Should a politician's previous life be open to public scrutiny?
Tory leadership candidate David Cameron MP has refused to answer repeated questions over whether he has ever used drugs.
On the BBC's Question Time he said: "We are all human and we err and stray.
"I didn't spend the early years of my life thinking: 'I better not do anything because one day I might be a politician'."
Should politicians have private lives? Do politicians have a responsibility as role models? Should we care what a politician did when they were younger?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Politicians surely have private lives which exactly nobody knows about. They are after all humans who prefer and aim to live simple lives like others. It is a great error to search in private peoples' lives without their approval. Everybody has his own private life. Politicians should be asked after all about current problems and what have they done to solve them, etc. and not to be asked or approached about their private lives.
Hicham, Oujda, Morocco
I find it mystifying as to how David Cameron managed to pass the selection interview when he was nominated as the prospective parliamentary candidate for his constituency. Did he refuse to answer that question put to him by the interviewing panel, or were they grossly negligent, by omitting to put it to him?
Russell Jones, Bingham, Nottinghamshire
A lot of people here are saying it doesn't matter either way because he would liberalise drug law anyway, but if he were against drugs, having taken them would be hypocritical. But a lot of the most vocal anti-drug campaigners have histories of involvement. The fact that I have never taken drugs is often seen as a deficit in debates when I say I think it is a bad decision, because people feel I can't possibly understand what motivates them to try it, and certainly not what addiction is like. I think you can be against drugs having tried them, as long as you are currently practising what you preach.
Elizabeth, Los Angeles, USA
This is a question that the public should ask of the media; not the media ask to the public.
David, Adelaide, Australia
Politicians, like movie stars and rock stars cannot have private lives. That is part of the price they pay for the life they choose to lead. But then they knew it was a fishbowl before they climbed in. Complaining about it after the fact is simply disingenuous.
Bruce Hammer, Blackwell, OK, USA
Considering that the Tories are trying to become the new party to represent the youth of the UK, any new leader who hasn't at least tried pot at university doesn't deserve to be the new leader.
Once you accept a role in public office, your privacy becomes public.
Kevin, CA USA
Anyone who is in the business of telling others how to run their lives, and passing laws to achieve it should be whiter than white.
Chris, Telford UK
Those who stand for public office and claim to be suitable to lead our country, should expect their private lives to be worthy of investigation and public debate. How can we trust those who will not be honest with us?
Andy, Hull, UK
Whilst I wouldn't vote for a drug-addict, I believe that it is much better to have this country run by real people than robots. What David Cameron did in his student days is now completely irrelevant to me, as long as he is not on drugs now.
As I understand it, Mr Cameron is in favour of drug liberalisation, and as such whether he has taken or used drugs in the past are of no consequence. If however he were a staunch anti-drug voice, then I would expect a clear statement that he had never tried them.
He doesn't look like the sort of chap to try a shandy let alone drugs. He's also out of touch enough not to realise that a lot of people would think he was pretty hip and modern if he owned up to a string of sordid youthful activities such as drugs and wild parties. That'd be a real vote winner among disaffected youth.
I'm not particularly religious, but "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" seems to sum this situation up very nicely!
Alan Jordan, Derby
Surely people learn from their mistakes. Anyone who is supposedly whiter then white must be very out of touch with 99% of the UK. I'd rather have somebody running the country that understood issues from a normal person's perspective, then a holier-than-thou attitude to every mistake we make.
Who cares if he smoked got drunk or had several sexual partners. Lots of people do lots of things when they are younger (and learn from these experiences), and as long as he has not hurt anyone in this process , maybe just maybe we might have a politician who can talk to us rather than talk down to us. Squeaky clean people are either liars or someone to worry about.
Politicians' private lives should open to scrutiny - it comes down to whether they have something to hide: if a politician in favour of legalising cannabis was discovered to have tried the drug in their younger days, that is not newsworthy; on the other hand, if an anti-drugs crusader was found to have tried drugs that would obviously be news. Politicians are against their lives being under scrutiny because all too often, they are revealed to have preached one thing and acted totally differently.
Nick, Soton, UK
The media and the public are keen to rip shreds out of politicians, why not do it for their policies rather than their private lives?
Whether he used drugs at university matters not a jot now - the only reason the question is being asked is because certain factions within the Tory party do not want him to be elected leader and also because the gutter press, as ever, are looking to dig up unimportant dirt so they can have sensational headlines. Leave him be and let him prove himself.
All politicians are entitled to private lives up until they themselves or the party they subscribe to, starts telling us all how to live our private lives.
CC, London, UK
Yes they are, and their private lives should stay private. Who cares what David Cameron did when he was younger? They are not celebrities; they are there to serve us. So let's keep out all the unimportant stuff and keep to the politics.
Ethical accountable leadership does not exist in any political party. Whatever strays or errs have occurred in the past by David Cameron or any other political figure should stay where it belongs, in the past. Entering public life is daunting enough with current democratic accountability however everyone is entitled to privacy.
Eddie Espie, Cookstown
I don't see what the big deal about him saying yes is! If he did it, then admit to it! It'd be nice to have a politician tell the truth for once!
Karl Flinter, Hemel Hempstead
I believe everyone is entitled to a private life, but then I also believe that drugs should be regulated rather than criminalised.
David R, Plymouth UK
This is an example of the Tories crucifying themselves again, as they did with Michael Portillo. Opponents of David Cameron, i.e. supporters of Davies / Fox are trying to draw him out and then destroy him and if they do they'll ruin any chance of winning the next election. Can they really see the public voting for another Duncan-Smith?
If you enjoy the voyeuristic media coverage we get these days then its serving its purpose and good luck too you but I really don't give care what politicians, footballers and the so called celebrity are getting up in there private lives as long as they do the job they are being paid extortionate amounts of money to do!
Stuart Doherty, Leicestershire UK
The French and Italians do not get involved in such a stupid debate. They start from the premise that politicians have affairs and bend the rules for their own convenience. If any politician talks about morality, British style, he would be laughed out of court. Let's grow up!!
Jeremy Ross, London, United Kingdom
Since when has breaking the law become termed as private life?
Jay Kandy, London
Why should he? Tony Blair refuses to confirm if his son Leo had been vaccinated against MMR.
The Conservative old guard would be least comfortable with the idea of their leader having used class A drugs, but amongst those outside of the party this sort of life experience would suggest an unusually representative Conservative Party leader. Either way, this lingering story will damage David Cameron, as would the confirmation of any drug use.
Shane Wexford, Uttoxeter, England
If he is going to be continually hassled over this question, then everyone (including the journalists?) should be asked if they have ever done ANYTHING illegal, including speeding and parking offences
Tony Goodman, Manchester
No wonder the Tories are unelectable if they are wasting time arguing about this load of rubbish. They obviously haven't got a clue. What people want to hear about is their vision for Britain, and why we should elect them instead of New Labour.
He should come clean and then it's up to the public to decide whether it's an issue at the general election.
David L, Hertfordshire
David Cameron is being very clever and exploiting the old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. At no point has he suggested or implied that he has taken drugs at all. He has merely declined to deny the speculation. Loads of front page coverage for free! I wouldn't be surprised at all if in a week or two he does make a clear cut denial - but only when it suits him!
Gary W, London
Politician's can have private lives but they cannot commit crimes. I am tired of people excusing certain crimes.
Peter Evans, Bristol United Kingdom
I can't seem to remember Tony Blair ever answering the same question with a 'yes' or 'no' but the BBC conveniently forget that.
Peter, Badsey, Worcs
I don't particularly want to know about our politicians' private lives. Unfortunately, with the introduction of ID cards, some politicians seem to have an unhealthy interest in mine.
Michael, York, UK
Of course politicians are entitled to a private life but in this case that is not the point. Cameron has not been forcibly thrust into the spotlight; he has voluntarily placed himself there in order to seek high office and is refusing to answer the question: 'have you, in the past, committed a criminal act?', a question to which voters deserve a truthful response as I for one have no intention of voting for anyone who has committed a criminal act to lead my Party. Cameron has been given ample opportunity to give a straight answer to a straight question but has declined so to do which leaves doubt in my mind both as to the answer and his judgement. Consequently I am unwilling to vote for him at this stage. I have no doubt that the truth will out eventually as tabloid journalists re-visit his past waving cheque books and if it comes out that in his past he has been a drug user he will be finished.
Trevor, Cambs, UK
Of course their lives must be open to public scrutiny. Tony Blair can launch his war on binge drinking and respect all he likes, but the public still remember his son's antics in Leicester Square six years ago. As politicians comment on the private lives of the people, it's only right the people comment on them.
I don't think it should matter to anybody if Cameron admitted to taking drugs in his student days. If he owns up, he would gain more respect than he'd imagine, given the amount of affair scandals that emerge from the otherwise untarnished personas of politicians. Honesty works.
I would rather he just answered the question. He has all but admitted it anyway. There are always things that you wish with hindsight you had done differently so just get it over and done with before the mole hill becomes a mountain.
Over eating and smoking are also very bad examples. Did he ever break the speed limit? Did he ever wear anything made of animal fur? Did he ever park illegally? Did he ever learn by his mistakes? What the people really need is a competent team to run UK Ltd. and this man seems no less competent than most MPs in a Commons that is a democratic desert. If we are concerned about drugs then all MPs should be subject to random tests like athletes.
Keith, Rayleigh, England
I think David Cameron is in an impossible situation and it will probably cost him the leadership. If so, we will never know if he was the right person or not for the Tory leadership. We all do things as young people that or on the fringe of acceptable, and it should not be made public. We should judge people for their qualities now. Having seen "life" probably makes a person fuller and rounder, and therefore more suitable for public life. But now the papers will hunt down those who knew Cameron before and pressure them to "tell all".
Martin Parkes, Hemel Hempstead
If people seeking public office at whatever level are constantly challenged on one or two 'minor' infringements in their distant past, no one would ever get a job.
Andrew Gibson, Sale, Manchester
I do not have a moral issue with people having taking drugs. However, as the law stands if a university student is convicted of possessing Class A drugs they could go to jail. This is inconsistent with Cameron's point that we can all make mistakes in lives, and that shouldn't necessarily ruin our future. He definitely wouldn't be PM material if he had a criminal record. Does he mean it only matters if someone gets caught, or could we expect a review that would see the removal of custodial sentences for possession of Class A drugs, were he elected to leader and then PM?
Ben, Brighton, UK
If politicians were not so self-righteous and pontificating all the time then details about their private lives would not give them so many problems. The problem with David Cameron is that he doesn't appear to have the smarts to get out of this situation cleanly. This does not bode well for a party led by him. The guy just doesn't have it.
Derek S, UK
I thought the way Cameron handled the question was brilliant. A real breath of fresh air compared to the tired hypocrisy of other politicians.
Andrew, London UK
Unfortunately we are a nation of hypocrites. We love to read a lot of nonsense about our leaders and pretend to be shocked when we discover they have done something that we have done ourselves but would never wish to be made public. Most of us have done things in our youth that were reprehensible, dishonourable, stupid or illegal - things that in adulthood we would never dream of doing and which would give an entirely false picture of our life and values if they were made public by people out to gain an advantage for themselves by doing us harm. For the smooth running of all our major companies, institutions and schools it is not only advisable that we should permit adults to bury the past, it is absolutely essential.
John M Johnson, UK
This is not a question of having a private life. It is a question of whether an elected politician has ever committed a criminal offence. Would we turn a blind eye if there was a suspicion that he was an ex-burglar or had committed a hit and run offence?
Joseph Wilkinson, Whitehaven, UK
Yes, of course. I would like to add, when one applies for a position we can expect a variety of questions to be asked, why not have a standard list of questions for politicians? Update them as they do for teachers on their life present and past. If they fail to answer or lie (although that may be a political requirement) they should not be accepted.
Tom Veale, Peterborough, Canada
I think politicians are entitled to private lives, except in the cases of significant hypocrisy (i.e. preaching family values yet committing adultery; leading the fight against drugs whilst currently a user). However, politicians are their own worst enemies here - I bet if David Cameron felt his past life was a shining example to us all, he would have given us all the details...
Andrew, Malvern, UK
Unless their behaviour in private affects their ability to fulfil their political role, they should be entitled to privacy as much as anyone else.
Graham Ridler, Leeds
This is a nonsense question - I don't care whether Cameron took drugs in the past. What I care about is whether he takes drugs now - the last thing we need is politicians snorting lines of cocaine while deciding the future of the country. Although not to be condoned, sampling drugs at university is very commonplace and most people don't proceed past a few puffs on illicit joints - end of story. I really don't understand why people get so worked up about it. I do, however, understand his reluctance to answer the question outright given the laughable histrionics and downright hypocrisy the media are prone to!
Laura Miles, Portsmouth
Yes they should, as long as they can do the job we elect them to then what they do in their own time in none of our business. I for one would support a politician who has first hand experiences of drugs, they might actually develop policies that work instead of the current method of using a very big and indiscriminate sledgehammer and hoping it works.
Like most things, it is a matter of degree. There are few things that should be an issue if they happened back in the past, but greater concerns over current life choices. And the concerns get greater the more senior and powerful a politician becomes. They are role models - but as living, breathing, real human beings, not robots.
Peter, London, UK
I'm 57 now and used a lot of recreational matter some 30 years ago. I like to think I have a very open mind as a result and would resent being castigated for my past. In my view, it doesn't matter a bit what a politician has done in the past, as long as he or she seems able to do the job now.
I am more concerned about how honest they are when in office, rather than what they did when they were students. Unless it is a criminal offence I do not want to know about it.
Theo, Uxbridge, UK
I personally do not mind that they have are, or have been only human. I do object though to their 'holier than thou' attitude and outright lies in covering up such misdoings. This is not party political - they are all the same.
Tom, Ipswich, UK
Of course they should have private lives, they'd be pretty sad if they didn't! As to what they did in the past, we all make mistakes and any politician who says he hasn't should go get a life!
Sue, Halesowen, UK
Of course they should. I care about how they do their job, not what goes on in their personal lives. The former decides whether I vote for them, the latter is none of my business.
Alex, York, UK
Can politicians have private lives? Not in the age of 24 hour news and when the media don't have real stories to talk about they will gossip... Oh sorry, you call it 'commentary', don't you?