Will Nick Clegg’s drug reforms have any influence on voters?

67 per cent of the public agree there needs to be reform when it comes to drug policy, but will it be enough to win back lost voters?

67 per cent of the public agree there needs to be reform when it comes to drug policy, but will it be enough to win back lost voters?

The Liberal Democrats are in dire straits. Plummeting support for the party continues to be highlighted in poll after poll, currently standing at 7 per cent according YouGov, but it is likely that that figure will continue to dip right up until election day next May.

In an attempt to claw back some share of the electorate, Nick Clegg announced on Monday that the party will look into decriminalising all drugs for personal use, allowing cannabis to be sold on the open market.

If it reaches the manifesto, it is no doubt a bold move that the party so evidently needs, but will it make a difference?

In April of this year the Tory thinktank Bright Blue also urged the prime minister to abandon the ‘futile’ war on drugs and make partial legalisation a cornerstone in next year’s election manifesto. The group suggested that a reform would appeal to young and ethnic-minority voters who are crucial to the party’s long-term survival.

And such opinion is not isolated in Westminster either, with 77 per cent of 150 MPs asked by a ComRes poll in 2012 agreeing that the UK’s current drug policy was ineffective.

However despite growing belief, most politicians are terrified of publicly expressing firm support for any move towards decriminalisation for fear of encountering the wrath of their party, and also the right-wing press. Norman Baker was immediately slapped down by the Tories the moment he suggested legalising cannabis for medical use last month.

This latest announcement is definitely daring then, however it does unfortunately wreak of panicked desperation. It is true that 67 per cent of the public agree that there needs to be reform when it comes to drug policy, but would it be enough to win back voters?

Of the sample electorate I asked, support for the policy was higher than not, especially amongst those aged 18-24, who according to DrugScope, make up a larger share of frequent drug users.

And yet despite that support, many I spoke to were completely disenchanted with the party and their passiveness since forming the Coalition, and would therefore not tolerate any possibility of putting an X next to their name at the ballot box.

There was also a dismissal of the move as purely foolish bravado, with one saying that “if they think they can snatch the young vote by saying, ‘we’ll legalise drugs’, ‘we’ll abolish tuition fees’, they must be deluded. They’ve presided over cuts that will seriously harm our society in the long run and I hope that young people see past these cosmetic offers and seek policies that place housing, healthcare and equality at the forefront rather than getting high”.

A ‘stunt’ is how another described it, which is curious because Norman Lamb is subsequently criminalising legal highs, which appears slightly contradictory when set against Nick Clegg’s calls. It suggests a disharmonious party who aren’t reading from the same page, which although not uncommon when it comes to this issue, does do nothing to discourage labels of a voter stunt by a party with little conviction to carry it through.

It’s therefore a rot that looks set to continue for the Liberal Democrats who are now plagued by a awe of deceit, meaning that any radical policy they do throw their full weight behind will be met with deep distrust. It’s become simply a no win situation for the party who now retreat forever further into the wilderness.

Although is damning the party short-sighted? Considering the continuing emergence of UKIP and the growing possibility of another hung parliament should Scotland vote for independence next week, will we be wishing for the Liberal Democrats come May?

Luke Nightingale is a freelance journalist and founding editor of The Looking Glass Liverpool. He also blogs

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