Credit: Getty

    A potted history of political drug use

    11 June 2019

    I first became aware of David Cameron’s efforts to become prime minister in 2007. Sadly, it wasn’t because my 14-year-old self was a great political observer, but because a rumour was swirling around school that the headmaster, a contemporary and, supposedly, roommate of Cameron’s at Oxford, had been approached by a journalist to ask whether the young Dave had smoked cannabis at university. The headmaster slammed the door in his face.

    Whether true or not, the story shows how times have changed: we’ve gone from politicians concealing their drug use to a state of open confession, where everyone from Michael Gove to Andrea Leadsom feels compelled to come clean. Even golden boy Jeremy Hunt has got in on the action, confessing to Conservative Home that he drank a cannabis lassi whilst on holiday in India. It now seems to be a prerequisite for the role of prime minister that you have ingested something questionable into you bloodstream at some stage. But, even when such antics were kept private, drug use has long been a feature of Anglosphere politics.


    Booze wasn’t Churchill’s only way of partying; during bouts of depression, he would take speed to help himself function, a trait he shared with Anthony Eden and President John F. Kennedy. Of course, in order to balance the whole thing out, the trio also became dependent on barbiturates. Given that between them they oversaw the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Suez Crisis, Gallipoli, Cuban Missile incident and the entirety of the Second World War, it suddenly makes you appreciate just how flaccid a mind Chris Grayling must have to have sold ferry contracts to the wrong company, whilst entirely sober.


    The transformational timeline of the Democrats from a functional party of government to a howling inferno of intersectionality can be plotted along the span of time that elapsed between Bill Clinton claiming to have smoked dope but ‘not inhaled’, and Barack Obama admitting to inhaling because ‘that’s the point’. It’s almost as if the rest of the party had, during the Bush administration, collectively wondered aloud to themselves ‘what if we did inhale?’ and promptly smoked themselves to delirium. Hence why we now have Elizabeth Warren claiming she’s a Native American, Bernie Sanders thinking he can be president, and Ilhan Omar hearing Zionists conspiring in her head.

    A little closer to home, of course, we have come a long way from Norman Lamont eating slices of ‘space cake’ or Wavey Davey C giving non-committal responses to his marijuana past before crashing his party into an existential crisis. Dominic Raab admitted to smoking ganj before suggesting (with a straight face) that parliament should be suspended and the Queen given the task of sorting Brexit last week; Esther McVey said she too had taken a few topes (which is presumably the only way Scousers end up voting Tory); whilst Andrea Leadsom also confessed to having engaged with the odd Camberwell Carrot. Presumably, though, this was purely medicinal, to counter the effects of having to interact with John Bercow.


    Michael Gove joined a very exclusive club over the weekend: ‘The Brotherhood of Journalists Who Tried Coke and Deeply Regretted it,’ which rules him out of ever editing the Evening Standard.

    Cocaine is now so common in London that a story did the rounds recently suggesting eels in the Thames were high on the stuff. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, claimed to have ‘sneezed’ some a while back, which is right up there with ‘she was just teaching journalism in Iran’ in the pantheon of things Boris has said that didn’t happen.

    Across the pond, the former Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, was once caught on camera smoking a crack pipe, something he had previously admitted to partaking in. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the late mayor. Nor, indeed, for the job of running Toronto.

    Alas, the only politician in history named after the drug, Mitch McConnell, has no history of using. He was just unfortunate enough for somebody to try to use one of his family’s container ships to smuggle it. So here’s to you, Cocaine Mitch: the most misleading nickname in history.


    Opiate use has a long and proud tradition among the political elite, stretching back as far as Marcus Aurelius. Laudanum was beloved by titans of early American history Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

    At the time, many people thought the great abolitionist William Wilberforce mad as a hatter for wanting to end the practice of slavery. As it turns out, he was just high as a kite: the hero of abolitionism was, like Franklin and Jefferson, a regular user of laudanum, presumably oblivious to just who, exactly, was having to farm the stuff. But if one can dream such lofty dreams as these while on the gear, perhaps it isn’t so bad. Though, admittedly, the mystery of where Rory Stewart got the idea he could be PM has now been solved.