Norman Baker has told The Badger that alcohol is more harmful than cannabis in a wide-ranging interview conducted last month.
The Lewes MP yesterday became the highest-profile Liberal Democrat minister to quit the coalition government, after telling The Independent that working with the Conservative Party was like “walking through mud”, and that Home Secretary Theresa May saw the Lib Dems as a “cuckoo in the nest”.
The recently departed Crime Prevention Minister has been instrumental in steering through a Home Office report which suggested for the first time in nearly half-a-century that punishing drug offences leads to decreasing levels of drug use.
Baker has been met with fierce opposition by the Conservative side of the coalition since he suggested in August that cannabis be legalised for medicinal purposes. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg credited Baker as a “brilliant minister”.
When pressed by The Badger about his beliefs on drug laws at a surgery in October, Baker simply said: “I believe alcohol to be more harmful than cannabis.”
The 57 year old is visiting the University of Sussex campus next Thursday (November, 13) in a lecture organised by the campus’s Liberal Democrats Society titled ‘UK Drug Policy reform’. The event is now likely to attract even more interest.
When The Badger met Baker in Newhaven he admitted the decision of the Liberal Democrats to agree to the tripling of tuition fees was a “cock-up”, adding he was “brave” to visit Sussex campus in 2011 where he was egged by a group of students angry that he had voted in favour of the move.
In a wide-ranging interview, Baker defended his own record in government. Previously Transport Secretary, Baker gushed with pride over the “subtle nationalisation” of Network Rail, the body, previously independent of the Department of Transport, which handles the operating costs of the railway and maintains the tracks.
Mr Baker believes government control will spearhead significant but sensible future investment in train travel, which the self-confessed rail enthusiast argues is “economically, environmentally and socially” superior to roads which are “already terribly congested”.
In a thinly veiled attack on Labour, Baker claimed that documents from his time at the Department of Transport showed that the Blair administration was paving the way to “shrink” the railway, a decision that contrasts with the coalition government which has committed to high-speed rail in the HS2 project as well as a significant increase in the electrification of the tracks.
The Badger reminded Baker that the privatisation of British Rail is nearing its 20th anniversary, quizzing the 64 year old on whether it has proven to be a worthwhile move.
“Initially I opposed privatisation”, reveals Baker before adding, “But I think it was the right decision [in terms of customer service].
When The Badger pointed to the success of the East Coast Main Line, a public sector company run by the Department of Transport, Baker backtracked a little and stated that whether it’s public or privately run matters little and he “simply wants what is best for the passenger.”