Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Theresa May’s statement goes down so well, MPs seek encore


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Indy Politics

Theresa May’s Commons statement went down well today with her own backbenchers. So much so that many of them asked her questions she had already answered. It would have saved time if they had devised a composite: “Does my Right Honourable Friend agree that thanks to the ‘Government’s laser-like focus on keeping British families safe’ (Julian Smith), she has produced a “replacement of pre-existing powers to ensure that criminals do not slip through the net and escape justice” (Andrew Jones), and that “if there is a choice between their children being blown up on the Tube or those people’s conversations being listened to, it is a no-brainer” (Edward Leigh).

Not everyone agreed with the new spirit of cross-party front-bench consensus, of course. The lone Tory dissident, David Davis, complained that Ms May was “rushing through” a Bill whose need had been long foreseen. And Labour’s Tom Watson predicted that it would be seen as “a last-minute deal between elites”. But even this had to be balanced against the Tory Philip Hollobone’s praise for Ms May’s protection of “the civil liberties of those of us who do not want to be blown up”. Doubtless unintentionally, he made it sound as though not wanting to be blown up were a minority interest, like Morris dancing or stamp collecting. 

Earlier, David Cameron and Nick Clegg saw journalists together as part of a rare emergency intra-coalition truce. A feature of these high-octane security press conferences in coalition is that both men have to speak in turn, so Clegg can translate basically the same answer into Libdemese. So, for example, Clegg emphasised that “this has. Nothing. To do with. The so-called snooper’s charter” (which he had blocked).

They agreed the Bill was now needed to maintain checks on “terrorists, paedophiles and criminals”, as Cameron repeatedly put it. But there seemed to be differences on what both men kept calling – bafflingly for those who may have temporarily forgotten the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) – “the ripper review”. Post-Snowden revelations, the Lib Dems and Labour seem to want the two-year review to lead, as Yvette Cooper put it, to “safeguards ... needed to make sure people’s privacy is protected in an internet age.” Whereas Ms May wants a “wider review about the powers we need against the threat context we have.” Powers, in other words, to maintain the blanket year-long internet trail known to critics as the “snooper’s charter”.

Ms May’s last question was asked by the Tory (Colonel) Bob Stewart. Except, actually, it wasn’t a question at all but a portentous declaration that “I believe we have a duty to pass this fast-track legislation quickly”. Yes Bob. That’s the general idea. Or is a second-reading debate on Tuesday and all done by Thursday not fast enough for you?