Cocaine is an abominable drug, by far the most hateful of all the various uppers and downers and psychoactives because it turns you into such a complete moron.
The problem with coke, as my friend, the drug historian Mike Jay, once explained to me, is that nature never intended us to use it the way we do. In its raw, coca leaf form, it’s a handy and pleasant stimulant, just what you need to keep you going on a long trek over the Andes. But in its refined form it’s just nasty, not least because it plays a cruel, built-in trick on you. You take cocaine to get high — and sure it helps, up to a point. What it really stimulates, though, aren’t the pleasure receptors but the impulsive part of your brain that makes you want more and more of something. That’s one of the reasons why coke-users tend to behave in such an unedifying manner. Sure they’re mildly interested in this conversation they’re having with you — well, the bit where they’re yakking their random thoughts at you, at any rate — but mainly they’re thinking: ‘Where’s the next line coming from?’ And: ‘Are they going into the bathroom together? Why are they going into the bathroom together?? Why didn’t they ask me to join them???’ Etc. Nothing else really matters. Not the party nibbles (because you’re not hungry); not the drink (just lubrication for the charlie, plus all the extra fags you’re smoking); not the conversation (see above). Your whole being, every tingling, nervy, agitated fibre of it, is attuned like some predatory beast to hunting down some more gak and getting it up your claggy nostrils, pronto.
So why would anyone wish to indulge such a disgusting habit? Because it’s fun. Sort of. No one really enjoys parties, at least not until they’re a bit sloshed. What a line or two of charlie does, very nicely, is get you over the hump. It takes care of your evening. It gives it ritual, purpose, meaning, a sense of belonging. You are part of an elite crew — the coke-taking in-crowd. You are bullet-proof, because coke does that to you: rendering you temporarily impervious to the kind of insecurities which might normally trouble you at a social event. You can talk to anyone. (And do!) You can say whatever’s on your mind. (And do!) You can go up to anyone you fancy and chat them up without worrying whether you’re making an idiot of yourself (which of course you are).
Like every drug, coke comes in and out of fashion. But coke never really goes away because it has cachet (it’s considered the champagne of drugs, and is priced accordingly) and because it’s convenient. Depending on dose, it can range in effects from pick-me-up to a Scarface-style lost weekend. You can even use it for work.
And so we come to my good friend Michael Gove. Some people are saying: how could he have been so irresponsible as to take cocaine (in the 1990s, apparently, when he was in his early thirties)? But this was round about the era, remember, when Oasis’s Noel Gallagher said that taking drugs was ‘like getting up and having a cup of tea in the morning’. I’d be far more worried about Gove, frankly, if he hadn’t indulged. In the circles in which he moved — the media, Mayfair, with fast, rich types like Ivan Massow and George Osborne as his mates — I think it would have been an act of wilful perversity not to give the stuff a go.
In fact, I’d go further than that. I think that any Tory leadership candidate who hasn’t tried Class As is unfit for the highest office, especially after three disastrous years under possibly the dreariest, most career-safe and hinterland-free prime minister in history. Do we really want another leader whose naughtiest ever act was the equivalent of running through a field of wheat? If so, we should definitely choose that automaton Sajid Javid, or a goody two-shoes like Matt Hancock or Jeremy Hunt. But now more than ever, I’d suggest, what we need is someone with personality, someone who is a bit curious, prepared to take the odd calculated risk and familiar with the world in all its variety.
This, I’ve heard it said, is one of the key character differences between Leavers and Remainers. The latter tend to be much more cautious, trepidatious, unimaginative — preferring to stay in the security of the prison cell they know than risk the ups and downs of freedom in the big scary world beyond. I really wouldn’t want any such dweebs involved in our Brexit negotiations. As we’ve seen with May, their only instinct is to negotiate their way back towards full EU membership. Because it’s ‘safe’ and it’s what they know. (This is why Project Fear was so compelling to them, but so utterly unpersuasive to Brexiteers.)
As to the hypocrisy claim — ‘How dare he argue against drugs in the Times, then do coke the night after?’ — I do find it odd any journalist could take this position, except with their fingers crossed and through gritted teeth. But hacks, especially in the early stages of their career, have to write all sorts of bilge they don’t necessarily believe in to please their editors or proprietors.
It’s true of every career there is, especially politics. Nobody’s squeaky clean; everyone’s a hypocrite. The idea that someone’s bid for high office should be derailed because of how they spent a few nights partying in the 1990s strikes me as weird beyond measure. Give Gove a chance, I say. And when he’s prime minister — or home secretary — he can make amends by doing the sensible thing and decriminalising drugs, whose illegality causes far more problems than it solves.