Drugs? My Past Stays Private Says Cameron

Labour sought to inflict maximum damage on David Cameron and his inner circle last night after revelations that the Tory leader smoked cannabis as a schoolboy.

Senior figures challenged him to deny that some of those around him have a “casual” attitude to drug taking. One said the Cameron coterie appeared to have a “dilettante, anything goes” approach to drug abuse.

A party source told the Daily Mail: “Nobody cares what drugs David Cameron took in his past or what age he stopped taking them.

“The issue is why isn’t he just honest and straightforward about this – and does he share now the casual attitude towards drug taking which many of his inner circle seem to have?’

The challenge prompted a furious response from Mr Cameron’s office, which dismissed it as “pathetic”.

But it suggests Labour strategists are hoping for a “drip, drip” of drug-related Tory revelations in the run-up to the next General Election.

The row was prompted by a forthcoming biography of Mr Cameron, which says he was punished as a 15-year-old after he and other boys at Eton were caught smoking cannabis.

Senior Conservatives rallied round their leader yesterday after he effectively admitted the story was true.

Outside his Oxfordshire home with wife Samantah, he said: “I’m not issuing a denial. Like many people I did things when I was young that I should not have done, and that I regret.

“But I do believe that politicians are entitled to a past that is private, and that remains private.”

Several Shadow Cabinet members even suggested that stories of him smoking cannabis during his schooldays would make him more popular with voters because they showed he was “human”.

Five have admitted themselves experimenting with cannabis in their youth while five others, including Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, refuse to comment.

Mr Cameron’s apparent history of drug use could make him vulnerable to his likely rival at the next General Election.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has made it clear he has never taken banned substances and is understood to operate a “zero tolerance” approach to drug-taking among his advisers.

If yesterday’s claims are true, Mr Cameron is the first leader of a major party and prospective Prime Minister to have been shown to have indulged in illegal narcotics.

His closest political ally, Mr Osborne, came quickly to his defence. “I think what’s interesting for me is that the public really don’t care,’ he told the BBC’s Politics Show.

“I mean almost every survey of public opinion says they actually are not interested.”

Asked if the allegation of drug abuse was true, Mr Osborne said: “Well, it hasn’t been denied by David.”

Tory frontbencher Oliver Heald said: “If anything, this helps him. It makes him look human. I don’t think it will harm him at all.”

Tory policy chief Oliver Letwin, one of those to admit to dabbling with cannabis in his youth, said Mr Cameron had done the right thing “all along”.

Even Labour Home Secretary John Reid defended the Tory leader. “I think it was Andy Warhol who said most statements could be answered with the question ‘so what?’,” he said.

“I think this is one of those ‘so what?’ moments.”

One of Mr Cameron’s few critics was former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit, who said he regretted that the party leader had not answered questions about drug taking more clearly in the past.

In 2002, Mr Cameron backed controversial calls for Ecstasy to be downgraded in a report from the home affairs select committee, of which he was then a member.

But during the Tory leadership campaign, he said there was evidence that current forms of cannabis were much stronger than in the past and had “psychotic effects”, which meant the decision to downgrade the drug should be re-examined.

He also revealed that a close relative had been treated for a serious drug addiction. Last year, the Shadow Cabinet agreed that cannabis should be reclassified from a class C drug to class B, and the policy will be in the party’s next election manifesto.

Of the attacks by Labour sources, a spokesman for Mr Cameron said: “This is a pathetic attempt by Labour to make cheap political capital.

“You only need to look at what we are saying on drugs – the importance of rehab, the need for education in schools, and the reclassification of cannabis to a Class B drug to realise that we are the party with the most serious approach.”