Cameron in TV spat over drugs claim

Key points

• Paxman asked Cameron exactly where he stood on illegal drugs

• Cameron said yes to a question on his entitlement to a private past

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• A spokesman stated Cameron has never said whether he used drugs before his election in 2001

Key quote

"This is the trouble with these interviews, Jeremy. You come in, you sit someone down, you treat them like they are some cross between a fake or a hypocrite and you give no time for anyone to answer the questions. It does your profession no favours at all," - David Cameron

Story in full DAVID Cameron last night found the question of drugs coming back to haunt him as he appeared to confess to the BBC that he had used them before being elected.

In his long-awaited confrontation with Jeremy Paxman, the anchorman of BBC Newsnight, Mr Cameron again tripped up over his self-imposed rule of not saying anything which would confirm or deny allegations that he had used cocaine while a student.

His aides said last night that there had been a misunderstanding, and he had not intended to give any answer about drugs use. But the furore will be a blow to his campaign, suggesting the issue has not yet died.

Paxman, known as the most fearsome interviewer on television, asked Mr Cameron - expected to be named the Conservative Party leader next month - to clarify exactly where he stood on illegal drugs.

"From what you have said so far we take it you did take drugs as a young man but you have not done so since becoming an elected MP. Is that correct?," he asked. "I have been very clear that I think you are entitled to a private past," Mr Cameron replied.

But Paxman continued: "Is that analysis correct?" Mr Cameron replied: "Yes - and you can help - yes that is correct."

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Afterwards, Mr Cameron's spokesman said he meant that he was right to say people were entitled to a private life before politics - and that he has never said whether he used drugs before his election in 2001.

Overall, 39-year-old Mr Cameron seemed to get the better of Paxman by offering him a deal, where he would be allowed to "get two sentences out before you interrupt me". A surprised Mr Paxman did as he was told.

At one point, in a line which seemed to be prepared in advance, Mr Cameron berated Paxman for being so aggressive in his questions - saying it was not the best way to solicit information from people.

"This is the trouble with these interviews, Jeremy. You come in, you sit someone down, you treat them like they are some cross between a fake or a hypocrite and you give no time for anyone to answer the questions. It does your profession no favours at all," he said.

In other parts of the interview, Mr Cameron addressed the issue of changing the name of the Conservative Party. "I do not rule it out," he said - and suggested there was little point in calling it New Conservatives.

"Some people have come up with ideas for an additional word, or whatever. I don't think it is what's needed. What is needed is to change the party's look and feel," he said.

After the interview ended, Paxman put his head back and laughed - saying he had enjoyed the exchange and that Mr Cameron had acquitted himself well.

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Polls suggest Mr Cameron will defeat David Davis, his rival, by a three-to-one vote. The winner will be announced on 6 December.