In a blog entry a few weeks ago, I jokingly stated that the contenders in the race to take over as British Prime Minister from Theresa May were so dismal that even Tony Montana, the ultra-violent, ultra-sweary, cocaine-dealing and cocaine-hoovering crime baron featured in Brian De Palma’s classic 1983 movie Scarface, would do a better job as PM.
There was something prophetic about those words, for now it transpires that one person with a credible chance of becoming PM has indeed a touch of Tony Montana and Scarface about him. Not that he’s ultra-violent or ultra-sweary – though the sight of his shilpit features and the sound of his prissy voice on TV are enough to make me ultra-sweary and at least feel like being ultra-violent. And not that, to the best of my knowledge, he’s ever dealt in cocaine. But it’s emerged from an interview in the Daily Mail that Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and former Secretary of State for Education and for Justice, hoovered up amounts of the white stuff ‘on several occasions’ in his pre-political days, while he was working as a journalist.
Now I’m not saying that Gove’s appetite for cocaine was the same as that displayed by Tony Montana, whose head by the end of Scarface looked in danger of disappearing under the powder that was piled, mountainously, on his desk. But such have been the howls of derision and delight about this revelation on social media that I suspect that from now on in Britain all the normal nicknames for cocaine will be abandoned. Forget about calling it ‘coke’, ‘blow’, ‘toot’, ‘snow’, ‘ching’, ‘nose candy’, ‘the devil’s dandruff’, ‘the Big C’, ‘pearl’, ‘bump’ and the rest. For years to come, in nightclubs, unsavoury figures will be sidling up to you and whispering, “Psst! You fancy a few lines of Michael Gove?”
Actually, Gove isn’t the only prime ministerial hopeful whose partaking of certain substances has been revealed lately. We’ve also heard that International Development Secretary Rory Stewart once smoked opium at a wedding in Iran; Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt once drank a cannabis lassi in India; and both Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab smoked cannabis while at university. From the Mussolini-type rubbish Raab has spouted recently, you’d expect his drug-taking to have consisted of frying his brain with LSD. The confessions were coming at such a rate that yesterday someone on Twitter speculated if Jacob Rees Mogg would admit to ‘abusing Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup in 1871’.
I’ve noticed one strange thing about Conservative politicians. None of them ever seem to take drugs because they like taking them. They’re not as ordinary folk, who indulge in illicit substances because they ‘enjoy the buzz’ or ‘the high’, or want ‘to get loaded’ and ‘have a good time’, or want to recreate the stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) inside their heads. No, Tory politicians only take drugs out of some masochistic impulse that leaves them feeling terrible, shameful and morally besmirched afterwards. “It was a mistake,” wailed Gove about the cocaine business. “I look back and think I wish I hadn’t done that.” Of his experience ‘chasing the dragon’, Stewart lamented: “It was something that was very wrong. I made a stupid mistake.”
If Gove were an ordinary person, I wouldn’t give a toss whether he took cocaine or not since: (1) I’m of the opinion that human beings have the right to imbibe, ingest, inject or snort into their bodies whatever they want, provided this doesn’t negatively impact on their fellow human beings; and (2) I don’t see any point in having drugs outlawed and drug-users stigmatised when strict anti-drug legislation in the West has proved as useless as the USA’s prohibition laws did between 1920 and 1933, in that they’ve managed only to empower organised crime. (The third chapter of the 2018 European Drugs Report is damning about how the anti-drug policies of Gove’s Conservative government have failed Britain. It says ‘at least 7,929 overdose deaths, involving one or more illicit drug, occurred in the European Union in 2016.’ 34% of these deaths occurred in the UK alone.)
What makes Gove a hypocrite of Godzilla-sized proportions is that, as the Observer has pointed out, while he was sandblasting his nasal passages with the Big C, he was also using a column in the Times to condemn middle-class professionals who wanted drugs laws to be relaxed. Indeed, anybody who’s fallen foul of Britain’s laws about cocaine possession during the period that Gove and his band of merry pranksters have been in power must be feeling hard done-by, since Gove has made this admission with no apparent threat to his pocket or liberty – cocaine possession in the UK is, theoretically, punishable with up to seven years’ imprisonment – and with no apparent lessening in his belief that he’s the right man to take on the highest office in the land. During Gove’s watch as Education Secretary, I very much doubt if anyone who had a criminal record involving cocaine would have been allowed through the doors of the teaching profession.
So far, the only possible negative consequence of Gove’s drugs admission I’ve heard mentioned is that it might put him in the awkward position of being British Prime Minister but being denied entry to the USA. Actually, that would reduce the amount of time he’d have to spend in the company of the current denizen of the White House, so it doesn’t sound like much of a punishment.
Thus, the message seems to be that, yes, drug-taking is terribly bad, but it’s not so bad – or not bad at all – when it’s done by a Tory who’s held a string of senior governmental positions and who’s lectured us sanctimoniously in the past on a number of topics, including the badness of drug-taking. Such logic is worthy of Tony Montana, who once explained in Scarface: “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
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