The U.K. Parliament’s Long Love Affair with Cocaine

“People having a line of cocaine might not think they’re causing anyone harm, or that they’re playing a part in a criminal enterprise,” Sajid Javid, Britain’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, wrote in The Guardian Monday, “but they are actually the final link in a chain that has suffering, violence and exploitation at every stage.” Such strong language from Javid, a key player in the cabinet of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, shows how tough the government is trying to be on drug use in the United Kingdom.

The government is being so tough on drug use that they have been careful to leave only trace amounts of it behind after railing lines of cocaine in the nation’s capitol, presumably to ensure that any users that come searching for drugs will leave mostly empty-handed.

The Sunday Times broke the news – on Sunday, of course – that cocaine has been found in several places in the parliamentary estate including bathrooms near the office reserved for Johnson. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, says he will ask the Metropolitan Police to investigate. But this is not the first time cocaine has made its way into the same sentence as “parliament.”

An Indecent History

The BBC series Have I Got News For You has been blamed for its perceived role in helping build up Boris Johnson from a mostly unknown journalist – appearing for the first time in 1998 – to a household name. Johnson may not have been an obvious candidate for prime minister when he first appeared on the show (only one contestant can truly hold that honor), in part because he said in 2005 on the show that he had unsuccessfully attempted to use cocaine, a fact he reaffirmed a few years later while a sitting Member of Parliament.

There is no evidence that Keith Vaz, a former MP and Minister of State for Europe, ever used cocaine. He merely offered to buy some for a sex worker he had solicited, leading to his announcement that he would not seek re-election later that same year.

Vaz’s story is similar to that of John Sewel, Baron Sewel, who resigned from the House of Lords in 2015 after a video surfaced allegedly showing him using cocaine in the company of sex workers. Sewel was deputy speaker of the Lords at the time and, unlike Vaz, he absolutely definitely (allegedly) used the cocaine that he bought for his sex workers.

Actually, It’s the Help

Christopher “Kit” Malthouse, the Minister of State for Crime and Policing, has tried to deflect a lot of the attention that’s currently going to MPs. Actually, he says, it’s the help.

“There are obviously several thousand people who work on the estate and I would be surprised if there weren’t some lifestyle users of drugs amongst them,” he explained Monday.

Malthouse’s explanation is that the folks who work the houses of Parliament are likely the source rather than MPs, who are paid £81,932 ($108,500) or peers, who receive no salary but who, somehow, cost the taxpayer a similar amount as MPs in expenses and other perks.

In truth, cocaine is becoming a popular habit in the U.K., and lawmakers are struggling to figure out why and what can be done about it, if anything. Television and movies are responsible, according to The Times, and that’s hogwash, according to The Telegraph. But the presence of cocaine in Parliament, though perhaps startling, is nothing new when we look at the history of cocaine’s presence in parliamentarians.