, to feed their growing addictions. This is not the fault of the drugs themselves, but the fault of legislation. With the drugs being illegal, most addiction remains untreated, and desperate users are led into taking drastic action once they can’t meet the asking price of their unregulated dealers. Fearing imprisonment should they "come out" and try to seek professional help for their dependency, users become victims, stuck in a cycle of uncontrollable cravings from which there is no easy escape.
Another corollary of criminalization is that it actually increases the levels of harm that taking these drugs exposes us to. Many of the deaths and medical complications that come from taking illegal drugs these days, stem from a mixture of nefarious criminal dealers cutting an expensive "pure" product with dangerous and unknown additives (bulking up their stash in order to double its potential profits), and the fact that, being illegal, there are no clear instructions or health warnings concerning what to do with your drugs once you’ve got them. Whilst we are constantly told each day about the acceptable number of "units" of alcohol that we should consume in any twenty-four hour period, how smoking will kill us, and even guided on the levels of nutrients, fats and sugars that we should be eating when buying our food, the average teenager buying an ecstasy pill at a nightclub remains completely unaware about what exactly the drug will be doing to their body, and how they should therefore respond to it. Should they drink lots of water, to stop their body from overheating? Or does too much water actually kill you on ecstasy, because the kidneys can shut down? With no instruction booklet to guide you when buying junk out on the streets – with no health and safety regulation, government oversight or industry standards with which to comply – the supposedly "protected" citizen does not know what the fuck they are buying, or how to take it without causing themselves harm.

This is why, despite being straightedge, I think that all drugs should be legalized. Not just the ones safer than cigarettes and alcohol, but everything.

That is not, of course, to say that I necessarily endorse a world where we sell cocaine and heroin in every neighbourhood chemist; but it is to suggest that even drugs such as these ones would be much better off supplied to addicts by professionally trained doctors who know what they’re doing, on prescription – with additional help and support offered to gradually wean them out of the habit, without sending them directly to jail – than by thugs on the street, simply looking to make some blood money off a terminally addicted clientele.

I still won’t buy them once they’re legal, but with all drugs on some level inherently deadly, dangerous, and detrimental (yet impossible to stamp out so long as the world we’ve created for ourselves remains ridiculously predisposed to inducing tedium, anxiety, trepidation and fear; the relief from which makes such drugs often seem like a necessity – hey, even a straightedge goody-two-shoes like me needs his coffee three times a day!) picking just two of them out, seemingly at random, as being somehow "better" for us than any of the other substances on offer (especially when the research tells us completely the opposite) simply makes no sense. What’s more, it makes our streets more dangerous, puts our drug-curious citizens more at risk, and it means that millions of extra pounds that could be generated in lucrative taxation and drug manufacturing jobs instead get pumped into the criminal underground, funding murderers, gangsters, and, yes, terrorism too.

If we legalized and taxed even a small selection of the drugs currently prohibited by law, there would be no economic crisis. Social security would be secure; hospitals and schools would no longer have to compete with "defence" budgets for money…hell, we might even be able to give public sector workers a pay-rise or two and, dare I say it, even raise people’s benefits?

So yeah, I’m the straightedge guy who thinks all drugs should be legal because I believe in free-will and self-discipline over externally enforced baseless government-dictated moralities. But the sacking of Professor Nutt speaks to a much deeper problem in contemporary British politics than just the relatively innocuous question of what particular brand of mind-numbing narcotic we should be freely allowed to piss away our lives with. The real scandal here is not that David Nutt told us ecstasy was less dangerous than horse-riding, or that he dared tell his peers that alcohol and tobacco were bigger killers than LSD; it is that our government has once again let the compelling data of scientific fact fall on deaf ears, proceeding to take a position on drugs which flies in the face of all expert opinion; a legislative practice which has much bigger implications that the mere classification of cannabis or LSD.

How many times, for example, have we recently heard that same government talk about Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons programme?

In September this year, after what is now known as the "Fordo" reactor site was discovered by the CIA, MI6 and the French DGSE Intelligence Agency, Iran admitted in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency that they were building a secret uranium enrichment plant, causing huge stirs around the Western world. Considered "proof" of a wider nuclear weapons project, the admission of the development of a fledgling enrichment site saw the country roundly condemned by world leaders, and the Fordo reactor became cited as "evidence" that years’ worth of rumour and accusation about Iranian nuclear weaponry was now indisputably true.

Following the duplicitous way in which we were dragged into war with Iraq, the need for calm and rationale, objective, scientific fact here, in place of prejudice, propaganda and misinformation, is clear. Is the Fordo site proof that the Iranians can’t be trusted? Is it really the first menacing step towards our nuclear Armageddon, or is it what the Iranians say it is: an innocent uranium enrichment facility designed for a peaceful domestic programme of nuclear power? (That same "clean and safe" nuclear power that our own Western governments are so keen to constantly tell us is the environmentally friendly solution to our current carbon-dependency, and for which, here in Britain, there are plans already unveiled to build a whole new generation of reactors by as soon as 2018?)

Unless we start listening to scientists – people who actually know how these nuclear reactors work; the nuances of capability determined by centrifuge capacity; the qualitative differences between warhead enrichment and energy creation – then we are left only with the words of our governments to guide us. Those same deceitful politicians who we entrusted with the "evidence" of supposed Iraqi nuclear weapons programmes back in 2003.

As with David Nutt and our current foolhardy drugs policy, when it came to what was really happening in Iraq, the expert advice – though widely available – was ignored. At the time of this writing, according to the conservative estimates of Iraq Body Count, between 94,144 and 102,728 Iraq civilians have thus far been killed by that treacherous decision. 4,681 coalition soldiers have also been killed. That is, by even the lowest estimates, over thirty-three nine-elevens’ worth of death and destruction doled out, for those who are counting, and all because our war-hungry governments decided to ignore all the available factual evidence and go to war with unfounded and unsupported policies that played well in the tabloids and got the brain-dead patriots rallying blindly round the flag.

In terms of Iran, I am not saying that their Fordo reactor is not a viable concern – perhaps Tehran is, as our governments have been asserting for years, trying to build a nuclear bomb so that they can wipe Israel off the face of the planet and kick-start World War III? What I am saying though, is that I want the basis of any conclusions we ultimately make about what Iran is doing, and how we might respond to it, to come from experts, scientists, specialists – people who deal in solid, empirically-based facts – not agenda-blinded governments who shrug away the difficult truths that don’t fit in with their already predetermined worldview, and then sell lies to the public as reality, in order to turn fiction into a basis for policy.

We live in tumultuous times, and the verifiable and well-documented answers provided by science, and those hundreds of thousands of diligent researchers in all kinds of specialist fields not constricted by twenty-four hour news-cycles, fashionable search-trends and 140 characters or less – they should be the cornerstone of any relevant policy decisions our government makes, not the paranoid ranting and raving of unhinged tabloid readers.

This is a world that is quite literally in peril because of our collective scientific ignorance since the industrial revolution. A world where listening to what climate scientists are telling us might be our only key to survival after a century and change of our own fossil-fuelled self-destruction. Yet, like David Nutt, what these climate scientists are telling us is not always politically sensitive: an 80% reduction of our carbon emissions needed by 2050, or else the damage is irrevocable; an urgent need to radically change our everyday lifestyles and most basic cultural assumptions; an imminent peak-oil crisis; the end of air-travel as we know it; a rejection of the push for nuclear power that well-lobbied politicians are so currently keen on, and the proper funding and commitment for clean, renewable energies like wind and solar power, that don’t leave us with mountains of toxic waste, continued nuclear proliferation, and the ever-present threat of a catastrophic meltdown…

If our government can’t even bear to be told that perhaps smoking cannabis might be just as bad (if not better) than smoking a cigarette, then how the hell do we expect them to process the truly life-changing scientific data concerning what we must do about something as drastic as climate change?
The survival of the planet, our health, the lives of our soldiers and innocent civilians worldwide – these are just a few of the vital areas in which a need for fact over fantasy is crucial, yet time and time again our governments have eschewed logic, reason and awkward empirical data to push through an agenda of their own – usually one politically or financially motivated. An agenda drawn up by lobbyists and ideological think-tanks to boost opinion polls and private coffers, no matter what the damage and danger to the general population.

The firing of one scientific advisor on a tiny island nation might seem like quite an insignificant event in the global scheme of things, but with the sacking of David Nutt comes an important lesson for us all: as our elected leaders continue to ignore the weight of science and reason in favour of substanceless, crowd-pleasing untruths, they do so at our peril. We can only bury our heads in the sand for so long, before we find we are soon choking to death on the dirt.

DaN McKee, 19th November 2009