News outlets have not been starved of stories in the past month or so. While the refugee crisis continues apace, with record numbers arriving on European shores through October, American Special Forces have entered Syria and a Russian passenger jet has been brought down over Sinai in mysterious circumstances. It is perhaps for this reason that James Cleverly, Conservative MP for Braintree, chose this precise moment to make the shocking disclosure that he had smoked marijuana and watched internet pornography while at university. Perhaps Mr. Cleverly thought he could release his indiscretions on the sly.
Not so. Cleverly’s announcements are trending on Facebook and Twitter and have had negative coverage in the Telegraph and the Guardian, forcing Cleverly to tweet in his defence. They are now listed under his ‘controversy’ section on Wikipedia. To all his detractors, I say this: relax. This was marijuana and pornography, the tamest and most widespread manifestations of the ‘sex and drugs’ phenomenon, and arguably the two greatest bastions of experimental kidulthood. He was not snorting cocaine off a prostitute’s posterior while whistling God Save the Queen. In fact, his measured summation that marijuana was ‘a waste of money, waste of time, and wasn’t good for your future prospects’ was far more rational and persuasive than anything conjured up by the so called ‘war on drugs’. It’s all the more powerful coming from someone who has admitted prior knowledge.
Indeed, the most worrying aspects of the interview were the questions themselves. Treating ‘did you ever watch online porn?’ as an entrapping question negatively implicates 95 per cent of the population in something that is perfectly normal and perfectly legal. And as for marijuana, I can count on one hand the acquaintances of my teenage years who never had a puff.
By putting our politicians on pedestals and obsessively sanitising every facet of their public image, we may make them more likely to behave badly. If the expectations of your private life are so unrealistic that you have to constantly lie about them anyway, then it doesn’t much matter what you’re having to lie about. The result is teams of spin doctors and a fear among all politicians to express anything resembling a genuine opinion.
It is of course valid to say that those who make the law should always abide by it. But Mr. Cleverly was not an MP when these acts took place, and the law in question is very far removed from the realities of British youth. There is fundamental hypocrisy in attacking politicians for being ‘out of touch’, and complaining about the so-called ‘politics of fudge’, while facilitating both by insisting on standards of public image that no normal person could be expected to maintain.
So, Mr. Cleverly, I commend your honesty and live in hope of another spate of parliamentary confessions of rampant student antics. I can see it now: ‘George Osborne and Tristram Hunt caught in compromising position on Clapham Common during whirlwind teenage romance’; ‘Balls and Cooper admit to debauched swingers parties during early years of marriage’; ‘Jeremy Corbyn briefly member of ‘Thatchersoc’ while studying at North London Polytechnic’. (ed: the scenarios described are entirely fictitious products of the author’s imagination)
Perhaps then no one would complain about disillusionment among the British electorate. The more binge-drinking and drug-taking delinquents are wrenched from the shadowy corners of the House of Commons, the more likely it is that Gaz from Swindon bothers to go to the ballot box. Perhaps Lord Ashcroft could help shed some light.