42 days is dead

4:41 am - May 26th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    

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I have a strong feeling that the government’s plans to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days, which we’ve been running a campaign against, is dead in the water.

There are two reasons for my optimism.

The 42 days vote is the next big vote for the government. Having gotten a bloody nose over the 10p tax, I doubt Brown will risk another one given all the speculation around his leadership. Labour backbench ministers are looking to Brown a bloody nose anyway and his weakened authority now makes it easier for them.

There is also a chance that New Labour will now look to appeal to its core liberal-left constituency, which has been increasingly disheartened by the party’s authoritarian tendencies of late. It has no one else to appeal to, it certainly isn’t going to appeal to Telegraph voters – why not at least the Guardian ones?

In a short blog for OurKingdom I said this recently:

In the end, the vote will most likely come down to an issue of political positioning, rather than an accurate assessment of whether this legislation is needed. Jacqui Smith’s team has already pointed out that a defeat for the Prime Minister would further damage Labour morale and make victory at the next General Election more difficult. And with embarassment looming at the Local Elections and the possiblity of Ken Livingstone losing in London to further compound Labour’s troubles, Labour MPs may re-think rebelling on this legislation purely to save their own electoral skin. We should hope for the sake of our democracy they don’t.

Clearly, I didn’t envisage Labour’s fortunes to fall so greatly. But they have and I bet morale is so low now that trying to push this through would only damage it further.

Brown would be suicidal to carry through with this. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I think 42 days is dead. Victory is near, comrades!

Update: Just saw this in Jackie Ashley’s Guardian column today:

Meanwhile, there have been intensive discussions between the two wings of New Labour: the Blairites gathered around the Progress group, and the left gathered around Compass. These have gone on between the “usual suspects” but also in constituencies in the north of England between people who were recent, fervent backers of the prime minister. Between them, they have tried to agree a new policy agenda that might yet help save the day, and then a candidate to take over from Brown later this year. They have agreed a possible agenda that would satisfy both left and right, but they have not yet agreed a candidate. This is a conspiracy, in its relatively early stages.

The agenda has been sketched out in public already by Clarke – in essence, ditching both the 42-day detention plan (already on the cards), and the closure of post offices; then rebalancing taxes to help Labour voters, completing the reform of the constitution, and launching a big push on sustainable transport and energy.

(emphasis mine) woohoo!

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Campaigns ,Civil liberties ,Detention (28 days) ,Labour party ,Terrorism ,Westminster

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Reader comments

It would be very out of keeping with Brown’s personality though. On balance, I’m still going for a month of minor concessions, smearing of opponents for being “soft on terror” and a narrow squeak of a victory that keeps Brown in power while weakening him still further.

David Cameron, meanwhile, will loudly denounce the bill, then make quietly sure it stays on the statute books if he becomes leader…

Let’s hope you’re right.
ID cards next winnable battle – though here at least the Tories have committed to cancelling any contracts which might have been signed.

I hope you’re right Sunny but I think they might make a fight out of it. After all, the 42 day thing is precisely in keeping with the revolting and xenophobic authoritarianism that was in evidence during the Crewe and Nantwich campaign. Evidently somewhere in the Westminster village there’s a room full of pillocks in suits who think that right-wing sloganeering is the way to get the estates back on board.

Like the other commentators here, I’d love for you to be right but Brown has ploughed on with his initiatives regardless before…I guess at least very soon we’ll understand just how far his tenacity goes.

There is no point in getting complacent and lifting the pressure – this may well be the issue on which Brown thinks he can succeed on turning round his fortunes by pressing on regardless.

It is also the one issue which has direct implications regarding conduct during elections, as the terror legislation has been invoked as a means to prevent environmental demonstrations against airport expansion and therefore should logically have been used against the Labour top hat toffs in C&N.

’42 days’ is an ideal way of silencing of political opponents and political debate in a democracy by gaining support for anti-democratic measures, particularly since 42 days is approximately the period of a general election campaign.

With the increasing politicisation of the police forces, who is to prevent a radical commander from intervening unfairly after this law is passed? It may be the only way Brown could win the forthcoming election!

These authoritarian measures may have a populist element to them, but the Labour government are treading a very fine line here. The narrative for Brown is already one of authoritarianism and dictatorship, an I would expect the emboldened Tories to push their advantage by campaigning strongly against it. 42 days is the wrong headline at the wrong time for Brown. I think his strategists will recognize this, and seek to backtrack.

I disagree with Sunny that the issue is dead, however. Insert your Jaws/Fatal Attraction movie parallel here. Instead, the government will seek to water down the proposals, to say 35 days, “after listening to the concerns of backbenchers”. The strategy for those opposing the 42 day campaign must be aware of this possibility, and head it off at the pass.

Could we find a coalition of Labour/Liberal and Tory MPs to post an amendment reducing the 28 limit.

I’ve just seen Jackie Ashley’s column in the Guardian, linked above, which also says its dead…

Ideally, ID cards will be the next authoritarian NuLabour idea to be scrapped.

It’s not hard to see why scrapping ID cards would be a good move, it’s still relatively early in the process, there’s barely any support in the country (so you’re not going to increase your chances of winning marginals by keeping it), it saves money, not to mention that any firm signing up is going to want big clauses guaranteeing substantial payment if the Tories get in and scrap it.

On the debit side, it’s likely that a lot of recent systems have been specified and built with the expectation of ID cards being brought in, and what to do with those is a big question.

Ideally the transport issue would see the highly unpopular support for the Heathrow third runway scrapped and a firm commitment to a rolling programme of railway electrification replacing it. That would press the right buttons, and indeed the DfT’s attitude to the latter has already nearly completed a 180 degree turn since this time last year.

It aint over ’til it’s over. Keep up the pressure.

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