Blair's magic touch is fading

TONY BLAIR has tried to take one loaf-sized crumb of comfort from Wednesday's defeat on the 90-day custody without charge for terror suspects - he went down with the knowledge that the majority of the public was on his side.

TONY BLAIR has tried to take one loaf-sized crumb of comfort from Wednesday's defeat on the 90-day custody without charge for terror suspects - he went down with the knowledge that the majority of the public was on his side.

Since July 7, opinion has hardened on the side of tougher law and order policies when dealing with people suspected of engaging in, or preparing to carry out, acts of terror aimed at our society and its freedoms.

The suicide bombs on Wednesday evening in the Jordanian capital Amman showed that a world-wide network of al-Qa'eda sympathisers is still very much operating without a thought for their own lives, never mind the lives of the public.

No matter how much support outside Parliament Mr Blair had, there was a massive stench of Downing Street manipulation and spin in the run up to and aftermath of the vote which resulted in a crushing defeat of 31 when 49 Labour MPs voted with the opposition.

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Chief constables and counter terrorism officers hit the phones to try to persuade MPs to back Mr Blair, who said he took his stand because 90 days was what the police wanted.

Survivors and relatives of victims of the July 7 attacks in London toured the television studios to pile pressure on MPs. It all looked so stage managed.

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The Prime Minister, knowing that his own backbenchers as well as the opposition, believed 90 days was a major infringement of civil liberties and could be a recruiting sergeant for terrorists, pressed on regardless of the parliamentary arithmetic in an arrogant manner which has typified his premiership.

He has over the years treated Parliament with disdain, comfortable in the knowledge that he could get away with it because he had a large majority of compliant MPs who wouldn't raise a murmur against an almost presidential style of government,

But his majority was dented badly in last May's General Election and the “awkward” squad of left-wing Labour MPs now has the teeth to derail controversial policies such as the 90 day lock-up and the upcoming proposed reform of public services.

Tony Blair is the least pragmatic politician ever to hold the office of Prime Minister. Insisting he was right, and with public opinion supporting him, he tried to face down MPs. Wednesday night proved that no matter how much you think you are right is nothing if you' can't carry your own MPs with you.

Mr Blair rounded on the Tories for playing party politics with the nation's security. If he had been prepared to compromise and had taken the opposition, particularly the Conservatives, into his confidence, I'm sure Michael Howard would have been prepared to support a 56 or 63 day lock up limit, which would also have satisfied the public.

No, Mr Blair would not countenance such a diminution of his own authority, despite talking about aiming for a cross-party consensus. He has failed, the Commons backed 28 days, and for all his bravado about pushing through his polices, Tony Blair is now a lame duck Prime Minister.

The rest of his premiership will be dominated by speculation of how longer he can stay in office. For that, he has only himself to blame.

IT may be esoteric, but there is growing concern among senior Conservatives at the promise of leadership candidate David Cameron to withdraw the party's Euro MPs from the Christian democrat grouping in the European Parliament.

If Cameron is elected and ploughs ahead with the threat, within weeks he could face his first major split in the party with some of the less Eurosceptic MEPs, headed by their deputy leader Robert Atkins, believing it would be folly to cut the party away from the European People's Party-European Democrat Group (EPP-ED) Group.

The British Tories sit in alliance with the 267 strong group, which supports closer European integration and federalism, the single currency, and a European constitution. Even so, one senior Conservative MP with foreign affairs experience told me that if Cameron gets his way, Tory Euro MPs would struggle to be heard and could be forced to form an alliance with some of the most far right members of the European Parliament.

Geoffrey Van Orden, one of three Tory MEPs representing the East of England and an active supporter of Cameron's leadership bid, said quitting the EPP-ED would not consign the party to some dark corner.

"As well as our current ED auxiliaries from Italy and the Czech Republic, we have potential allies in Poland and the Baltic States, France, Denmark and Finland. These are the parties that have already indicated their willingness in principle to sit with us. Once we planted our standard, many others might follow.

"The point is this. If we were starting from afresh, we would not align ourselves to European parties that supported the euro, the constitution, and federalism.

"We find ourselves lacking any political profile because we are absorbed into a group in which we cannot even sit together - seating is done alphabetically."

Meanwhile Eastern region Euro MPs Tom Wise and Andrew Duff have squared up over democracy in the European Union following Liberal Democrat Mr Duff's Parliamentary report Period of Reflection in response to the `no' votes in France and Holland in referendums on the proposed European constitution.

"It's been given that title because nobody in Brussels knows what to do about the double rejection of the constitution," trumpeted Mr Wise, who represents the UK Independence Party. Mr Duff has written the Euro elite response to the rejection of his precious constitution by the people of France and Holland. If Mr Duff is proposing, and he is, forcing through his blessed superstate by deliberately ignoring the wishes of the people, then he is calling for a dictatorship."

Mr Duff hit back: "My view is that we need a genuine public debate about the future of Europe across all member states. That debate, steered by the European Parliament, will prepare for a revision of the Constitution to meet genuine public concerns. The modified Constitution will have to be put to new referendums in France and the Netherlands."

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