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

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

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Estimator

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a major supplier of buil...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The Top Ten: Words In Christmas Carols That Ought To Be Revived

John Rentoul
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas