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42 days looks bad either way

Guy Aitchison
3 June 2008

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): All the papers are reporting this morning that Government concessions on 42 days detention have convinced a number of Labour wobblers to back Brown. Reassurances given by Jacqui Smith to the PLP last night and an unholy alliance with the DUP might be enough to swing it for the Government by the narrowest of margins.

Now, putting aside for one moment the many compelling arguments against the 42 days, what would be the best outcome for Brown? Common sense says it would be a government victory since it surely looks bad when the PM can't even control his own party. But there is another view – a view held by 31% of Politics Home's "authoritative survey of expert and inside political opinion" (who it seems are permitted to discuss the politics, but not the principle) . This view says that although defeat may be damaging in the short term, in the longer-term it would allow Brown to portray the Tories and Lib Dems as weak on terrorism and himself as tough and principled. It's true that defeat over the 90 days wasn't disastrous for Blair. It brought him popularity with the Murdoch press and, one assumes, with certain sections of the white working class.

But I don't buy this view myself. I think he's damaged either way. Brown was popular after the failed terrorist attacks last summer when it looked like he was going to make a break from Blairism and adopt a "consensual" approach to counter-terrorism. He didn't. Groups like Liberty were consulted but in the end Brown listened to the Police who, as David Davis pointed out yesterday, "always want more powers". In the process Brown has alienated his natural constituency of "Guardianistas" but failed to win over the knee-jerk authoritarian vote. It looks bad either way.

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