The Curious Incident of PETA and the Staffordshire Bull-Terrier

PETA’s support for the Dangerous Dogs Act demonstrates its incompetence in influencing real change.


Google ‘Bad Legislation’ and lo and behold you will greeted by the Dangerous Dogs Act in some form or another. Google ‘How to Get Bad PR’ and PETA’s public affairs team… you get the picture.

So what on earth made PETA think submitting a response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Breed Specific Legislation in support of the Dangerous Dogs Act was a good idea? And why do they want the Staffie banned?

Well according to PETA UK (no name supplied), in a statement which simultaneously manages to be militant and conformist, they state that the Dangerous Dogs Act is ‘what’s best for dogs’ and it’s not just staffies they want to ban, PETA say they are opposed to all dog breeding.

Their reasons, to some extent, are justified.

They state the obvious fact that selective breeding, borne out of human desire to elicit a certain physical traits from dogs, can lead to dogs having to suffer a life of pain and misery. Take the Pug for example, its pushed in face causes it to suffer from severe breathing issues, while dogs bred to be imposing often suffer health problems because of their immense size.

In addition to this PETA also highlight the very genuine homeless-animal crisis, and with good reason, the Stray Dog Survey found that over 47,000 dogs were abandoned in 2015 alone. Consequently, PETA urges:

“Everyone to adopt dogs from shelters rather than buying them from pet shops and breeders and to ensure that their animals are spayed and neutered to help prevent the overpopulation problem from getting worse”


So, PETA want to protect dogs from reckless breeding and reduce the number of dogs in animal shelters. Great.

PETA want to do this by supporting the Dangerous Dogs Act and by banning the Staffordshire Bull-Terrier. Not so great.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is one of the most fundamentally flawed pieces of legislation in British political history. The Dangerous Dogs Act is what happens when British Tabloids carry more influence than cold, hard facts and British Politicians make rushed and ill-informed decisions to appease an even more ill-informed British public – something repeated in recent years with the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

The Dangerous Dogs Act identifies several types of dog as ‘dangerous’, however as the RSPCA’s 2016 report Breed Specific Legislation – A Dog’s Dinner states, there is simply no reliable data which shows that the dogs banned under the Act ‘pose a heightened risk to public safety, are more involved, or are any more likely to be involved, in dog bite related incidents than any other breed or type in the UK.’

In fact, in studies which seek to establish which dogs are most likely to be involved in dog bite incidents or display a higher incidence of aggression it is often the most unlikely dogs which are indicted – for instance one study found that Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Jack Russell terriers exhibited the highest levels of aggression across the breed.

In addition to this, in the last decade hospital admissions as a result of dog attacks rose by 76% according to the committee in charge of the inquiry – this shows Breed Specific Legislation has failed.

So what should PETA be doing if it really wants to protect dogs?

The first step should be to promote a legislative change that places the onus, in absolute terms, on dog owners instead of supporting a policy which leads to the destruction of dogs which have done little wrong, apart from being born in a country which demonises their appearance. This should include increasing the length of custodial sentences faced by irresponsible owners whose dogs are involved in attacks in order to deter owners from nurturing a dog’s aggressive tendencies.

This view is supported by the British Veterinary Association which says:

“We are opposed to any proposal or legislation that singles out particular breeds of dogs rather than targeting individual aggressive dogs. The problems caused by dangerous dogs will never be solved until dog owners appreciate that they are responsible for the actions of their animals – the “deed not breed” principle.”


In promoting this change, PETA should push for restrictions on the reckless breeding of animals which leads to physical characteristics that limit a dog’s quality of life.

In addition to this, PETA needs to increase awareness of the problems of buying pedigree and why pedigree really isn’t best. To their credit, they are campaigning against Channel 4’s continued coverage of Crufts, but in the age of social media they must do more to inform owners of how their preferences on a dog’s appearance will ultimately cost them in vet bills and their dog an early death.

Until PETA can form a coherent and deliverable dogs strategy, they should rescind their support for the Dangerous Dogs Act.


You can sign a petition against Staffordshire Bull-Terriers being added to the Dangerous Dogs Act list here:


In loving memory of Cosmo.



What About The Children? Time for a New Approach to Drug Education in UK Schools

Remember ‘Just say no’, Talk to Frank or ill-conceived anecdotes of teenage drugs misuse intended to foster abstinence? Did these ploys prevent you from using drugs? Maybe*. But more importantly, did these techniques equip you with information you would need to manage both the benefits and harms of legal and illegal substances or to understand how different drug policies influence personal health? Almost certainly not.

Currently, the UK government states that schools have a ‘clear role to play in preventing drug misuse’ and should utilise that responsibility to ‘provide accurate information…through education and targeted information, including via the FRANK service’, additionally combatting ‘problem behaviour in schools, with wider powers of search and confiscation’. However, it appears that for consecutive governments, providing accurate information on drugs does not necessitate providing a balanced overview of both the harms and benefits. This is a major stumbling block for the government as research shows that simply providing an account of the negative effects of drug use is an ineffective strategy in reducing consumption.

So policy makers are posed with a question: Continue to pursue ineffective strategies which aim to reduce total consumption or pursue a new path which equips adolescents with the information that will enable them to make informed decisions on drug use?

While the former may suit parents and educators unwilling to accept the possibility of their children or pupils using drugs, the latter appreciates the reality of teenage life and the high chance that adolescents will come into contact with drugs – either through personal or peer experimentation – and could help foster trust in the information that pupils are receiving.

A new path based on the concept of harm reduction would grant drug education the much needed credibility it has lacked since the introduction of hard line prevention education. This is crucial in the digital age where savvy students are instantly able to locate information that challenges the scare tactics employed by schools at the current time, thus undermining trust in the ‘facts’ they are receiving. Therefore, a drug education curriculum based on harm reduction would not patronise pupils but supply them with both the harms and benefits of substances, how to deal with situations arising from drug use (i.e. overdose), the economic and societal impact of drugs and alcohol and initiate an understanding of different approaches to drug policy.

It has been suggested that instead of abstinence based drug education, the Government should adopt the same approach it uses to address sex and relationship education. Insofar as students are provided with impartial advice on sexual health, contraception and accessing support services, among other issues. The theory being that if governments were willing to transition from abstinence-based to harm reduction based sex education in the not so distant past, it wouldn’t be so farfetched that a transition to drugs education, with harm reduction at its core, could be around the corner.

This is exactly what the US based Drug Policy Alliance have promoted through their ‘Safety First’ drug education programme. The programme drew upon an open letter written by Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph. D. in the San Francisco Chronicle, to her son, Johnny. The letter acknowledged that although she wishes that Johnny abstain from drug use, it is vital that he is equipped with the necessary information to keep him safe if he were to experiment and that he should feel comfortable talking to his parents about issues relating to drugs. That letter inspired the harm reduction material in the Drug Policy Alliance’s ‘Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs’ booklet, which aimed to provide impartial, science based information and guidance to parents on how to approach the ‘drugs talk’ with their children.

While Dr. Rosenbaum was delivering talks to PTA’s across the US, based upon the information in that very booklet, the Drug Policy Alliance’s Safety First Programme Manager, Sasha Simon, said the decision was made to develop ‘Safety First’ into a fully-fledged curriculum. This was in order to ‘make the parent education more sustainable’ by bringing together the ‘best practices of education and public health’ into a course of 14 lessons which could be taught by a health or personal wellbeing teacher to high school aged pupils.

The curriculum covers a variety of issues pertaining to drugs and alcohol, such as what the different types of drugs are, the effects they have on the body, what the principle of harm reduction means and the different types of drug policies – including zero tolerance and sentencing laws. The Drug Policy Alliance states that the curriculum is designed to enable students to:

“> Use critical thinking skills to access and evaluate information about alcohol and other drugs.

> Learn decision-making and goal-setting skills that help them make healthy choices related to substance use.

> Develop personal and social strategies to manage the risks, benefits and harms of alcohol and other drugs.

> Understand the impact of drug policies on personal and community health.

> Learn how to advocate for health-based drug policies.”

The course was piloted in Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, NY in March 2018 and recently concluded. It will now undergo an evaluation process which will identify room for improvement and it is hoped that the curriculum will be released to the public in the Autumn.

While the evaluation of the Drug Policy Alliance’s ‘Safety First’ pilot is just getting underway, what is clear is that harm-reduction can be developed into a feasible school curriculum for teenagers in order to provide them with an overview of the realities of drug use. This offers a compelling alternative to the UK’s current approach to drug education and as such policy makers and schools alike should pay close attention to the development of ‘Safety First’.

If you would like to find out more about the Safety First programme click here. Also if you would like to check out the Drug Policy Alliance’s podcast ‘Drugs & Stuff’, which covers a range of topics from the state of Cannabis legalisation to how to stay safe when taking drugs, then click here.

*The Home Office’s Crime Survey for England and Wales 2015/16 revealed that over one third of adults in the UK have experimented with drugs at least once

So you want a Career in Cannabis?

It might appear that the green-rush is upon us, but don’t quit your job just yet.

If like me, you got a little excited when the Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the government would conduct a review of the scheduling of medical cannabis. You probably exploded when William Hague, yes that William Hague, called for the full legalisation of cannabis and stated the war on cannabis has been ‘comprehensively and irreversibly lost’.

Of course this news is fantastic for the families of chronically-ill children, such as Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, who have been forced to endure life-threatening epileptic fits, as well sufferers of Crohn’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. A change in the law will grant people suffering avoidable pain, legal access to the medical cannabis they desperately need.

But could it also be fantastic news to the secret green-thumbs amongst us who have always dreamt of their own legal weed empire?


You see, ‘legal’ medical cannabis already exists in the UK. It’s called Sativex and it’s only manufactured and sold by GW Pharmaceuticals, to whom the Home Officer issued an ‘Open General Licence’ in 2011. Seems a bit strange doesn’t it? The government has continued to claim that cannabis has no medicinal value, despite it being available via GW Pharmaceuticals on Private Prescription (in some cases via the NHS in Wales) for the sum of £375 excluding VAT. Yes, the treasury make money from the medicine they believe has no medicinal value. Mind. Blown.

If somehow your brain hasn’t been blasted into the Exosphere, it might be when you find out the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis. According to the International Narcotics Control Boar in 2016, the UK produced ninety five tonnes of cannabis for medical and research purposes, exporting just over two tonnes of the crop.

So if you want a job in cannabis in the UK right now your best bet is to keep checking the GW Pharmaceuticals careers page. However, there are other options open to you but you may need to look a little further away from home.

Canada has just passed the Cannabis Act and will become the second country in the world to fully legalise cannabis in October, ending 90 years of prohibition. Although the legislation to legalise cannabis was passed at the federal level, it will be up to Canadian provinces and territories to determine exactly how people will be able to obtain their weed and cannabis derived products. Some states, such as Newfoundland, will only have privately owned weed shops, whereas residents of British Columbia will also be able to buy their provisions from publicly-owned stores.

Founded in 2015, Cannabis at Work are at the forefront of the recruitment of weed specialists in Canada. Their site hosts hundreds of jobs in the legal cannabis sector across Canada, from Regulatory Scientists to Master Growers and every job in-between.

Those seeking to find a role in the industry in Canada should be cautious and realistic with regard to their salary expectations. An average wage for someone working as a general grower hovers around $50,000 (£28,000), while a director of production could make $100,000 (£56,000).

Prior to securing a job in Canada you will need to obtain the appropriate work permit. To find out more about working in Canada, go to Work in Canada.

Alternatively, you may wish to pursue a career in one of nine US state that has legalised recreational cannabis or one of twenty nine that has legalised medical use. Like Canada you will need to obtain a work permit, although you may find it more difficult to gain employment straight away in the US legal cannabis sector.

“For UK citizens, obtaining work in the US cannabis industry is an uphill battle” says Jace Grantham, founder of Cannabis Verified, a cannabis focussed talent and staffing agency which hosts the profiles of verified cannabis professionals. “Most states require a person to be a resident for at least 6 months before they are able to work with legal cannabis.”

Once you have fulfilled this qualifying period, you could initially expect to earn around $28,000 (£21,000) as a cannabis production-line worker in California, while as a President or Chief Operating Officer you could take home in excess of $200,000 (£150,000), plus performance bonuses.

Strong-Arming the Steroid Hysteria: Taking on the IPED panic and how to reduce harm to the UK’s steroid users

Steroids and their users are no strangers to sensationalised media reports, however their use is increasingly being placed under the spotlight. From court hearings for the London Bridge terrorist attack which claimed the assailants had taken dehydroepiandrosterone prior to their killing spree, to warnings from health care professionals that with up to 1 million people in the UK taking anabolic steroids a public health emergency is imminent, it appears a perfect moral panic has been created. This has been particularly evident as many harm reduction and pro-legalisation advocates have placed an emphasis on dealing with drugs more frequently associated with the ‘night time economy’, culminating in a disturbing imbalance in the reporting of steroid related issues. Therefore, it is vital that progressive drug policy advocates do not turn a blind eye to the treatment of steroids and their users in the media, thus ensuring any discussion on the reclassification of the substance is not a one-sided affair.

While tabloid newspapers and even respected news outlets emphasised the role played by steroids in the killing of eight innocent people by Islamic extremists, the reality is that the overall harm caused by anabolic steroids is comparatively low in relation to commonly used illegal and legal recreational drugs. The 2010 “Drug Harms in the UK: A Multicriteria Decision Analysis” study into the harms caused by twenty substances, gave anabolic steroids a ‘harm score’ of 10, placing it behind Ketamine (15), Cannabis (20), Tobacco (26) and Alcohol (72). Nonetheless, it is important to contextualise these findings, as Prof. David Nutt noted, the legal status of drugs will have an impact on harm levels, with the availability of alcohol going some way to explaining its ranking. Likewise, if a drug were to see its number of users increase it could also expect to see its harm level increase as the ‘harm score’ takes into account indicators such as ‘economic cost’, ‘environmental damage’ and ‘crime’. As such, it would be feasible that anabolic steroids would now, eight years on from the study, have a marginally increased ‘harm score’. Certainly, with a surge in the amount of users over the past decade it would be reasonable to expect a slight increase in the economic cost of the substance owing to the ill effects on the health of users and the subsequent costs this has on the NHS. However, the continuing reports of an imminent steroid-induced public health emergency are misleading and unhelpful in attempts to reduce harm and ultimately stigmatises users.

So how can the rise in steroid use be addressed within the current legislative framework before it becomes a major public health concern?

As with any drug, legal or illegal, the reduction of harm must begin with information sharing and the educating of users. State and charity run NSPs (Needle Syringe Programmes) offer a natural avenue for providing users with an understanding of the side-effects of anabolic steroids and how these can be reduced. The focus of education should revolve around ensuring users have regular health checks and highlighting the risks of poly-drug use. The findings of a 2017 study into the use of IPEDS (image and performance enhancing drugs) emphasises the need for this type of education, as its results show that regular alcohol and cocaine consumption is common amongst steroid users – a combination of drugs which place stress on the cardiovascular system, as well as the liver.

Another venue which has been utilised by steroid users to provide information to fellow users is YouTube. While YouTubers, such as Thomas Maw, are not health care professionals their steroid information videos play an important role in informing users of both the practical use of anabolics – such as how to inject – to the side effects experienced and how to address them, but they also play a key role in de-stigmatising users. However, in recent months YouTube has begun to scrutinise steroid-related content more robustly, with accounts which discuss the topic being issued warnings and viewing numbers for steroid related videos falling dramatically. Perhaps understandably YouTube is concerned that its platform is being utilised by steroid users to provide what it views as ‘unqualified’ advice to fellow consumers and the potentiality of being implicated in drug related deaths. Although, it would be wrong to suggest that P2P (peer to peer) information sharing cannot play a role in harm reduction.

P2P information sharing is currently being utilised for substances more commonly associated with the ‘night time economy’. is a database created by an online community of Ecstasy users based on both ‘subjective user reports and scientific analysis’ which provides information to its membership regarding the content and safety of Ecstasy pills. Certainly, with the production and supply of anabolic steroids being dominated by black market imports and domestic underground laboratories – where the danger of contamination is a real issue due to unregulated production practices – P2P information sharing can play a crucial part in ensuring the harm faced by users is reduced.

Indeed, some underground laboratories have started to take precautions in ensuring the safety of their consumer base, with vials of anabolic substances being stamped with codes which can be inputted into their respective websites and subsequently validated as official products. While this practice may show that laboratories are willing to make themselves accountable to their consumers, it does not go far enough and may lull users into a false sense of security. Instead, with an estimated 1 million users of anabolics in the UK it is vital that substance testing is made readily available to this group to guarantee their safety from contaminants. The Loop has blazed a trail in a similar domain with its efforts to reduce the harms associated with recreational drugs at nightlife venues, but an equivalent organisation dedicated to the safety of IPEDs users is notable in its absence.

As efforts to safeguard users of recreational drugs from unintended harm intensify, it is important that consumers of anabolics are not left behind due to the ‘hard man’ stigma attached to their use.

Change and Continuity in British Drug Policy: An Advocacy Coalition Framework Analysis


British drug policy continues to be a policy area characterised by its complexities, both in its formulation and implementation. While the British media has indulged in bringing conflicts over these complexities to light, particularly where policy change is concerned, the existing scholarly literature on the issue has been broadly descriptive or explanatory. The main aim of this paper is to confront the lack of literature which analyses the conflicts and complexities of British drug policy in a concurrent manner. This paper examines British drug policy between 2000 and 2016, utilising the Advocacy Coalition Framework as its theoretical basis. The major research question of this study is: Where drug policy in Britain has encountered adjustment and modification, what have been the key factors behind such change? In answering this question the applicability of the framework and the number of advocacy coalitions operating within the British drug policy subsystem are also examined. A thematic analysis of documented evidence provided by actors within the policy to parliamentary committees is undertaken to indicate the prevailing forces driving policy change and continuity. This is followed by a cluster analysis using the data from the document analysis to demonstrate the distribution of coalitions. The outcome of the thematic document analysis revealed the preponderance of a pro-prohibitionist policy core driving the direction of policy change, while the clustering of actors indicated the existence of two significant opposing coalitions. While these results suggest the broad applicability of the Advocacy Coalition Framework across diverse policy contexts, it is recommended that the framework is developed further to incorporate the role of institutions and to expand the methodological parameters prescribed to researchers applying its principles.

To continue reading, download the below file:

Change and Continuity in British Drug Policy – An Advocacy Coalition Framework Analysis

Advocacy Coalitions as a tool to explain actor behaviour in policy sub-systems over long periods of time

Although the layman could be forgiven for understanding policy change as being initiated and completed within and by the legislative and executive branches, the reality is disparate. Whether for momentous changes like the Hunting Act 2004 which banned the hunting of wild mammals with dogs to minor changes made to subsidies within energy policy, the process from initiation of development to implementation is often many years – though for the former it was a matter of several decades. The Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) was developed by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith to enable an evaluation of the complex policymaking environment beyond that of the oversimplified ‘stages’ approach, particularly emphasising the role of beliefs and policy learning within policy sub-systems, which requires analysis of a policy area ‘over a decade or more’(Sabatier, 1988: 131). Therefore, this essay will seek to evaluate this central tenet of ACF, particularly via analysing the ability of a competing framework approach of public policy to explain the behaviour of actors within sub-systems over prolonged periods. Specifically, the policy community approach which forms a key aspect of Kingdon’s (2003) Multiple Streams Framework (MSF) will be utilised in order to evaluate that claim. Despite the fact that it can be difficult to apply ACF when their are not distinct coalitions present (May, 1989), the capacity of Advocacy Coalitions to provide a tool to analyse the effects that a highly complex web of non-stationary variables have on actor behaviour over many years is particularly useful when a once distant policy gathers support from across party lines. Crucially, Advocacy Coalitions provide a more accurate tool than the community approach which posits a too generalised view of actor behaviour and while MSF recognises policymakers behaviour can be altered by the national mood or focussing events, it fails to appreciate the extent to which external events and analytical debate between actors across belief systems can effect behaviour and outcomes.

Beliefs and Ideas

A key assumption of ACF as developed by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith is the notion that people access political life to see their beliefs translated into action (Sabatier, 1988: 132), and hence ‘governmental programs are translations of policy-orientated beliefs’ (Jenkins-Smith et al, 2014: 201). The framework breaks down beliefs into three main types: deep core – fundamental ideas held by individual, these are highly unlikely to change; policy core – positions on policies in relation to their ability to realise deep core belief, these are still improbable to change; secondary beliefs – the most probable to change, procedural ideas and decisions relating to realising the implementation of the policy core (Sabatier, 1993: 31). The Hunting Act 2004 serves as an example of these belief systems in action. The policy had aligned the Labour Party, alongside a number of animal welfare groups including the League Against Cruel Sports, The National Society for the Abolition of Cruel Sports and the RSPCA (Tichelar, 2006) in a coalition for animal welfare early in the 20th century . Indeed this coalition contained a mixture of both ethical and social beliefs, a culmination of socialism and animal ethics issues such as vegetarianism and vivisection (Ibid, 215). While on the other side of the debate a pro-hunting, ‘pro-liberty’ coalition formed with the Conservative Party at the helm, featuring conservation groups such as the Countryside Alliance, National Farmer’s Union and a number of Conservative MPs taking high profile roles including former Leader Iain Duncan Smith (Branigan, 2002) and Andrea Leadsom (Stone, 2016).
Indeed the polices advocated appear to conform to both the deep and policy core belief characteristics of ACF and several studies point to conflicts of the policy core in rural England (Lowe et al, 1997; Cloke et al, 1994). Additional of concern for the deep core, the implications of class politics must not be dismissed. Despite the documented decline of class politics in Britain in the latter stages of the 20th century (Evans & Tilley, 2011; Lawrence & Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 2011: 143 – 147); which may have contributed to several Conservative MPs joining the animal welfare coalition. Ultimately the association of Fox Hunting with social class is unavoidable, indeed Howe (1981: 278) identifies that Fox Hunting in England is a ‘ritual of social class… dramatizing themes and images about the gentry and aristocracy’. Hence, it is important to view Labour’s involvement within the animal welfare coalition as arising from their socialist ideological position. Therefore, what the ACF enables is an understanding of the different levels of ideas and beliefs in play over time and their respective relevance within the subsystem. The deep core beliefs of both animal welfare and equality on one side and liberty on the other have played varying roles throughout the history of the policy. Although liberty continues to play a prominent role in the pro-hunting coalition, alongside the policy core belief of defending tradition, it is the deep core belief of animal welfare which dominates the anti-hunting coalition at present and this may be attributed to the general decline class politics. The distinction of belief types made by ACF is vital as it ensures that although those within coalitions may share competing beliefs in certain areas, providing they share a belief of the policy core – i.e. protection of animal welfare can be achieved via a policy on banning certain types of hunting – an agreement can be reached within that coalition. Hence Advocacy Coalitions can provide an endogenous explanation for the growing strength of the anti-hunting coalition across the best part of a century and its eventual success in enacting the Hunting Act.
MSF employs a somewhat similar focus upon the role of ideas and how these shape actor behaviour and policymaking decisions. Kingdon (2003: 117) posits that ideas play a key role within specialised policy communities which are crucially independent of political happenings and changes. Ideas are viewed as floating around in a pre-institutional, ‘primeval soup’, competing for acceptance within the community – where ultimately the strongest proposition is adopted (Ibid). Furthermore, these ideas must be qualified, that is they must take into account: ‘technical feasibility’, compatibility of ideas with values of specialists within the policy communities – and the broader national mood – and their awareness of prospective limitations (Ibid: 131 – 139). However, while this approach can offer an explanation as to why certain policy ideas come to the fore over a period of time, depending upon their feasibility and acceptance, it applicability beyond US Federal politics is troublesome (Pollitt, 2008: 127). It firstly does not account for campaigns which occupy a space on the agenda for nearly a century as Fox Hunting has. Secondly it fails to provide an explanation of the role of ideas beyond what ACF names the policy core and secondary aspects, indeed MSF presents ideas as technical and not necessarily linked to normative values. This is extremely problematic when evaluating actor behaviour regarding moral issues as it does not enable an analysis of underlying ideologies held by policy makers and the implications of this on policy decisions. Finally, where ACF does not limit participation within coalitions – enabling an understanding of the role played by beliefs held by pressure groups and influential individuals within and outside of politics (Sabatier, 1993: 25) – MSF views participation in an elitist light with only ‘policy specialists’ in technical and procedural elements involved. Therefore, MSF’s failure to appreciate the involvement of other key actors involved in policymaking and the role of varying levels of beliefs over protracted periods detrimentally affects its ability to understand the character of beliefs in British policymaking in particular.

Policy-orientated Learning

Although belief systems take centre stage within analysis utilising ACF, the role of policy-orientated learning is crucial. Through policy-orientated learning, ACF integrates the role of scientific and technical realisations and is defined as ‘alterations of thought or behavioural intentions that result from experience and/or new information’ (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999: 123). Such learning can affect the beliefs held by actors within a policy subsystem, leading to policy changes. Andersson’s utilisation of policy-orientated learning analysis upon Polish Environmental Policy shows the broad applicability of ACF, however he critically points out that there are ‘very few clear-indications of policy-orientated learning across belief systems’ (Andersson, 1999: 125). This is exampled by the drugs policy subsystem in the UK, which within the past two decades, has endured its fair share of new information but has seen very little change. Professor David Nutt evidenced two instances in Drugs Without the Hot Air, whereby consecutive Labour Home Secretary’s dismissed the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which he chaired. The first case concerned the government’s decision – in 2007 – to re-upgrade cannabis to a Class B substance despite the ACMD concluding this would not reflect its harmfulness (Nutt, 2012: 1 – 4). Secondly the government refused to downgrade ecstasy (MDMA) following an ACMD report which concluded it should be re-classified as a Class B substance based on its harmfulness (ACMD, 2008: 31). Instead of reflecting the advice provided by the impartial ACMD, Professor Nutt was instead sacked by then Home Secretary Alan Johnson who stated ‘he cannot be both a government advisor and a campaigner against government policy’ (Nutt, 2012: 4). Furthermore, a decision by the Blair administration in 2005 to ban ‘Magic Mushrooms’ without consulting the ACMD – a judgement which may have in fact violated the law, as government is required to consult the ACMD before taking action. Nonetheless, despite the failure of new information to alter the behaviour of actors within the anti-regulation, pro-criminalisation drug policy subsystem, this not does not contradict assertions made by ACF adherents. Weible and Sabatier suggest that policy-orientated learning is not always realised due to cognitive limitations and individuals ‘filter or avoid belief-conflicting information’ (2007: 130). Therefore, although ACF scholars suggest that policy-orientated learning does occur, the examples are sparse; hence advocacy coalitions’ emphasis on belief systems is clear.
The concept of policy-orientated learning is particular problematic for MSF as it views the three streams as interdependent, while MSF asserts their independence from one another (Kingdon, 2003: 228 – 229) – a common criticism of the framework (Zahariadis, 2007: 81). Nonetheless, it is still possible to evaluate the role of learning within MSF and policy communities. Within the MSF there is only one apparent linkage to policy-orientated learning. This concerns the problem stream and Kingdon labels this type of learning ‘feedback’ – however, this typically concerns the procedural elements of a government program (2003: 100 – 103) and fails to deal with the role of new information capable of altering the deep and policy core beliefs, such as ACMD reports. Fundamentally this is due to a key assertion of MSF which suggests that policy ideas are created even before a problem exists (Ibid: 116 – 117). Indeed, without giving the role of new, evidence based information a position within the framework, MSF too heavily relies upon the character of ideas within policy making. Nevertheless, more generally, policy community approaches do afford a role for policy learning. Specifically, Richardson and Jordan (1979: 86 – 87) point to the role played by inquiries, which seek to gather insights and evidence around particular policy issues and problems. These inquiries – which are similar to the reports produced by the ACMD insofar as they consult specialists in particular fields – are capable to driving issues onto and up the agenda, although it is possible that inquiries will take the issue off the agenda for a prolonged period of time (Ibid). This is particularly true of the ACMD reports and the subsequent action taken the government. By choosing to passionately dismiss the evidence presented to them in ACMD reports over their 13 years at the helm of power, Labour set a tone which dominated the drug policy community and prevented any reasonable hearing for debates around the decriminalisation or regulation drugs. Hence although, MSF doesn’t give a fair reflection of the role played by new information due to its overwhelming focus on ideas, the more generalised approach to policy communities can provide an explanation as to why policies often remain unchanged despite new information coming to light.

External Events and Consensus Building across Belief Systems

MSF and policy communities’ lack of emphasis upon the role of new information in policymaking may be due to its recognition of the role of events external to the policy stream. Kingdon recognises the role of ‘focussing events’ in policymaking (2003: 94 – 100). Although there are variations, these are broadly momentous events within a policy area which focus the attention of those within and outside of the policy community (Ibid: 96 – 97). However, Kingdon critically identifies that often focussing events merely concentrate policymakers’ and politicians attention on a problem which they have been aware of for a long time (Ibid). What this suggests is that although actors within subsystems may be conscious of a problem for a long period of time, they require the culmination of variables external to the policymaking stream to be able to push for action, a ‘policy window’ (Zahariadis, 2007: 73 -74). For instance, although policymakers were aware of the threat posed by terrorism before 9/11, it took such an event to bring about policy change in security and intelligence due to the connotations such policies have on liberty (Lyon, 2006: 398 – 401). ACF too gives particular consideration to the role of external events in policymaking. Specifically it views changes in: socio-economic conditions, technology, the dominant coalition and also decisions made in other subsystems as providing opportunities or constraints to policy makers (Sabatier, 1993: 22 – 23). While public opinion alone is merely seen as a constraining factor on the alternatives available to policy makers, however when it changes it is recognised as a pivotal factor within ACF’s external events category (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993: 223). Ultimately, both models provide an account for how actor behaviour is constrained over a long period of time. However, MSF and policy communities only provide an understanding of how actor behaviour is enabled in short bursts of activity via policy windows, whereas ACF enables analysis of how actors may be empowered by external events for a prolonged period of time – i.e. the discontent caused by socio-economic conditions in the North of England has increasingly empowered policymakers seeking to tightly control levels of immigration into the UK over the past decade.
Immigration control also presents a fascinating example for analysing the capacity of the models to explain harmonisation across belief systems. Indeed, faced with the threat of right-wing populism, some Labour MPs have begun to defy the traditional party line on immigration . Although, once again, MSF’s insistence on the independence of the three streams makes analysis of politician led consensus building among policy communities difficult, it does provide a lens to analyse such an example through. MSF posits the activity of consensus building as one where actors within policy communities ‘bandwagon’ ideas which satisfy specific conditions – outlined in the Beliefs and Ideas section – until that idea reaches a ‘tipping point’ where it continuous garners more support (Kingdon, 2003: 139 – 142). Indeed, as Kingdon suggests, frequently discussed ideas gain more serious consideration (Ibid: 140). Additionally, ACF views such harmonisation across belief systems as uncommon, but possible providing certain conditions are met (Jenkins-Smith & Sabatier, 1993: 55). The example of immigration corresponds to the three conditions outlined by Jenkins-Smith and Sabatier: ‘a moderate level of conflict…is analytically tractable’ and actors have had to justify their views to their peers within the political arena (Ibid). Ultimately, while MSF identifies that policy ideas may gather more support over time in policy communities, the mechanism specified by Kingdon is far too simplistic to thoroughly explain the process of consensus building. Meanwhile, Advocacy coalitions employ in-depth conditions to enable analysis of why consensus can be reached across belief systems. Fundamentally, ACF’s consideration of variables such as levels of conflict lends itself to explaining actor behaviour within subsystems over prolonged periods of time.


While policy communities, and MSF in particular, can provide useful tools for describing why continuity exists in policy making, its inability to provide a truly analytical framework for explaining change as well as continuity over long periods of time is exacerbated by the highly developed nature of advocacy coalitions. MSF’s over-reliance upon the role of ideas within policymaking and the independence of the three streams makes attempts to analyse policies borne out of lengthy debate among various actors incredibly cumbersome. While it does accept the role of external events in policymaking, its conception is all too one-dimensional and focuses upon short bursts of activity leading to changes in behaviour. Meanwhile, advocacy coalitions provide a balanced analytical model amongst a wider framework, which does not over emphasise beliefs to the detriment of other elements. While belief systems can explain long term continuity within subsystems, these are susceptible to policy-orientated learning or the building of broad consensuses which take place over prolonged period of time. Furthermore, the role given to external events within ACF is dissimilar to that of MSF for it conceives of them as taking effect over time, not merely creating windows for action. Vitally, advocacy coalitions appreciate the degree to which external events and analytical debate between actors across belief systems can affect behaviour and outcomes.


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Dancing with the Devil: Fabric’s new deal with Islington Council will make clubbers more vulnerable than ever before.

It was the drug-related deaths of two teenagers in a nine week period which prompted the Metropolitan Police demands that Islington Borough Council should revoke the license of Fabric in September 2016. However, the new licensing deal does depressingly little to reduce potential harm caused by drugs, in fact its draconian terms may increase the risks posed to consumers of illicit substances at the club.

The agreement reached by Fabric and Islington Council includes provisions such as enhanced searching procedures, a new firm overseeing security and a new ID scanning system in place at the club’s entrance. Nevertheless, the most troubling terms of this agreement are the life-time bans for those found in possession of drugs on the premises.

If any lesson should have been learnt from the tragic deaths of the two teenagers it is that harm reduction measures are critically needed to protect Britain’s clubbers. Instead the terms introduced under the new agreement will create an even more hazardous environment for Fabric attendees. The threat to issue life-time bans to anyone found in possession of drugs may be seen as a necessary deterrent by some; however it is a fundamentally naïve and downright dangerous proposition.

The notion that these measures will prevent drug use at the venue is quite frankly ludicrous. What they will achieve is an atmosphere where individuals, feeling worse for wear after taking an illicit substance, will be less likely to seek assistance in the club for fear of being barred indefinitely. Thus, this agreement cannot be seen as a viable, long term solution to drug-related casualties at the club.

The idea that drug use can be entirely prevented is a central concept of the failed and dying War on Drugs. Instead an overhaul of logic is needed to effectively deal with drug-culture in British nightclubs. This overhaul needn’t be as dramatic as altering the scheduling and classification of illicit substances – although Portugal has had considerable success in reducing drug-related deaths via blanket decriminalisation. Alternatively – and perhaps more feasibly – harm reduction could be achieved by via offering drug users a testing service.

Drug testing services enable to users to receive reports on the content of their chosen pills and powders, for instance it will identify the levels of MDMA in an ecstasy pill or whether it has any hazardous chemicals hidden inside, such as PMMA.

Such services operate in the Netherlands via the Drugs Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) which comprises nearly thirty test facilities in the country. This network of testing facilities also produces important reports on the quality of drugs in the Netherlands and alerts the public to any rogue batches of pills and powders. DIMS additionally works with a number of other stakeholders including the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the European Early Warning System to develop a coordinated approach to alerting European citizens to potentially dangerous drugs consignments.

This approach, along with similar schemes in Belgium, Spain and Switzerland are grounded in the belief that prohibition is ineffective in reducing the harm caused by drugs and it is not possible to control all aspects of human behaviour. Crucially, in all of these countries drugs remain very much illegal, however testing facilities have been given room by authorities to operate, hence there is very little preventing UK authorities following a comparable path.

In fact such facilities already operate at UK festivals and events, many run by harm reduction charity The Loop. Furthermore, The Loop have been working in collaboration with FabricLive events in the months succeeding the club’s closure, but this agreement denies the opportunity for Fabric to develop the ‘gold standard’ for safe clubbing, as proposed by the club’s co-founder Cameron Leslie, due to its draconian stance on drug possession.

Until UK authorities end their obsession with appearing ‘tough’ on drugs tragic deaths at British nightclubs will continue to occur. This issue is symptomatic of the government’s insistence that ‘drugs are illegal because they are dangerous’ which prevents meaningful discussion from taking place. Ultimately, we must understand that we cannot continue to believe that human behaviour can be completely controlled and instead seek to reduce the harms posed by drugs. Ham reduction measures are incredibly simple to implement, but require a complete upheaval of the current logic.