Of the 53 Labour MPs who voted against the last Terrorism Bill, which saw the Government go down to two defeats in 2005, only one – Joan Ruddock – has been promoted into the Government. A further two – David Hamilton and Jon Trickett – have been given party posts, but that is no guarantee that they won’t rebel. John Denham, then Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and now in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, was also a fierce critic of 90 days, although he didn’t actually vote against it. Technically then, there are still enough rebels hanging about to defeat the Government if they push for an extension of the 28 day limit.
But it’s worth remembering that the consensus of opinion is that had Tony Blair not set his face against a compromise last time around – on say 42 or 60 days – that he may well have got it through the Commons (although the Lords might well have been a different issues). It was Blair’s refusal to negotiate that meant we ended up with 28 days. Had he done deals, we would have got a higher figure, even in 2005.
Gordon Brown is talking about an upper limit of 58 days, coupled with the promise of greater legal safeguards and more parliamentary scrutiny than last time, which may succeed in buying off a number of the rebels.
Then there is the attitude of the Tories. At the moment, they seem set to vote against. That will provoke a handful of Tories to back the Government. Three – Michael Mates, Sir John Stanley and Sir Peter Tapsell – voted with the Government last time around. Several more abstained.
We are going to see more dissent on the next raft of anti-terror legislation, but a Government defeat in the Commons looks somewhat less likely this time around, as long as the Government handle the issue properly.
UPDATE: An eagle-eyed reader noticed a mistake in our original list of Conservative dissidents. We’ve now corrected it. Just to clarify: in the first vote – on 90 days, several Conservatives abstained, and Sir Peter Tapsell voted with the Government. And on the second vote, Michael Mates and Sir John Stanley, both of whom had abstained on 90 days, voted with the Government in opposition to 28 days.