Simon Carr: Party bunfight breaks out over point of high principle

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The Independent Online

Gerald Kaufman's "It's a bogus controversy" was so wrong he couldn't be heard for much of his speech. Indeed, it had great potential, it might have become a transcendental matter of justice regnant, such that the Speaker would have been crushed, the Government routed, the police repulsed and all of us freedom-loving Britons glowing with virtue.

But one comment by Green at the beginning turned it into a party bunfight and now there'll be no clear losers.

Damian could have said (as Theresa May now says): "It is not parliamentary privilege we're talking about, it is the people's privilege." That would have put a halo round the thing and MPs would have found themselves forced into an unwilling consensus run by the Tories. But no, he told the Home Secretary that he was just doing his job by embarrassing the Government with examples of their stupidity and incompetence.

At that point all Labour sympathies were extinguished and everyone reverted to their default position.

Some of these are more defaulty than others. How Harriet Harman has the nerve to – but there isn't space to go into that. She based her case on a refusal to compromise the independence of the police. She wouldn't do it, the valiant creature.

"I refuse to become Heinrich Himmler!" she might have cried. She conducts a principled, lonely fight to protect the right of home secretaries to conceal monstrous ministerial malpractice from the public.

Elfyn Llwyd dispelled some of the most nauseating piety by observing that prejudicing trial by jury was active government policy in the 42-day detention debate.

Michael Howard made the most alarming point. The Metropolitan Police's Acting Commissioner had said his officers acted because the leaks were "impeding the effective and efficient conduct of government". Mr Howard was not aware that the role of the police was to facilitate the efficient conduct of government. If that's how they see themselves then we are further into the darkness than any of us had thought.

The irrefutable point was made by frequent Tories. Under the 1989 Official Secrets Act, leaks were no longer a criminal act. They were a disciplinary matter – except for "national security", which is why these "blighters" (Andrew MacKinlay's evocative word) keep saying "potential national security leaks").

We also learnt that Green still hadn't been charged, that the Clerk of the House had been questioned under caution, and that the Speaker will probably get away with it. The old cannibal has been saved by his tribe (and by Green, who tribalised it). Now there'll be no committee worth anything, no report, no charges, no prosecution. Nothing! After all that!

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