I like the Dutch. I like the liberal nature of their politics that I am sure will prevail despite the 15% of votes recently won by the anti-Islam ‘Freedom’ Party. I like the impression the Dutch create of having fewer hang-ups than the British. Maybe it’s a consequence of our sanctimonious tabloid press, or an unwillingness here to confront the disproportionate influence of religious extremists, but when it comes to dealing with controversial issues like drugs, prostitution, and medically assisted dying the Dutch are simply more grown up.
Dutch law provides for people suffering unendurably with no hope of recovery to seek medical help to die. Safeguards ensure that all such decisions reflect patients’ free will. Investigations have been made into a few ‘grey area’ cases but no doctor has ever been prosecuted. By contrast, British citizens experiencing great suffering who make the decision to bring forward their time of dying have to travel to Switzerland to seek medical assistance through the Dignitas organisation.
The war on illegal drugs is lost. It has been an expensive failure, and the worldwide cost paid in lives destroyed and honest society undermined has been vastly more damaging than the health effects of the drugs themselves. Debate about replacing prohibition with a regime of licensing and regulation is now firmly on the agenda in the Americas. Dutch policy of permitting the sale of cannabis from authorised outlets has driven a wedge between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs. Consumption of all types in the Netherlands is very much less than in the UK.
The ‘oldest profession’ is not going to go away. Prostitution is legal in Britain but if two or more people work together for their mutual protection they face prosecution. Licensing rules might prove problematic for local councillors but brothels should be made legal, as they are in the Netherlands.
Liberal Democrats have progressive policies on these issues and we should use our role in government to place them on the agenda. Nick Clegg is the first Dutch-speaking leader of our party; I look to him to bring some of the no-nonsense pragmatism of his mother’s country to debate here.