Friday, February 13, 2009

House Points: Horses and ecstasy

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. I wrote a little more on horses and drugs earlier in the week.

Horse sense

On Monday MPs had the chance to question Jacqui Smith. Unfortunately, none asked the home secretary how she could justify nominating her sister’s spare bedroom as her main residence and claiming £116,000 (and counting) in second home allowance on the house in her Redditch constituency where her husband and children live.

Instead they were angered by someone else. Professor David Nutt had published an article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that said: “Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse riding and ecstasy.” It also pointed out that riding accounts for more than 100 deaths a year in Britain.

Outrage. Lobbed a prepared question by the creepy Keith Vaz, Jacqui Smith said she was “surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article” and had asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy.

For the Tories, Laurence Robertson announced that “the sport of horse riding provides discipline”. Surely the first time anyone has claimed the Turf sets a moral example for the rest of us? He went on, to his own amusement though possibly no one else’s, to tell Jacqui Smith she should inform Professor Nutt that “although he might be appropriately named” he is in the wrong job.

It was left to a Liberal Democrat – Evan Harris – to stand up for science and academic freedom.

Because this incident tells us something important about the government. New Labour came to power claiming it was interested in “what works” and not hamstrung by ideology.

The truth, as Jacqui Smith demonstrated, is that to get on today you have to stick to a narrow range of acceptable views. Step outside it and you will be attacked. It happened to another academic who, in the early days of Tony Blair’s premiership, pointed out there was no evidence to support his enthusiasm for loading homework on to young children.

Out in the real world people know that riding a horse can be dangerous. Competitive three-day eventing has had a terrible run of deaths – 37 fatal falls between 1997 and 2008.

Of course, we should not underestimate the dangers posed by drugs either. If the horse has been taking ecstasy it can only make things more hazardous.

1 comment:

Melanie P. said...

Well I think professor Nutter should be sacked!