Sunday, 8 June 2008

42 days: Govt completely isolated

Watching BBC Question Time this week, it was notable how completely isolated the government is on detention without trial.

David Miliband was the government stooge on this occasion. (By the way, I have now seem him many times on TV as well as in the House, and so far I remain mystified as to why anyone thinks he is leadership material.) (Update: Richard Ingrams is of a similar view.)

All four of the other panellists strongly opposed the "42 days" proposal: Shami Chakrabarti and Vince Cable obviously, but also Douglas (now Lord) Hurd, and even the loopy far-right Mail columnist Peter Hitchens.

I've also recently seen Michael (now Lord) Heseltine and, for heaven's sake, even Michael Howard speaking against the proposal with equal passion, all on "habeas corpus" civil-liberty grounds. The breadth of the consensus against the government is quite remarkable.

Then yesterday up pops Sir John Major, saying that the plan will actually achieve the opposite of what it claims. Hurd, Heseltine, Howard, Major -- it seems ludicrous to suggest that all these former top Tories are "soft on terrorism".

As has been endlessly pointed out, the DPP doesn't think 42 days are necessary, and nor do the former Attorney-General, or the former Lord Chancellor, or various former chief constables.

Now the Home Secretary has had to admit that MI5 haven't asked for it, either.

Why on earth has Gordon Brown been so determined to press ahead with this? The political calculation seems to be that it will show him to be "tough" and "doing what is right", based on the fact that the proposal is popular with the general public, according to opinion polls. Well, the same is true of capital punishment, but parliamentarians have consistently rejected that because they know it is wrong, and no conceivable government would dream of trying to bring it back, whatever the polls say.

Anyway, as Alan Watkins points out this morning, any political credit accruing to Brown if he does get this through is likely to be extremely short-lived.

And even if the clause scrapes through the Commons, it is likely to come to grief in the House of Lords, who can effectively delay it for a year or more. If Brown has any sense, he will quietly leave it to die in the Lords, and save face by "not getting around" to finding any more parliamentary time for it in the Commons.

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