THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 26th February 2013

Begin by assuming that Kathy Gyngell is an intelligent person and well-versed in the use of the English language. I think that assumption is important because the alternative is that she has no idea of how to present information truthfully. If I couldn’t assume that she is choosing her words and phrases carefully in the hope of misdirecting my opinion that I’d be forced into the sort of ad hominem attack for her sloppy work that I abhor.

So, when Gyngell writes something, as she has on the Centre for Policy Studies website1, you must expect that she has deployed all her craft to gain support for her argument.

The piece is about a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI for Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) and published last week2 that sought to compare public attitudes to the possibility of reform with those expressed by politicians, especially the Prime Minister. It comes in the wake of David Cameron’s out of hand dismissal of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) report calling for a Royal Commission to examine drug policy.

Examination of the full poll results3 shows the sort of complex reaction you would expect. 60% of respondents believe the law should remain as it is but 67% believe there should be a review of existing policy to see if there is another way of dealing with substance use. When it comes to Cannabis sativa, marijuana, 53% say that, if the law were to be changed, then some form of decriminalisation/legalisation should be adopted. Only 3% say the change should be to legalisation with minimal control.

I could continue this piece by looking at the detailed results and how the apparent ‘at a glance’ contradiction between 60% support for the current law and 53% support for change is resolved but I want to look, in detail, at what Ms Gyngell has to say.

I’d love to be able to go through every word but that would produce a piece too lengthy for anyone to read and, if I select the most egregious examples of Gyngell’s manipulation of language, I’ll be both cherry-picking and shooting elephants. So, I’ll start at the beginning and see how far I get before feeling I’ve made my case.

The second sentence of the piece gives the first example of her manipulation. It reads;

‘Over half the public and a staggering 46% of Daily Mail readers, wrote Ian Dunt on, support the legalisation of cannabis.’

I’ve added the emphasis because it is key. Gyngell doesn’t want to quote directly from the survey so adds the filter of repeating what someone else wrote because there’s always a chance people will assume they were wrong. I should have made that ‘allegedly wrote’ because Kathy rather shoots herself in the foot. Dunt’s brief piece begins;

‘Over half the public - including 45% of Daily Mail readers - now support the legalisation of cannabis, new research suggests.’4

The figure 46% does not appear. So, what we have is Gyngell directly quoting the survey results, where the 46% does appear, but not wanting to acknowledge this.

The very next sentence gets to the meat of Kathy’s piece;

‘The Guardian’s Ian Birrell also confidently stated that a majority of the British public favour cannabis use.’

The piece in which Birrell allegedly made this confident statement is entitled, ‘Legalising drugs would be the perfect Tory policy’5 so it is no surprise that Gyngell is determined to shoot down this heresy as quickly as possible.

 ‘The Guardian’s Ian Birrell’, of course, is intended to convey so much more than just ‘Ian Birrell’. We have to wait until paragraph 39 for the ‘Paragraph 19’ moment where Gyngell acknowledges that Birrell was a speechwriter for David Cameron during the 2010 election campaign.

But that does not give the full picture. On his own website6, Birrell says;

‘- Worked at the top level of national newspapers for more than two decades, holding senior executive positions at The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Sunday Express before becoming deputy editor-in-chief of The Independent for 12 years, leaving in March 2010.

- Currently contributing editor of The Daily Mail and writes columns regularly in several other papers. Recent articles published in The Economist, The Financial Times, The Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Prospect, New Statesman and The Spectator.’

‘Writing in the Guardian, Ian Birrell confidently stated’ is perfectly fair; ‘The Guardian’s Ian Birrell’ is a deliberate attempt to prejudice the reader’s response.

So having set our minds against Birrell, what of his alleged statement that ‘a majority of the British public favour cannabis use’?

The full quote is;

‘A new poll out today by the campaign group Transform finds a majority now favour permitting cannabis use’

Rather than ‘confidently stat[ing]’ as Gyngell claims, Birrell is repeating what someone else said. She has move the line to Birrell, of course, because she is always scathing about TDPF so there is nothing to be gained by ridiculing another statement from the charity.

Look closer at the two lines; Gyngell writes ‘a majority of the British public favour cannabis use’ but the original is ‘a majority now favour permitting cannabis use’ (emphasis added).

At the very heart of Gyngell’s position is the claim that any sort of reform would result in an explosion of use. I’ll leave aside all the arguments against that position, today. Removing the word ‘permitting’ is intended to give the impression that a majority of the public would use cannabis if it could.

But the word ‘permitting’ is important. Take the recent debate on equal marriage. Far more people are in favour of permitting same sex couples to marry than would want to take part in such a marriage. People like me are a problem for Gyngell. I believe that cannabis should be available legally in a well-regulated way but I also believe its use should not be encouraged because I, personally, don’t see the point of it.

Gyngell wants to make people believe that chaos is at the door and it is only draconian drug laws that are keeping it at bay.

The final sentence of the first paragraph says;

‘Even the Daily Mail got caught up and reported the poll’s finding that two thirds of the public support a large scale review of our drugs laws.’

Why is that surprising and worthy of condemnation? The existing control regime has been in place for over 40 years and has completely failed in its objective of creating a drug-free world. That objective may be unattainable under any sort of regime but where is the harm in looking to see if there is a better way?

I support a full impact assessment with a cost benefit analysis alongside a detailed examination of possible alternative policies. If such an independent process concluded that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is the best we can do, I would accept it. If Gyngell is so sure that the only way to improve present policy is to make it harsher, why is she scared of having that claim examined thoroughly?

I said that attempting to analyse every word would produce an unacceptably lengthy piece and I’ve reached what I think is a good length just on the first paragraph. There are 43 in total so I think you’ll see my point.

It is true that some of them are only a single line but even so a paragraph as simple as the second;

‘How did such a sudden change of public heart come about?’

Is, probably, good for 500 words.


If you enjoyed this you might want to know that Gyngell hasn't changed her ways in two years.

Submit a Comment

You can send comments via the contact page but please be sure to say what blog entry you are commenting on.

Follow @thepoisongarden on Twitter

Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016 Saturday 20th August 2016 Sunday 6th March 2016 Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015 Friday 27th November 2015 Monday 17th August 2015 Wednesday 15th July 2015 Friday 26th June 2015 Thursday 25th June 2015 Thursday 30th April 2015 Wednesday 29th April 2015 Wednesday 11th March 2015 Tuesday 3rd March 2015 Saturday 28th February 2015 Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014


Monday 24th November 2014 Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014 Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014 Saturday 16th August 2014 Tuesday 5th August 2014 Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014 Wednesday 23rd July 2014 Sunday 13th July 2014 Sunday 6th July 2014 Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014 Tuesday 24th June 2014 Sunday 22nd June 2014 Monday 9th June 2014 Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014 Sunday 18th May 2014 Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014 Saturday 5th April 2014 Thursday 3rd April 2014 Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014 Tuesday 25th March 2014 Friday 21st March 2014 Monday 17th March 2014 Sunday 16th March 2014 Tuesday 11th March 2014 Thursday 6th March 2014 Wednesday 5th March 2014 Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014 Monday 24th February 2014 Wednesday 19th February 2014 Monday 17th February 2014 Thursday 13th February 2014 Monday 4th February 2014 Monday 3rd February 2014 Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014 Thursday 23rd January 2014 Friday 17th January 2014 Wednesday 15th January 2014 Monday 13th January 2014 Thursday 9th January 2014 Tuesday 7th January 2014 Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013 Friday 20th December 2013 Tuesday 17th December 2013 Friday 14th December 2013 Thursday 12th December 2013 Sunday 8th December 2013 Wednesday 4th December 2013 Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013 Wednesday 27th November 2013 Tuesday 26th November 2013 Friday 22nd November 2013 Monday 18th November 2013 Friday 15th November 2013 Thursday 14th November 2013 Sunday 10th November 2013 Thursday 7th November 2013 Wednesday 6th November 2013 Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013 Sunday 27th October 2013 Wednesday 23rd October 2013 Monday 21st October 2013 Friday 18th October 2013 Friday 11th October 2013 Wednesday 9th October 2013 Tuesday 8th October 2013 Monday 7th October 2013 Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013 Saturday 28th September 2013 Friday 27th September 2013 Monday 23rd September 2013 Sunday 15th September 2013 Monday 9th September 2013 Sunday 8th September 2013 Tuesday 3rd September 2013 Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013 Sunday 25th August 2013 Monday 19th August 2013 Friday 16th August 2013 Tuesday 13th August 2013 Friday 9th August 2013 Friday 2nd August 2013 Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013 Sunday 21st July 2013 Wednesday 17th July 2013 Monday 15th July 2013 Saturday 13th July 2013 Friday 12th July 2013 Thursday 11th July 2013 Wednesday 10th July 2013 Tuesday 9th July 2013 Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013 Tuesday 25th June 2013 Friday 21st June 2013 Thursday 20th June 2013 Wednesday 19th June 2013 Saturday 15th June 2013 Sunday 9th June 2013 Saturday 8th June 2013 Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 blog June 2012 blog May 2012 blog April 2012 blog March 2012 blog February 2012 blog January 2012 blog December 2011 blog November 2011 blog October 2011 blog September 2011 blog August 2011 blog July 2011 blog June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.