How nice to see William Hague's strange, head-in-a-jar face over the despatch box at PMQs again (prolonged cheers, one cry of "Resign!") He made the best joke of the Parliament: "For the first time in history, all three parties at PMQs are represented by stand-ins." Then the stand-in Prime Minister stood on him as young men stand on a cockroach.
What a parliamentarian is our PM! His arguments for outlawing "glorification" brilliantly combine defects that are naïve and cynical. His clause is stupid, unworkable, unpleasant, un-English and wrong. And yet no one can defeat it. In person, he is unbeatable.
Placards! He was able to get away with his placard argument. Soft-on-terror Tories will allow placard-carriers to incite the slaughter of unbelievers!
What rubbish that is, how opposite to the facts it is. These incitement offences are currently prosecuted under laws passed in 1861. Dominic Grieve told the House that an hour later with great clarity and succinctness. But it was not enough. The conviction, the force, the "passionate intensity" of the PM make him unstoppable. If Charles Clarke can't stop him, the opposition has no chance.
The clause is a sort of legislative therapy used by Downing Street to dramatise the fact that the Government is tough on terror. It's much more trouble than it's worth. It has already drawn the Home Secretary into a doctrinal assertion that is yet to penetrate the mosques. He told the House yesterday it will be illegal for imams to say that Muslim martyrs will go to Paradise.
Seriously? Are we sure the Home Secretary meant to attack one of the Koran's most cherished propositions? Is it even legal? Should I have leapt from the gallery to effect a citizen's arrest? Does the Muslim Council of Britain know the Government's view on this Koranic question? It was very brave of Mr Clarke. As long as he knew how brave he was being.
The arguments against are comprehensive. There's no definition of terrorism and no definition of glorification. Far from offering "total clarity" as Mr Clarke claimed, his department refuses to issue draft directions to judges as to what glorification consists of. "It all depends on the context," they say, contradicting the Home Secrtary's blithe recommendation that "everybody knows what glorification means".
It's clearly an intensely political situation. Had the BNP been calling for religious fanatics to be butchered they would have been surrounded by armed police and dispersed with firehoses. Muslim extremists can call for us to be butchered (without any hint of glorification) and the police have to carefully weigh the evidence for weeks.
The clause is a rotten idea and a rotten piece of law and will inevitably lead, step by step, to further abuses and distortion of our culture and heritage. What we need is Blair arguing the case against. It would never get through then.
Week of trials
Monday: ID Cards Bill. Despite being grounded in South Africa after a runway drama, Tony Blair wins round one of his week of trials. Government concessions - ensuring that fresh legislation will be needed to make ID Cards compulsory - took the heat out of a Labour rebellion, which was cut to 20, leaving Mr Blair with a comfortable majority of 31 on the crucial vote.
Tuesday: Health Bill. Cabinet divisions over a smoking ban were laid bare in the division lobbies. Mr Blair and Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, faced charges of "flip-flopping", as they voted against their own manifesto but with the tide of Labour backbenchers, to implement a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places.
Wednesday: Terrorism Bill. A spirited performance by the Prime Minister helped to limit a Labour rebellion over the proposed new offence of glorifying terrorism to just 17, leaving the Government with a healthier-than-expected majority of 38. The relatively easy victory bolstered the Prime Minister's position before he faces the toughest test of the Spring, the new Education Bill, which is due to be published by the end of the month.Reuse content