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View from the house

It was no coincidence that eight shadow ministers suddenly emerged from the shadows to proclaim they had all toyed with cannabis in their adolescence.

It showed all the signs of being a clumsy operation by the Tory dirty tricks department, lurking in the murky depths of the Tory and Unionist Party.

The result of this ham-fisted performance was to reduce a clearly-stated, if contentious, policy on drugs, as enunciated at the party conference in Bournemouth, by the shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe, to a meaningless mishmash.

The fact that her zero tolerance policy was attacked by the police and ridiculed by ‘liberals’ did not mean to say it was wrong. However, Hague was so alarmed he said it needed a rethink and, in the next breath, insisted he has 150% confidence in his shadow home secretary.

But suspicious minds believe there is more to this than the mere back-tracking on a policy which may be temporarily embarrassing. It is that Miss Widdecombe is becoming too popular in her party for her own good.

And there are those Conservatives who would like to see Michael Portillo as the eventual Tory leader and who also fear Miss Widdecombe is presenting a threat to that.

So it was no trouble to get some members of the shadow cabinet to admit to these youthful ‘escapades’. If anyone tries to tell you this was not orchestrated by people with a definite motive in mind – take it with a pinch of salt.

I have asked all sorts of politicians in my time, including shadow cabinet ministers, whether they had smoked cannabis. On each occasion I have been told to mind my own business.

Now politicians who tell reporters not to invade their privacy are ‘coming out’ to tell the world about their youthful behaviour.

This bore all the signs of a blatant, crude and botched attempt to sandbag one of their own colleagues, namely Ann Widdecombe.

Whoever thought it up should be ashamed. They should have learned that political assassinations are not best executed by hacking with a meat cleaver, but with the flash of the stiletto.

Of course, their motives may have been entirely innocent. But that is not the impression they left at Westminster.

Chris Moncrieff is a senior political analyst at PA news.

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