Dead Men Left

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The war on terror revisited

A few days ago, Tony Blair, a Prime Minister enjoying a huge Parliamentary majority and a docile Cabinet, took the unusual step of inviting the leaders of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats round to Number 10 in an effort to gain their support for fresh "anti-terror" legislation.

At the time, I sniffily speculated that this indicated once more the war on terror's capacity to force a collapse towards an authoritarian consensus. The effect is particularly marked in the US, where official opposition to the PATRIOT Act, or the invasion of Iraq, was reduced to a tiny Congressional whimper.

Away from the Capitol, or Westminster, opposition is clearly more marked; but for political managers, the correct line is generally clear. Blair, presumably, was relying on this factor to bring Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy into the fold. Like him, I thought the attempt would be successful, particularly after the Conservative leadership abandoned its opposition to ID cards.

It is interesting to note, then, that in addition to another major backbench revolt amongst Labour MPs, neither Tories not Lib Dems voted for the house arrest proposals. Significant Labour rebellions against government policy have occurred at increasing intervals since the great anti-war revolt in early 2003, but you might suppose little reason for the Tories to want to appear "soft" on terrorism with an election approaching and lumps of fresh reactionary meat to be thrown to their supporters. Speculating again: the effect of the "war on terror" on domestic politics is weakening. It has been eaten away by Iraq and opposition to that war, and even a vicious Tory like Howard can see it.