Author Archives: Mark Wright

We should be sceptical of news, even when we agree

Some may have been surprised to read recently that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved three trials of MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder – the final phase of validation required to turn the “dance drug” into a legal medicine. Surprised, probably, because we have been repeatedly told for over two decades that MDMA is a very dangerous drug and that “there is no such thing as a ‘safe dose’”. Doctors would surely never give a dangerous drug with no safe dose to someone just to aid therapy, so what’s going on here?

It has been known since the 1970s that MDMA had some potential in psychotherapy, but almost all research and testing on the drug was halted when it was globally criminalised in the mid-1980s. But the story of how we got to a place where MDMA is “Class A” (the most dangerous drugs) is a sorry story of misleading experiments, politicised research, biased scientific endeavour, wilful distortion of facts, and – most importantly – the silence of the scientific and medical establishments in the face of obvious manipulation of the truth.

Nearly all research on MDMA since the 1980s has been funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) or its predecessors. Its very name – “drug abuse” – gives away the goal of the organisation, which is to provide the evidence backing for politicians to promote the “War on Drugs”. In that goal it has been hugely influential.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Paris – no knee-jerk responses, but no cop-outs either

The worst terrorist attack in western Europe for a decade has left us all feeling numb. Our thoughts go out to the bereaved and injured. But inevitably our minds look to the consequences. What we must avoid is any knee-jerk responses. Two such responses we must avoid are: first, a rush by governments to remove yet more of our hard-won freedoms; and second, a rush to close our borders to refugees coming from the Middle East.

Our freedoms of speech, expression and religion, and our rights to privacy and to live our lives as we want were hard won over many centuries and we must defend the honour of those who fought and sometimes died to secure them for us. When it comes to refugees from the Middle East, the first thing we should remember is that this type of horrific slaughter is exactly what the refugees are fleeing from. The terror we saw in Paris should make us more acutely understanding of why the refugees are fleeing, because attacks like this have been going on in Syria and Iraq now for a decade.

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Tim Farron is right: Osama Bin Laden’s death was not a tragedy

Tim Farron was widely quoted on Monday, for perhaps the first time since his election as leader. The good news is that he was correct in his point. He was responding to a resurfaced quote from Labour leadership favourite, Jeremy Corbyn, who has said to Iranian TV that Bin Laden’s death was “a tragedy”, as it was unlawful and he should have been put on trial instead.

That the killing of Bin Laden was illegal has been a favourite proposition of the Galloway-ite hard left, so it isn’t a surprise to see them jump up and defend Corbyn. But I was surprised to see a few serious liberals, including Paddy Ashdown in the past, also voice this and criticise Tim for his intervention.

Their premise is that Bin Laden was a common criminal, and thus “due process” should have been followed, with him legally arrested and brought to trial. But this view is based on a foundation that is both legally dubious, and naive in practicability.

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Opinion: Labour’s unfinished business on ‘Religious hatred’


On the penultimate Saturday before the General Election, the Labour Party made a fairly startling policy announcement that was hardly noticed by the media: “Labour would outlaw Islamophobia”, said Ed Miliband in an interview. At first glance, that doesn’t seem like a scary announcement – I mean, Islamophobia is a bad thing, right?

Unfortunately, it’s much more complex than that.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 44 Comments

Opinion: ‘Cultural appropriation’ – a horrible concept from progressives


A phrase progressives increasingly use in debate about language, behaviour, traditions, is ‘cultural appropriation’. The form is typically: “they shouldn’t do that, it’s cultural appropriation.” The basis is that a culture, race, or nation, can ‘own’ an idea, style, word, or language – and that others shouldn’t ‘appropriate’ it. The implication is that cultural appropriation is bad, and that if something involves cultural appropriation then it, too, is bad.

Let’s start at the beginning: without cultural appropriation most of us would still be living naked in caves. Rewind history and consider how detrimental to humanity it would be without cultural appropriation.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 38 Comments

Opinion: Deliberately offending people might be necessary

I’ve been pretty disappointed in the reaction of progressives to the aftermath of the Paris massacre, in particular the debate over satirical imagery of Mohammed. A fair few progressives are saying that it’s wrong to publish such satire, because it’s known that it will offend people, and deliberately offending people is wrong. This initially sounds like a reasonable position, but as a progressive it disappoints me for two reasons.

The first reason is that just a few weeks ago, many of these same people were arguing in exactly the opposite direction:

a) a mother was breastfeeding in public and was given a …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 117 Comments

Opinion: Devil in disguise, new drug, same old lies

There’s another new drug in town, and the System is being cranked up to counter its insidious spread. This drug is increasingly popular among the young, who consider it exotic and often try it when abroad. It’s called “The Devil in Disguise” in government propaganda, because of its supposedly devastating health effects – just one session of this drug is equivalent to smoking 100-200 cigarettes, so say the “experts”, and it can even harm nearby children.

What is it? Well, it’s the shisha water pipe (“hookah”), with tobacco. There is growing anti-shisha propaganda around, which I don’t have a problem with …

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Opinion: Face-veils – What would John Stuart Mill say?

John Stuart MillA court case and a Birmingham school have thrown the dilemma of clothing choices versus personal interaction requirements into the limelight again. It seems to me that the liberal response to this is fairly clear and quite easy to calculate.

Let’s start with some basic facts:

1. Facial expression is a vital part of communication. Some research puts over 50% of human communication as carried in facial expression.

2. Facial identification is the primary – and in most cases only – form of human identification.

Liberals believe in freedom of expression and religion. But that freedom has limits where it impinges on the ability of others to go about their life (“Your freedom ends where my freedom begins” – sometimes attributed to John Stuart Mill, or Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes). Therefore liberals can construct two positions from the basic facts:

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Opinion: Where now on Electoral Reform? (France!)

Electoral reform is off the public agenda for now whether we like it or not, but campaigners should be planning the future.

Some argue that the deceptions of the “No” campaign means that a re-run could be won if only the honest arguments are put and/or full PR was offered. But idea that we should have “another go” at similar arguments for AV+ or STV and expect a different outcome is wrong. All the arguments against AV are even stronger so for AV+ and STV. They will be defeated by an alliance of Tory and Labour tribalists, just as AV and House of Lords reform were.

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Opinion: Prohibition 3 or how I learned to stop worrying and love failure

I am a non-smoker, apart from the odd birthday cigar. After initial misgivings about the details of the public building smoking ban in the UK, I have come to see it as the most significant and beneficial health change in human behaviour in many decades. It has transformed our public places for the better and helped thousands to give up.

Despite that, I have always been suspicious of the increasingly fanatical political drive against smoking. It has always had an undercurrent reminiscent of the 19th century Temperance movement that gave rise to the disaster of “Prohibition” of alcohol.

There can’t be a …

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Opinion: Transport infrastructure – our way to avoid depression

The best post-crash indicator of the coming decade is Japan in the 90s: “The lost decade” as they call it.

Understanding that the current malaise will continue for 5 to 10 years means we need to be thinking now about how we will be boosting the economy in 5-10 years and preparing it for growth in the decades after that.

The answer has to be infrastructure. Not only is the construction industry among the hardest hit right now, but infrastructure activity has amongst the most stimulating effect on the economy, and also it creates “facts on the ground” – useful assets that don’t …

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Opinion: the end of the vision, pt 2

This follows on from yesterday’s post.

But something happened around new year 2011…

The Tory right, previously marginalised and outweighed by the Lib Dems, somehow forced their way back into the story. Whereas previously it was clear that the Cameron-Clegg axis was running the show, it became increasingly clear that the Hague-Osborne axis was the conduit for the will of the Tory right. The Tory right became petrified that AV would lead to perpetually bland “One Nation” Tory policies and prevent a Thatcherite party winning power alone again. (They were right, of course).

But whereas Cameron had previously gone on without the …

Posted in News | 20 Comments

Opinion: the end of the vision, pt 1

When the coalition was formed it was clear there was a meeting of minds between Clegg and Cameron and the two party leaderships. The vision was of a “joint agenda” – a radical and reforming government that would tackle several of the great UK problems: the gargantuan budget deficit, widespread welfare dependency, constitutional reform, NHS restructuring, etc. The mood was “can do”. No issue was too big, or too totemic to tackle.

The 5-year coalition of a centre-left party and a right-wing party would create a government of moderate centre-right, with the centre of gravity over the Ken Clarke/Michael Heseltine territory. …

Posted in Op-eds | 8 Comments

Opinion: What’s a “fair” cut?

What difference does it make having Lib Dems in power? How are Lib Dems actually making cuts “fairer”? One example is what we have done in Bristol, when we reviewed redundancy terms. The statutory redundancy payout is a week’s salary – up to a cap of £380 per week – per year worked. Bristol Council had a much more generous scheme: twice the weekly salary, with no cap.

This sounds great until you look at the effects of this a bit more closely: at the bottom of the officer pay-scale the Bristol scheme was about twice as generous as the statutory …

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

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