Nutt row deepens as more scientists quit
What does the phrase "the discussions were very constructive" mean?
Apparently, inside the Home Office it means a meeting between the home secretary and his drug advisers that ends with three more eminent scientists announcing their resignations.
Alan Johnson has got himself into a difficult place over his decision to sack the head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
He had hoped to personalise the affair, attempting to convince the remaining members of the ACMD that it was all about Professor David Nutt and nothing to do with his respect for scientists generally.
In an interview with the Independent newspaper published this morning, the home secretary stressed that the sacking was an isolated case about "one chairman of one advisory group":
"If the scientific community believes that what happened to Professor Nutt was in any way indicative of the government not respecting scientific advice, we will seek to reassure them that is not the case. No government has done more for the scientific community than this government."
He met the council this afternoon and attempted to give them that reassurance. This is the statement that the Home Office published shortly afterwards:
"The discussions were very constructive, and it was agreed that the ACMD would continue discussions with the Home Office and government Chief Scientific Advisors in establishing a way to work collaboratively together into the future with a common purpose of reducing any drug-related harm in the UK."
All sounds very calm and reasonable. Except that before the ink was dry on the statement, it was announced that three further members of the council - psychologist Dr John Marsden, pharmaceutical industry consultant Dr Ian Ragan and scientific consultant Dr Simon Campbell - had had enough and were quitting.
More will emerge of what exactly went on behind the closed doors of the rooms given over to the ACMD inside the Home Office this afternoon. I have heard the meeting described both as "productive" and as "polarised".
However, with five advisers having now resigned and discussions still continuing on "establishing a way to work collaboratively together" with the remaining members, it seems clear that Mr Johnson has miscalculated the strength of feeling.