Friday, May 16, 2008


Brown's Authority Takes Another Hit over 42 Days

I remember interviewing Joe Haines, Wilson's fiercely partisan former press secretary in April 1986. Thatcher had just announced she would not be going ahead with the Shops Bill, allowing shops to open on a Sunday; there had been a huge groundswell of opposition from her own party on the grounds that it would diminish family life and reduce church congregations. Haines curled his lip in contempt and said 'This government is so weak, it's running up the white flag even before the battle has started.'

Well, Thatcher was there another four years and it took until 1994 before shops could open on Sundays. But his phrase occurred to me when I read today's headlines regarding the 42 Day Detention issue. Just as every day right now, seems to deliver something bad, this registers yet another new low in Brown's brief premiership. We learn that Geoff Hoon, by trade a lawyer, is putting together a package whereby the bill can be passed in an emasculated form. It could be that thre provision will only be activated in 'exceptional' circumstances, defined in terms so wide that any rebel would accept them.

So we are left with the most absurd of farces. Despite the disaster of the 90 Day Detention attempt in 2005, this 42 Day ruse was also designed to bolster a struggling government through appearing tough on terrorism. After arousing the fury of the civil liberties lobby his own backbench rebels and those who wish to keep on good terms with the British Muslim community, Brown insisted he would press ahead as sometimes it is the correct thing 'to lose and be right'. After caving in to his critics on the 10p tax band, he is now caving in on his 42 Days proposal. Maggie quickly reasserterd her authority after the Shops Bill debacle and ruled until November 1990; I don't see Gordon surviving anywhere near the same length of time. Frank Field might even be right regarding Brown not being leader come the 2010 election.

Actually, Bill, I think this gives Brown the best of both worlds. He can appear to be tough on terrorism, but avoiding a backbench rebellion.

If something goes badly tits up and we get a major terrorist incident which the security services say could have bee averted if the 42 day detention had been in place, Brown trumps the Tories and his rebels on the left by accusing them of being soft on terrorism.

Either way, the whole thing will have long since ceased to be chip paper by the time the election rolls around. By then, as Clinton said... it will be the economy that decides Brown's future, not side issues like detention!
Excellent quote from Joe Haines.
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