It was all going so well for Dishy Dave Cameron.
The Boy Cameron had just about got over the obstacle of his privileged background (Eton, Oxford) and the Tories seemed ready to return to their traditional sources of leaders - rather than the grammar school boys (and girls) of late. He'd wowed the conference and put the other leadership candidates into the shade - David 'Dickie' Davis is universally reckoned to have damaged his chances of succession with a rather lacklustre speech. Rifkind finally twigged that John Hemming has a better chance of winning leadership than he does and decided to give up the chase.
Then, someone comes up with this awkward little question about using drugs. The other candidates fall over themselves to deplore personal attacks, but pointedly reminding everyone that, of course, they had never used any illegal drugs. Ken Clarke was perhaps the most direct - stating specifically that he had never used cocaine. Poor old Ravey Davey Cameron was left high and dry, with the entire media focussing on his refusal to answer the question and everybody drawing a rather obvious conclusion. Predictably, this focus has now located a relative with drug problems and this won't go away. I'm waiting for one of Cameron's 'friends' to surface with a revelation and a sworn statement - watch the Sunday papers, I suspect.
So, should Ravey Davey answer the question? Bob Piper thinks he should and makes the point that a lot of less high-profile jobs require you to declare past usage of illegal substances. It is also true that there is a divide between good drugs usage and bad drugs. Bad drugs are used by those scrawny, scruffy people who survive at the outer edges of our society, scraping their way to their next fix by petty theft and facing an early grave through infection or overdose - they are the addicts. Good drugs are used by the glitterati - they are the ones who can cope with their drug use, the ones who can snort coke on Prime Ministerial planes or in the toilet at No 10, for they are just recreational users. Ever-hypocritical, the media scent blood and lift their heads from their powder-encrusted mirrors long enough to look disapprovingly at Cameron.
Cameron, on the other hand, believes that everyone is entitled to a private life and events before he entered public office aren't that important. He has a point - if you look at the US, a candidate for high office has to be squeaky clean (or exceptionally capable at hiding the truth) to stand any chance of success. That level of tabloidisation of politics is creeping in over here as well.
I do think Cameron should be honest about his use or non use of illegal drugs. Not because I particularly care, nor because I'm particularly moralistic about drug abuse, but because this issue is going to overwhelm his campaign. Will it affect his chances? Probably not. There will be some of the more right-wing of the party who will be offended by the news that he took drugs, but I rather suspect that they wouldn't have been his natural constituency anyway. Mo Mowlam was honest about her drug use, Bill Clinton famously didn't inhale and Dubya's youthful excesses are hardly a secret. If we knew the truth about some of our great historical figures, I doubt we'd elect them these days. Churchill was an inveterate drinker and Lloyd George a womaniser and neither would survive close press scrutiny today.
Why should our elected representatives be any different from ourselves? Most of us probably have indiscretions from our younger days that we would rather not have plastered over the press and MPs and councillors come from the same cloth. It is rather more of a concern if their current behaviour is illegal or could leave them open to undue pressure or blackmail, but that's hardly the point.
So come on David, be honest with the people and kill the story and then you and the rest of your friends can get on with the real business of electing the next loser of the Tory party.