Could Labour be changing emphasis on drug policy?

Manifesto reveals subtle change of emphasis in Labour drug policy

Manifesto reveals subtle change of emphasis in Labour drug policy

Labour's pledges on drugs in its manifesto suggests the party may be preparing to change its focus, with a surprising emphasis on harm-reduction rather than criminal sanctions.

While the party stops well short of joining the Liberal Democrats in calling for a harm-reduction strategy which would include an end to prison sentences for drug possession, the passage marks a subtle change in its approach to the issue.

The manifesto reads:

"Government spends far too much money dealing with the symptoms of problems, instead of investing smaller amounts in dealing with their causes. Every taxpayer pays the cost of low educational achievement, poor aspirations, drink and drug misuse, and criminality. So we will promote early-years intervention, supporting young children and their parents and dealing with problems before they get out of hand."

A separate section reads:

"We know drug addiction continues to be a major cause of crime. We will ensure drug treatment services focus on the root causes of addiction, with proper integration between health, police and local authorities in the commissioning of treatment."

Analysts will be particularly interested in the exclusive emphasis on drug treatment – rather than punishment – in the manifesto. That suggests the party is unwilling to support its previous tough position on drug use, even if it is not yet willing to distance itself from it.

Campaigners have been struggling to assess Labour's drug policy since Ed Miliband took over.

The party resisted the growing consensus on the need for a more liberal approach to drugs and has even attacked the Liberal Democrats in some areas for their own more radical approach.

During a rare Commons debate on drug reform last year, home affairs spokesperson Diana Johnson issued a vague statement on the issue which left most observers uncertain of her position.

Analysts concluded that the party was unwilling to continue advocating a tough-on-drugs approach but was not prepared to strike out in a more liberal direction either.

That assessment was supported by the section in today's manifesto, which leaves Ed Miliband some wriggle room if he chooses to adopt a more liberal approach to drug policy in government.

The changed emphasis from punishment to treatment will encourage those who want Labour to distance itself from its previous tough-on-crime approach to drugs.