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
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'