LONDON (Reuters) - Opposition leader David Cameron said on Sunday he would not deny newspaper reports that he smoked cannabis when he was a pupil at one of the country’s most exclusive schools 25 years ago.
“Like many people I did things when I was young that I shouldn’t have done and that I regret,” Cameron told reporters camped outside his Oxfordshire home.
“But I do believe that politicians are entitled to a past that is private and that remains private, so I won’t be making any commentary on what’s in the newspapers today,” the Conservative Party leader said.
He said he was “not issuing denials” about the stories on the front pages of several newspapers on Sunday.
Cameron, who has revived the Conservative Party’s fortunes since becoming leader 14 months ago, narrowly avoided being expelled from Eton over a drug scandal when he was 15, the Mail on Sunday and The Independent on Sunday reported.
Seven pupils were thrown out of the school after boys were caught smoking cannabis, the newspapers said, quoting from a new biography of Cameron.
Cameron was called in by the headmaster who forced him to admit he had smoked the drug, the reports said.
Senior Conservatives rallied round their leader and said they did not think it would affect his political standing.
“This makes no difference to my view of him or I think the view of most people in the country,” former party leader William Hague told the BBC. “We all did things that we regret and it’s one of those things I suppose.”
Home Secretary John Reid, responsible for enforcing government policy on illegal drugs, told BBC television he believed cannabis was dangerous but dismissed the Cameron story.
“Do we really care whether David Cameron some years ago was involved in doing something wrong? I think the public will probably say, ‘Well, so what and let’s move on’,” he said.
Cameron, 40, has refashioned the Conservatives, traditionally free market and tough on law and order, into an environmentally friendly party that says it would protect the welfare state.
The Conservatives lead Labour in opinion polls. The next election is not expected until 2009.
Cameron has in the past refused to answer questions on whether he has taken drugs. The disclosure could give ammunition to right-wing Conservatives who think Cameron is too liberal.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government ruled in 2004 that possessing small amounts of cannabis should generally no longer lead to arrest.
Cameron said last month he might legalise cannabis for medical use if he became prime minister.