Calls for Gove to quit over cocaine hypocrisy

By Gove: “It was a mistake. I look back and I think I wish I hadn’t done that.” © Getty

Should Michael Gove abandon the race to be PM because he took cocaine 20 years ago? According to his party’s policy, he should go to prison for seven years. But who hasn’t made mistakes?

“Gove the cocaine hypocrite must quit” declares the front page of today’s Daily Mirror in thick block capitals, as senior Tory peer Baroness Warsi demands Michael Gove immediately drop out of the race to be Britain’s next prime minister.

“This isn’t just about drug taking, it is about trust, it is about hypocrisy of the highest order,” she says.

“Tories go nose to nose” proclaims Metro. And continues (in a series of dreadful puns): “Form a line here. Eight out of 11 contenders admit drugs past but are still having a crack at the leadership”.

For International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, it was opium smoked at a wedding in Iran, 15 years ago. For Boris Johnson (the bookies’ favourite to be prime minister in July) it was cocaine taken during his Oxford University days. Several others have admitted taking cannabis.

But it is Environment Secretary Gove who finds himself at the centre of the storm. A new book by the journalist Owen Bennett describes the events of the 2016 Conservative leadership contest, when Gove was being quizzed by his advisers in preparation for interviews with journalists. Had he ever taken drugs? “Yes, cocaine,” he replied.

At the time, though, he was never asked the question by journalists. Then he dropped out of the race and Theresa May became prime minister instead. Three years later, she has resigned and Gove is running again. This time, his past has become a major talking point.

Gove took the drugs while working as a journalist in the 1990s. He now says it was a “mistake” that he “deeply regrets”.

But critics have accused him of hypocrisy. In 1999, he wrote an article arguing in favour of drug laws, even as he himself was taking cocaine.

In the UK, being caught with possession of Class A drugs can lead to up to seven years in prison. Selling, dealing or sharing them can send you to prison for life. Once you are released from prison, your criminal record can make it difficult to find a job.

There has been talk of relaxing these laws for years, but no serious reform effort has ever got off the ground.

“I have yet to meet a Tory MP who sincerely believes that it would have been better for anyone” had Gove spent time in prison, wrote political journalist Stephen Bush in The Observer yesterday. “Yet the official position of his party, and that of the main Opposition, is that it would.”

Do as I say, not as I do?

This is undeniable hypocrisy. “It cannot be right that Michael Gove should face no consequences for his own past actions, but that other people have their lives ruined by the war on drugs,” wrote Bush. Gove is saying one thing while doing another, as though being a politician makes him above the law. This is wrong.

But aren’t we all hypocrites? Humans are fallible. They sometimes do things that they know are wrong, or that they regret later. As Gove himself wrote in 1999: “There is a greater sin than hypocrisy. It is the refusal to uphold values because one may oneself have fallen short of them.”

You Decide

  1. Should it be illegal to take drugs?
  2. Should politicians be judged by the things they did before they entered public life?


  1. What is a hypocrite? Write your own definition without looking it up a dictionary. Share your definitions with the class.
  2. Imagine you are an adviser to the UK’s new prime minister. Write a report on the current state of UK drug laws. Include a paragraph recommending whether you think it should change or stay the same. Include your reasons why.

Some People Say...

“Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue.”

La Rochefoucauld, French writer from the 17th century

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Conservative leadership contest will begin in earnest today. Nominations close at 5pm. Anyone who is not backed by at least eight MPs will be eliminated. MPs then begin voting in a series of rounds to eliminate potential candidates, until only two remain. At that point, the 124,000 paid-up members of the Conservative Party will vote between the two. The winner will become the new Conservative leader — and, by extension, prime minister.
What do we not know?
Who will win the contest. Boris Johnson is currently the favourite, but 11 Tories are standing. Michael Gove was in second place before the weekend, but we do not know whether the revelations about his drug use will affect his popularity among Tory members and fellow MPs.

Word Watch

A powerful drug which comes from the seeds of the opium poppy. It can be smoked directly, or turned into other drugs like heroin, morphine and codeine.
A powdered drug that is usually snorted. It comes from the coca plant. Some (including the Mayor of London) have criticised middle-class cocaine users for helping to fuel violent drug gangs, both in the UK and abroad.
Also known as weed or marijuana. This is the most widely-used illegal drug in the UK, and many have called for it to be legalised for medical purposes.
New book
Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry by Owen Bennett is due to be published in July.
Class A drugs
The highest class of illegal drugs in the UK, meaning they carry the longest prison sentences. Cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms are all Class A drugs. Cannabis, ketamine and amphetamines are all Class B drugs.
The official Opposition is the second-largest political party in the UK, seen as a “government in waiting”. Currently, this is the Labour Party, which did not mention drugs policy in its 2017 election manifesto.


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