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.)