On Friday the House of Assembly debated — I use that word loosely when it comes to our Parliament — a motion regarding drug testing MPs.

This has been an issue pushed by the UBP since 1999, and raised periodically by the UBP since, usually in the run-up to general elections and by-elections.  It is yet one more aspect of the UBP which the OBA inherited during their re-branding exercise.

I think it’s fair to say that many within the PLP, or supportive of the PLP, saw the pushing of this initiative under the UBP as little more than a stunt, and one with a particular sub-text to it.  

While perhaps not explicitly seen as racist, it was certainly felt to have been covertly targeting first Deleay Robinson (especially following on from the infamous ‘bulls-eye’ advert of the 1998 election), and subsequently targeted against Ashfield DeVent and Marc Bean (it was prominently featured — and dismissed by PLPers — in the 2010 by-election that saw Mr Bean elected, where he defeated the BDA’s Sylvan Richards and the late Noel Devrae-Simmons of the UBP).

One danger with introducing drug testing for MPs is that it provides the ideological cover from which to apply drug-testing to all workplaces.  

While this is often construed as ‘concern for employee welfare’, many corporate approaches to drug problems and drug testing in practice serve as a means to increase control over workers and giving managers an additional weapon.  

Tool of intimidation

In short, such tests serve as a tool to intimidate workers and to give management to intrude on their empoloyees’ private lives.

Let’s be clear, ‘strong leadership’ against drug abuse allows conservative politicians to put on an illusion of caring for social ills without committing them to take any practical steps to deal with the real issues of drug abuse.

Worse, it diverts attention away from dealing with the structural social ills that contribute to drug abuse, such as economic inequality, injustice and a lack of meaningful roles for young people. It does this by framing the issue of drug abuse not as a structural problem but as an issue of personal responsibility, of individual deviance and immorality.

Drug scares and the focus on drug testing is not merely about drug problems themselves, but rather about blaming drugs for all sorts of problems in our society that are very real, but which we cannot deal with without addressing the underlying structural issues in our society that give rise to them.  

These are not dealt with because truly addressing these issues challenges the wealth and power of our ruling classes.

Continuing to approach drugs from a punitive and moralizing approach only serves to reinforce the underlying structural problems in our society, and from the perspective of reducing drug abuse and the criminal elements that profit from it is a wholly counterproductive approach.  

The focus on forcing drug tests on parliamentarians is partly an exercise in scoring cheap political points — it’s a political gimmick — complete with a possible, albeit subtle, racist sub-text, along with providing cover for strengthening managerial control over, and intrusion into, labour.

The failed war on drugs

It may well chime with ‘common-sense’ and score populist approval, but it does so only due to decades of misinformation and sensationalism arising from the failed ‘war on drugs’ and an ideological campaign (largely since the 1980s) to divert attention away from structural issues by focusing on a moralizing individualism.  

It is an approach that departs from evidence-based policy approaches that demonstrate a public health approach to drugs – complete with decriminalization and legal regulation —  actually works.

The focus on drug testing for MPs is little more than the political exploitation of reactionary populism that seeks to score cheap political points, reinforce misinformation on drug abuse, weaken the working class and provide an illusion of ‘strong leadership’ by abdicating leadership itself.