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Wednesday, November 09, 2005 

Government annihilated on 90 days plan, 28 days passes through.

I wrote a long post about this originally and then my browser decided to crash, so if this is shorter or not as good as my original would have been, I apologise.

This may be the only time I ever say this but: thank god for the Tories. Their principled stand, not political opportunism as described by Blair, has resulted in the government being defeated on their plans to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days in custody before bringing charges by 31 votes. The government has a majority of 66. Early reports suggest that 41 Labour MPs rebelled against the whips. They should have won, and instead they have been humiliated.

Blair staked most of his remaining political authority on this. He described the case that the police gave him was "compelling", while John Denham, chair of the home affairs select committee said he found it "thin". It was suggested that Denham at the vote did support the government, however, although I can't confirm that. The case was thin. It depends on the word of the police and not much else. They suggested that they needed the time to crack the encryption on computer hard drives which they recovered; then it was published that encryption was a lot less common place than they expected. They said they needed the extra time to study CCTV in-depth: the answer to that is better funding and training, not extra time for suspects locked in a cell. The government could easily provide that by dropping its potentially even worse ID Cards bill. The police said they couldn't enter the home of one of the July 7th bombers for two weeks because of the risk from the chemical concoction they had made in baths: they still didn't need 3 months. They claimed that they needed time to search everywhere possible, example being their probably fruitless digging at a rubbish dump for months. Again, specialists and quick response units are required, not extra time. As Gareth Pierce points out in a Guardian article today, the police often don't even bother interviewing suspects for a week; they leave them to stew in their cells. What judge would turn down a police request for more time when the possibility of the suspect going out on the street and blowing himself up is there? The police would abuse their powers like they have with section 44 of the current terrorism act.

Perhaps Blair's biggest mistake however was to so directly involve the police in trying to force Labour MPs into supporting the up to 90 days detention. He brought them in to meetings with waverers, repeatedly banged on about how desperately they needed it. MPs told of local chief constables phoning them up and telling them that had to support the government, angering many. It was the involvement of the other Blair, Ian, that annoyed me the most. Here is a man that should be laying low following the execution by his officers of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station. Instead he appears and says that he and the police would actually prefer 4 months rather than 90 days, but they would go along with it. Somewhat rich coming from the person who either lied to the News of the Screws about when he first knew that an innocent man had been shot dead with 7 bullets to the head, or who had been kept out of the loop by other officers for over 24 hours.

Those of us who opposed this measure will now no doubt be vilified by the likes of the Sun, more of which above this post. If there is another terrorist bombing, we will likely become the target for the blame, instead of how Blair led us into a war in which there were more deceptions than twists in the average Chuck Palahniuk novel. While Blair has said that he would rather be defeated and know he was doing the right thing than win and do the wrong, this will be a huge body blow not just to him but to the whole Blairite agenda. Their winning streak has been broken, the party is no longer invincible. When Labour won their historic third term in May, Blair promised that he would listen. He has not. We've seen what his listening results in: votes at conference being ignored and Walter Wolfgang being manhandled for daring to heckle. Today a majority has spoken in saying no to the worst excesses of this government. Labour now needs to look at its third term agenda in full, on the NHS, education, ID cards and the probation service, and think whether those policies are Labour. The backbenchers have finally shown they have teeth, and if the leadership does not compromise now, they should defeat measures which would only bring a Tory victory ever closer.

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