The Sketch: Detention without trial? The House of Lords told us to do it

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The Independent Online

Now the Prime Minister is at it. This is very sinister, suddenly. Charles Clarke began the process almost innocently by saying something so perverse, so unconvincing, so dumb that we had to assume he believed it. He said: "We are introducing detention without trial because the House of Lords told us to."

How had he managed to make himself believe that? It's an early module of the course they do in Advanced Buck Passing. Now Tony Blair has joined him. You might have thought it beneath him. I certainly did. More than once he told the House: "We have to act on the House of Lords' judgment." Heaven didn't fall on his head. No hand appeared through a crack in the sky to carry him off to the place of penitence (oh, those nutcrackers).

Maybe God doesn't exist. Why would a God with a reputation to keep up allow the Prime Minister to say these things? Remember, the law lords told the Government that detention without trial was "disproportionate and discriminatory". They said the terrorist threat didn't justify the suspension of civil liberties and that it was selectively applied to foreigners. So the Government is proposing to apply the "disproportionate" measure to all citizens. And Tony Blair says the law lords are responsible.

Michael Howard tried to do what God didn't, but on the whole he's not the ideal substitute. He lacks the omnipotence, I notice. He must have got one squeeze of the nutcrackers because he got Mr Blair to say: "We must put the security of our country before any consideration." You should be wincing now; it is a decisive step towards the darkness. This way state torture lies.

If we don't believe that the language politicians use is important we will only have ourselves to blame. So let us repeat to ourselves the statement that our country's security is more important than anything else, and imagine to ourselves what such a proposition would justify.

Charles Kennedy asked why the Home Secretary wanted powers of summary arrest and detention. Why couldn't he apply for a warrant and get judges to go through due process?

"There may be circumstances in which the Home Secretary has to act very, very quickly," the PM said. Yes, when he needs a second pizza.

The Liberals have pointed out already this week, powers of summary arrest and detention already exist in generous measure. Mr Kennedy cited three recent eye-catching government initiatives - the abolition of trial by jury, detention without trial, identity cards - and suggested the Government's first instincts were authoritarian. Mr Blair flirted with taking that as a compliment. But later he laughingly accused the Liberals of saying one thing and, when they got power, doing another.

With a cough of sour laughter, I felt the force of the first law of politics: "Always accuse your opponents of your own most obvious fault."