Facts and factoids - Alan Johnson and Professor Nutt

When policy and truth collide

Safer than Afghanistan? Safer than Afghanistan?
The yawning gulf between the public, our politicians and their advisers can be seen in the resignations from the official drugs advisory body. Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s dismissal of Professor David Nutt, the senior scientist on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, has turned into a major but predictable multi-dimensional upset for Nulabour. The MSM is full of this row between the government and the Advisory Council and for obvious reasons. First this is a wonderful story. Also its got, so some in the MSM think, the same sort of news value as another splash about Amy Winehouse.

If you remember this 'celebrity' sings, has a hair-do even weirder than ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, has spindly legs and totters around on amazing heels. She is addicted to publicity. Treatment for this affliction consisted of being photographed on the front steps of numerous clinics and having acres of newsprint devoted to yet another rehash of this story. The MSM could not get enough of it and needed a regular fix to keep going. The public saw it differently, as a friend of mine said upon seeing yet another 'exclusive', “oh no, not Aimless Winebore again”!

Well the good times are back, or so thinks some of the MSM. They could be right, well sort of. The addiction here is spin and it's the government, plus perhaps some of the opposition, with the bad habit. That's the easy bit to understand, the difficult question is why? Its always been the lot of Home Secretaries to 'tackle' or 'battle' with the UK drugs 'problem'. If you then list the Nulabour Home Secretaries in order since 1997: Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, John Reid, Jacqui Smith and now Alan Johnson, the problem is obvious! Not one is capable of intelligent thought then action.

Modern government purports to use science, 'facts'. Alas it does so as an anvil upon which to beat the public into submission. There are other methods, Fidel Castro for example would give speeches solid with tractor production statistics. But this takes real skill and few UK politicians have it. Few people in public service know how to deal with science or statistics so really we get factoids. These are the building blocks for so much policy on anything from the EU/UK relationship to climate change. This process is not accidental and can be seen in action with any of the once trusted offices of public life.

However, the public knows what's going on and while they may be entertained by the Winehouse story, they are not 'moved' by either side of the drugs debate. Hence stalemate ensues and no progress is made as each side hangs on to its prejudices while parading them as honest opinion. You may feel sorry for Alan Johnson and say there's some very odd advice to be had. The government played the system while it suited them and now they've had their fingers burnt, too bad.

You may criticise Prof Nutt and his fellow panellists for saying that ecstasy is safer than horse riding. But if statistically it is, then statistically it is and no amount of government spin can make it otherwise. What if a teenager is safer clubbing than being a member of the British Army in Afghanistan, how to deal with that? I'm sure the public would like to know the truth and could cope with it, so tell them.