Cabinet rallies to defiant Blair as criticism mounts

An uncompromising Mr Blair told the Cabinet yesterday that there was a gulf between MPs who rejected police requests for power to detain terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without charge and the reality of terror threats. Cabinet ministers rallied to Mr Blair, but senior backbenchers were furious about his comments and warned he must "listen more" to secure planned changes to education, health and welfare. Some rebels privately likened him to an "out-of-touch" Margaret Thatcher in the period before she was ousted in 1990.

David Winnick, a Labour MP who successfully proposed a 28-day detention limit on Wednesday, said: "The idea that those of us who voted for 28 days - the majority of MPs - don't understand the terrorist threat, that we are soft on terror and don't understand the menace from the mass murderers ...is poisonous nonsense. Not one single life of those innocent people murdered on 7 July would have been saved if it was 90 days."

Peter Kilfoyle, a former defence minister, said: "Any reality check should start at No 10. The Prime Minister is out of touch with his own party and both Houses. He can't keep playing the loyalty card. He said after the May election he had listened and learnt. If he listened, he hasn't learnt the right lessons."

Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, said: "We want a strong leader. But strong leaders do listen and take account of broad public opinion and the parliamentary party. There was a very rigid attempt to force through a decision that was never going to be acceptable."

Blair aides acknowledged privately that ministers would need to "communicate better and earlier" with Labour MPs as they made a case for reforms to schools, incapacity benefit and greater use of the private sector by the NHS. They recognised that the argument for a 90-day detention limit was made too late.

The Prime Minister's public message was issued after he met senior police officers, including Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and security service chiefs for what No 10 said was a routine, pre-arranged meeting to discuss counter-terrorism.

John Reid, the Defence Secretary, claimed that the Tories had made "a strategic mistake" by voting against a 90-day limit. "I believe that both Davis and Cameron are now crippled if they become leader of the Conservative Party," he said. "Because they are on the wrong side of the argument about national security."

In the aftermath of Mr Blair's first Commons defeat since coming to power, the Tories accused Labour of "politicising" the police force during a lobbying operation by police chiefs in favour of a 90-day limit. Several police chiefs spoke in favour of the proposal and Andy Hayman, an Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner, addressed groups of wavering Labour MPs.

Two former Tory cabinet ministers, Stephen Dorrell and Peter Lilley, tabled a Commons motion condemning "the unprecedented campaign to mobilise chief constables to lobby MPs in favour of government policy". They said it was "a damaging step towards the politicisation of the police".

Mr Dorrell said: "We need to ensure that the distinction is maintained between the process of policy-making, which is properly for the Government, and the enforcement of law, which is properly for police. The police should be independent of politics, not embroiled in it."

David Davies, a Tory backbencher, accused the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) of "behaving like an affiliated branch of the Labour Party". Downing Street and Acpo rejected the charge, insisting that the 90-day proposal was initially a police initiative and that chief constables were entitled to contact MPs to explain the rationale behind it.

Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the Commons, said MPs needed to hear police views. "No one is suggesting that police officers should be politicised," he said.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, demanded that Mr Blair explain why he gave MPs inaccurate information about security operations in the run-up to Wednesday's vote. The Prime Minister said there had been arrests in relation to a terrorist operation last weekend. But Mr Howard said a No 10 spokeswoman had already conceded his comment referred to charges, rather than arrests. Two men arrested on 21 October were charged last Friday with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion. But Scotland Yard said that there were no arrests related to terrorism last weekend.

Prime Minister's challenges

21 NOVEMBER

Terrorism Bill goes before the House of Lords

30 NOVEMBER

Report on pensions crisis by commission headed by former CBI boss Adair Turner

DECEMBER

Green Paper on Welfare expected, including cuts to incapacity benefit.

European Union summit in Brussels: pressure to give up £3bn a year rebate on Britain's EU contributions

NEW YEAR

White Paper on health expected: threat of Labour backbench rebellion.

Education Bill due to be published, threatening bigger revolt than over Terrorism Bill

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat