Advisors advise, but only sometimes?

Should a minister sack an unpaid, independent advisor because he doesn’t agree with him? What about if his disagreement, on a matter which the advisor is an expert and the minister an amateur, is contrary to Government policy? Hardly an issue you might say, because scientific advisors shouldn’t be sycophants. Many members of the government’s drugs advisory panel agree with you for a start.

Professor David Nutt was sacked because he has (again) said that the Government’s decision to increase the classification of cannabis to Class B was wrong. He compared this to tobacco and alcohol, two drugs that kill – unlike cannabis.

Mr Johnson viewed this as a campaign against the Goverment, Professor Nutt viewed it as his job. Who was right depends on what Professor Nutt’s job was: telling truth to power or advising only on demand.

Mr Johnson has previously defined the advisors’ role, however, as an expert truth-teller, and he told Parliament that he took their advice implicitly.

In the debate on Gary McKinnon, Hansard shows that he said “as I am not legally trained—I am not a lawyer or a barrister; I am a hack politician—I can only go by the advice that I receive from lawyers in the Attorney-General’s Department as to what these two definitions mean. I think that I am digging myself into quite enough trouble with the legal profession.”

Mr Johnson is not scientifically trained either – he remains a “hack politician”, but happily brushed off Professor Nutt.

And later, Mr Johnson decided to “stop the clocks” on the McKinnon case – he was giving time to McKinnon’s legal team to prove their case and put forwards medical evidence. Professor Nutt, on the other hand, had his time to present his case and isn’t allowed to put forwards any more scientific evidence.

The difference between the two is which way the tabloids went – against Nutt, for McKinnon. Mere correlation or more, Mr Johnson?


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