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Sunday, 8 October, 2000, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Tory drug confessors join growing club
Cannabis joint
Political cannabis confessions are now more common
The seven senior Conservative MPs who admit to having used illegal drugs have joined a growing but uncomfortable club of politicians.

The club's wide membership crosses political boundaries and stretches from presidents to lowly members of parliament.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton tried cannabis but "didn't inhale"
But the pattern is common: a bashful politician says that curiosity many years ago steered them into a brief experiment with drugs - usually while they were at university - but that they really did not like it very much.

Most famous of the confessor-politicians is Bill Clinton, who as presidential hopeful in 1992 admitted he tried marijuana while a student at Oxford University.

"I didn't like it and I didn't inhale and I never tried it again," he said.

To some avoiding an experimental drag made the President seem more responsible - but others wondered whether it made him more boring.

More recently Republican presidential candidate George W Bush was dogged with questions over whether he ever took drugs, particularly cocaine.

George W Bush
George W Bush: "Made some mistakes" years ago
The son of former President George Bush stopped short of saying whether he had actually taken any illegal drugs.

But he admitted he had "made some mistakes" more than 20 years ago.

One politician completely broke the mould when his drugs revelation was neither bashful, nor a confession, nor about a brief experiment years ago.

The man involved was the then mayor of Washington DC, Marion Barry, who in his first term in office was discovered smoking crack cocaine in a hotel.

He insisted it was a set-up.

Recently in the UK, before Sunday's shadow cabinet revelations, the most famous politician to have confessed to experimenting with drugs is Mo Mowlam.

Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam: Inhaled cannabis but "didn't like it"
In keeping with tradition it was a student experience. She said: "I didn't like it particularly".

But she was candid enough to add: "Unlike President Clinton, I did inhale."

Her admission was followed by UK government drugs czar Keith Hellawell calling for an end to the "witch-hunt" of politicians accused of trying soft drugs before they enter public life.

Mr Hellawell, whose anti-drugs unit is part of the Cabinet Office presided over by Dr Mowlam, said that the debate should be conducted on a higher level.

Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor had a similar verdict to Dr Mowlam after disclosing he tried cannabis as an Oxford student in the 1980s.

As a non-smoker, he had found the experience "absolutely disgusting".

Matthew Taylor
Matthew Taylor: Cannabis "absolutely disgusting"
Susan Kramer, who stood as the Liberal Democrat's candidate for London mayor, added herself to the list of those who said they had tried the drug in the past.

In 1998 Tory MP David Prior - son of former cabinet minister James (now Lord) Prior - confessed he had smoked cannabis as a young man.

The North Norfolk MP wrote at the time: "I associate my experience with drugs (soft ones) not with Mick Jagger or Aldous Huxley but with passing my law degree and working in a bank."

Not that a tolerant attitude amongst Conservatives would stretch back too far.

Under Lady Thatcher, if she was still in charge, the seven Tories whose youthful activities have came to light "would be pushed off the end of the pier in Southend", according to veteran Tory backbencher Sir Teddy Taylor.

Despite some hardline attitudes, most political drug confessions share another, usually crucial, characteristic - the confessor's careers and public popularity usually suffer no long-term damage.

That was no doubt a deciding factor for the shadow cabinet seven coming clean with their drug-taking experiences.

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See also:

08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory admission sparks dope debate
08 Oct 00 | Scotland
Rifkind defends 'dope-smoking' MPs
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Tory drugs row continues
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Widdecombe stands by drugs policy
04 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Tories get tough on drugs
24 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Senior Lib Dem tried cannabis
16 Jan 00 | UK Politics
I smoked cannabis, admits Mowlam
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