Potheads rule!

Todays news: several members of our government have admitted to smoking pot in their youth. The first was the minister responsible for enforcing the law, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.

Nothing unusual there: ministers of past governments of both parties have made similar admissions. I don’t expect it has much effect on their ability (or otherwise) to govern.

But what seems rather telling is the rhetoric that goes with it: something like “25 years ago, every student tried it”. And they probably almost believe it, based on how their social circles behaved.

Well, 25 years ago, I was a student at Cambridge, and I certainly never touched it. I think I knew a few who did: at a guess maybe 1% of fellow students I knew. I guess that’s just the different kind of social circles we moved in. The potheads who went for immediate gratification and stuck up two fingers at society and law are the ones who, a generation on, rule us.

Maybe there are some archetypes at work here. Most of our rulers went to Oxford, and our Nobel Prize winners to Cambridge. That’s not just popular belief, it’s fact (at least if you allow “a lot more than anywhere else” for “most”). There were some fairly clear distinctions in the demographics of the two universities (as well as a fair bit of overlap, of course).

Cambridge as I knew it was certainly not like the meeja image of student life at the time. Student grants still existed but were declining, and we expected to live, Micawber-style[1], within our limited means. The only drug we overdosed on was coffee (we couldn’t afford to drink that much beer). We firmly divorced ourselves from the leftie nonsense that was student politics (including opting out of the NUS), and indeed elected a paid-up Young Conservative as our JCR president. We naturally assumed this was the reality of Thatcher’s Britain, and that the hippies were an earlier generation. But it seems the sixties were still alive in a timewarp amongst our then-future rulers. Maybe more amongst Oxford’s luvvies than Cambridge’s geeks.

[1] OK, as Mr Micawber said, not as he did.

Posted on July 19, 2007, in drugs, politics, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Niq, No disrespect but I think it may have been your timewarp, 23 years ago I went to uni, and found a very definite left-wing liberal consensus focused on opposing Thatchers erosion of our civil liberties. And everyone smoked dope and drank beer.

  2. I’ve got to wade into this one, Nick! I drank a good deal of beer (even did a newspaper round to help pay for it!), didn’t smoke dope and, like you, knew remarkably few people who did the latter, though plenty who did the former. Came across politics of all shades – I remember walking out of a screening of the classic Russian film Battleship Potemkin, as it was being used as a thinly disguised promotional event by some ridiculous hard-left Commies. Generally I avoided all political types – they were far too intense and irrational for my liking. I confess to being mildly pro-Tory at the time, remembering the three-day week of a few years earlier and the dismal economic state of the nation. However I did write to Pinochet telling him how horrible he was, so perhaps I had some leftist sympathies somewhere.

    As a Cambridge social scientist with no inclination to enter politics and little chance of a Nobel Prize, I do agree with your archetype analysis.

  3. Even in those days you had a lot of civil courage.
    Did Pinochet answer you?
    I had three nice letters from Margaret Thatcher.I was amazed she found the time.
    I support the dark blue,and feel if you can’t change the politicians then join them,and try it from the inside. Ranting certainly lets out the steam though.

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