Leading article: Mr Blair had no tricks left, and his spell was broken

Share
Related Topics

But what happened in the Commons yesterday was much more than a technical defeat on a single amendment. For a start, this was no defeat by a whisker. In parliamentary terms, it was a humdinger of a defeat, with 49 Labour MPs rejecting the 90-day detention period. The panic measures that had brought the Chancellor back from Israel, the Foreign Secretary from Moscow, and the Armed Forces minister from his hospital bed, were utterly futile. Without them, the Government would still have lost the vote. The margin, and the message, were clear.

Most of all, though, this was a devastating personal defeat for Tony Blair. The 90-day issue had become a test of the Prime Minister's authority, less because there was any principled difference between 90 or 28 days than because Mr Blair had insisted on 90. That so many Labour MPs nonetheless defied his pleas shows how his authority has been diminished. An adverse effect of this growing breach between the Prime Minister and his party will be the slowing of public sector reform.

In the past, Mr Blair's brinkmanship has always paid off. The spell is now broken. And it is broken not least because his judgement has been increasingly shown to be fallible. The decision not to seek a compromise before the debate was his and his alone. He went for broke, insisting that it was "sometimes better to lose and do the right thing than win and do the wrong thing". This was not only an arrogantly self-serving pronouncement before a parliamentary vote, but an exceptionally poor judgement call on his part - the culmination of the many poor judgements that have marked this ill-fated Bill.

Drafted in the wake of the terrorist attacks in London in July, the anti-terrorism Bill suggested a prime minister and a government driven not by high principle and competence but by fear. As many MPs argued yesterday, in a debate that showed Parliament at its best, such extended detention without charge threatened the very fundamentals of our judicial system and the civil liberties it guarantees. They noted - rightly - that neither the Prime Minister nor any other member of the Government had proved convincingly that the new provisions would enhance terrorist prevention.

They also resented the way in which the police, in the person of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, and The Sun newspaper had been mobilised in the Government's support. The police, like the judiciary, must not only be above and beyond party politics, but unambiguously seen to be so. The key to preventing terrorism is reliable intelligence and skilled police work, not ever more repression.

But it was not only the Prime Minister's judgement on the anti-terrorism Bill that was called into question yesterday. Over the debate hung the dark shadow of Iraq and the "war on terror". Time and again, MPs asked why they should believe the arguments of the security services and the police when they had been so wrong about Iraq's weapons and had shot dead an innocent man at Stockwell. Where once Mr Blair would have been given the benefit of the doubt, his word is now a liability. This is a prime minister whose credibility, like his authority, is ebbing away, and Parliament - to the great credit of the MPs who yesterday followed their conscience - is coming back into its own.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?