42, Northern Ireland and Cameron’s non-leadership

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Is it me or is there a link between the government’s (possibly premature, possibly not) triumphalism about winning round the Labour rebels over the Terrorism Bill and the latest political crisis in Northern Ireland?

For weeks now, it has been well known that the Brown government has been courting the DUP with a view to persuading them to back them on the 42 days vote. If Jacqui Smith really did manage to sweet talk her own rebels last night however, then the DUP just lost their bargaining position. Cue: Sinn Fein raising the stakes and Shaun Woodward calling for devolution to be “completed“.

Obviously the arrival of Peter Robinson almost certainly is a catalyst as well, but I can’t help but feel Labour would be doing more to avoid this particular row this week if it didn’t feel confident about the terrorism bill next week.

No doubt they have also been bolstered by a breakaway group of Tories, lead by Ann Widdecombe who are planning to support the government plans. Widdecombe’s call for the act to be subject to an annual vote recalls the nonsense of the old Prevention of Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act. Introduced by Roy Jenkins in 1974, this “temporary” measure was annually renewed until 2000 when Labour decided to drop the farce and make it permanent. That’s the problem with “temporary” security measures. You can always find “exceptional” reasons to keep them, politicians like to look tough by supporting them, and pretty soon they just become an accepted way of life.

Once again of course we appear to be looking at Cameron failing to hold discipline within his own ranks. If he calls for the vote on detention without charge to be a free vote, we know we’re really fucked. I’ve been saying this for years now, but letting your own backbenchers run rings around you like this is not leadership. I like to think that if this vote ends up being won by a small margin in which the Tory rebels are the decisive factor, the media might actually wake up to this, but I doubt it. Heaven help us if/when he becomes Prime Minister.

Finally, just a quick note to link to this letter which was published in the Guardian today. The Terrorism Bill is about a lot more than detention without charge but it looks like everything else will simply be waved through.

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