Tone down?

One should always be open to new experiences. Tony Blair had one yesterday when, after eight and a half years of whip-managed, on-message, look-at-the-size-of-our-majority Parliamentary dominance, he was defeated in the House of Commons by a significant margin. The bill proposing to grant the police powers to hold terror suspects without charge for 90 days was struck down by 322 votes to 291. Instead, members opted for a 28 day maximum (doubling the current 14 day limit).

He’d been advised by senior cabinet members that he would probably lose this one but, driven by his own, seemingly endless self-confidence, he pushed for it anyway. And lost. Convincingly. Now everyone’s saying this is The End. Charles Clark is trying to defuse the situation by running around telling anyone who will listen that he is to blame for this, that he misread the mood. Yeah, nice try Chas, and we appreciate you doing your whipping boy routine, but seeing as you were quite openly pushing for a compromise deal only last week, it’s a bit difficult to believe.

Gordon Brown must be peeved too, having been ordered to cut short his visit to Israel literally the instant he landed to come home and rally support for the government cause. Not only did he fail to make any difference, he’s also been given a glimpse of what awaits him when Big Tone finally steps down: an enfeebled executive with a modest majority, in danger of being held to ransom by the old lefty element of the party from time to time.

But as it happens, this was the best outcome. As I argued elsewhere, to be held for 90 days, without any charge being brought forward, is too much and not the sort of behaviour I would expect from our government or police force. Saudi Arabia’s, sure. Ditto China. But I like to think we have slightly higher standards than theocratic regimes or quasi-communist totalitarian states. It will be a sad day for western liberal values when the free nations of the world surrender their sacred ideals and start behaving like the very thugs to whom we are supposed to be the antithesis.

(Just don’t mention Guantanamo Bay.)


Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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5 comments on “Tone down?
  1. Laura says:

    Absolutely the right outcome.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This all fits very well within ‘Liberal Elite’ circles (“I mean, it has *always* been the case that you judge a civilised society by the way it treats its criminals Xavier” etc etc) – but what the heck do we know?

    The Police recommended this – but of course, they don’t know best do they? (and don’t bother quoting me miscarriages of justice – 99% of them do a fantastic job). This proposed new law included appearances before a court every 7 days for the whole time the suspect was in custody. To suggest that is anything approaching a ‘Police state’ is utterly – utterly – ludicrous.

    90 days without charge may seem illogical on paper – then again, we are dealing with compex networks of people who plan attacks well in advance. Do you really think the Police would suggest this just for the hell of it?

    If we suffer another incident by someone that had been held without charge before due to time having run out to question them, Blair will have been proved right. Then again, since he made such an impassioned ‘lie’ in the build-up to the Iraq war, I suppose he can take part of the blame for the breakdown of trust in what he says.

    But we should have judged this case on its own merit.

    Victory for the chattering classes; defeat for a profession with one of the hardest jobs in the country.


  3. ph says:

    If Blair had really cared about increasing the holding time he should not have played politics with the bill. Any sensible politician would have realised that 90 days was not going to get through and would have gone for a reduced time. It was more imortant for Blair to appear tough than it was to get a substantial increase in holding time. I reckon he could have got 40 days through, but not 90.

  4. Hobbzee says:

    To answer your question, no, personally I don’t think the police would suggest this ‘for the hell of it all’ but a prolonged detention period surely allows more time to derive a confession potentially does it not?

  5. Citizen Sane says:

    But I didn’t suggest this amounts to a “police state”. I have not said this anywhere.

    Although it WAS suggested by a Conservative MP in PM’s question time yesterday, which is interesting. Not as interesting as the fact that, on this issue, you are on the side of Tony Blair and I am on the side of Michael Howard. Truly, these are crazy times.

    Victory for common sense and judicial tradition; defeat for knee-jerk reaction and “tough on terror” demagoguery.

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