POLITICS MICHAEL WHITE

The departure in dubious circumstances of Fiona Jones as Newark's Labour MP is a reminder that not every Class of '97 newcomer to Westminster was as earnest and wholesome as Tony Blair would have us believe.

Not all - but too many for my liking. Veteran MPs on all sides find them a bit alarming. 'They behave like employees, not MPs,' they say. And: 'They think they're Westminster's representatives in the constituency, not the other way round.' Which is why I retain a soft spot for what may be a dying breed of trouble-makers like Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, the man who is always trying to legalise for medical purposes ('re-legalise' as he would put it) what your kids and mine call 'gear'.

He tried again the other day in the wake of that Lords select committee report which concluded that cannabis should be available to doctors to prescribe without licence, just as heroin and cocaine still are. 'Hardly a bunch of drug-crazed teenagers', those Lords, said Mr Flynn when he introduced a bill - purely token, you understand - under the Commons 10- minute rule.

It was the day after Eric Mann had been jailed for 12 months in Swansea after admitting smoking the stuff to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. The incident prompted another west Wales couple, the Kendricks, to admit similar behaviour to their local paper, despite the threat of a suspended sentence poised over Tony Kendrick, a 59-year-old grandfather.

Flynn doesn't use dope himself, though he does suffer from arthritis, and his wife has been fighting cancer with lawful drugs that cause dreadful, nauseous side-effects. He argues that the government has conceded the principle by allowing drug firms to conduct scientific trials ('it was legal until 1973 and will be again in 10 years' time'), though he wonders why.

'It was used by the people who built the pyramids to help with their eye problems. They didn't know why it worked, but it did. If there were any serious side- effects they'd have been discovered centuries ago,' says Newport's finest, who is, admittedly, bearded, but also 64.

Flynn has got five Tory MPs, led by the libertarian Teresa Gorman, to back him, along with a clutch of medics and Lib Dems. He wants 100 backers before trying for a serious second reading debate in May. The trouble is that, as you know, New Labour took a tough stance against all illegal drugs to impress the voters and the Daily Mail. Ministers condemned the Lords report before you could say 'Tessa Jowell'.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has had family-and-tabloid problems in that department, but takes a tough line anyway. 'All herbs have to be tested,' he says somewhere on his website. Actually, there are lots of unlicensed, untested drugs on the market, says Flynn whose own website, www.paulflynn.co.uk is full of mischief.

At this point, Dr Peter Brand, a Class of '97 Lib Dem who is not over- earnest or ambitious (he signed Flynn's motion) chips in with a thought that hadn't occurred to naive me. They're not just up against Jack and the Mail. The drug firms stand to lose huge market-share anti-nausea medicines, for instance, if the law is changed, the Isle of Wight MP cheerfully explains.

'I do not believe in the domino theory in the war against drugs. Laws need to be credible and supported by people generally. There is a broad swathe of society that does not respect the law in regard to ecstasy and cannabis,' says Brand. Unlike the age of consent, the law is not consistently applied. 'It depends on who you are and what mood the policeman is in.'

As a GP, Brand is also relaxed about homoeopathic medicines ('they may do good and don't do harm'), and the fact that we don't quite know why cannabis helps people in pain to sleep, for instance - where legal alternatives fail. It is a well-established anti-nausea remedy for MS sufferers, he says.

A touch over-candid, Brand regards the dispute about medical uses of gear as 'a proxy war' for its wider legalisation. That, of course, is what the hardliners fear: a joint today, crack tomorrow. Oddly enough, when I asked my knowledgeable student son about it, he agreed. 'I see a lot of kids wasting lives,' reports the reformed Puritan. But I still like Trouble-Maker Flynn.

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