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At last they have defied Blair

At last they have defied Blair

From the New Statesman

Tony Blair gambled spectacularly and has lost spectacularly. He told his MPs it was their duty to follow his lead and they have defied him. A prime minister who emerged badly battered from the general election campaign is now in deep trouble. As was the case with the war in Iraq, he allowed hubris to get the better of him. But this time - for the first time since Labour came to power in 1997 - his MPs have rebelled in sufficient numbers to make him, and those around him, wonder if he has what it takes to carry on.

It did not have to be this way. Two days before the dramatic vote on 9 November, Blair personally countermanded his Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, who had accepted the need to compromise on plans to allow incarceration without charge for 90 days. It says something about the state of British politics if the New Statesman, and much of the liberal media, is grateful to a Conservative leader - a one-time home secretary with something of the night about him - for putting the case for civil liberties.

Greater appreciation goes to the surprisingly large group of Labour backbenchers for ignoring the arm-twisting to demonstrate finally that they have been sent to Westminster not as voting fodder but as sentient individuals charged, often at some discomfort, with upholding fundamental freedoms. Ranged against in this unseemly debate were Labour loyalists, the police . . . and the Sun's page 3 girl, Krystle, 23, from Manchester, who on the morning of the vote begs readers to "lend their weight to this vital campaign".

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