Westminsters needs the Tambourine Man

IT'S 40 years since Bob Dylan and The Byrds released their rites of passage hit Mr Tambourine Man. Little did our parents realise the meaning of the record blasting out all over the house.

IT'S 40 years since Bob Dylan and The Byrds released their versions of Dylan's rites of passage hit Mr Tambourine Man. Little did parents realise the meaning of the record blasting out all over houses all over the world.

This paean to a latter day hurdy gurdy man referred to a dope peddlar. A tambourine man playing a song is West Coast USA slang for a person who sold their precious darling cannabis and skunk.

Tambourine men fuelled not only US draft dodgers and protesters but were also to be found in the feted swamps of Vietnam as the cream of American youth - in a drug induced haze - fought a morally bankrupt assault in South East Asia originally authorised by the saintly John F. Kennedy.

Smoking weed has since been blamed for encouraging people into recreational drugs and on to hard substances such as heroin and crack cocaine. This is turn is said to be the prime cause of an increase in crime, as users desperately need funds to pay for their habit.


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Which is why David Blunkett's decision to effectively decriminalise cannabis by downgrading it to a Class C substance caused such consternation 18 months ago. Now with an election a little over six weeks away, his successor Charles Clarke has announced a review into Blunkett's unusually liberal edict - in all respects, the former Home Secretary was the most authoritarian holder of the post since Tory Henry Brooke in 1964

Clarke is hoping this will allay fears among middle class voters that Britain is going soft on drugs as Labour desperately tries to shore up its support in the run-up to the election.

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Yet in this rapidly evolving political landscape, the drugs story has been overtaken and largely forgotten even though the announcement was made only last Saturday.

The Conservatives, who have done so much to hijack the news agenda, causing panic in Labour's re-election headquarters, yesterday give details of their headline grabbing plans to deal with travellers who buy land and then start building on it without planning permission.

Once again, Labour was left playing catch-up. To the Tories, the problem is the Human Rights Act which has been successfully invoked by travellers to allow them to remain on the land because there is a "positive obligation" on European countries to "facilitate the gypsy way of life."

The Tories acted swiftly when they realised the Prime Minister was about to cash in on celerity chef Jamie Oliver's demand for improved school dinners. Labour's spinning of is "manifesto for children" - how can you have a manifesto for non-voters and at a time when an election has not even been called? - once again had to play second fiddle to the populist touch of the Tory Party.

At this rate, out leading politicians will burn themselves out before Easter in a frenzy of hysteria. Perhaps its time for itinerant tambourine men in the fair City of Westminster play a few songs at Labour's HQ and Conservative Central Office and calm everyone down.

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