by RAY FLEMING
OH yes he did! But, true to form, he didn't have the courage to let the House of Commons see him back down.
He called a press conference at Downing Street instead, leaving his hapless Home Secretary Charles Clarke to face Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy in the Commons.

It says a lot about Mr Blair and his style of government that he preferred to bring days of anguished and often principled debate in both Houses of Parliament to an end by ignoring both MPs and Lords.

The compromise the Government offered to the Liberal Democrats in private talks and then to the Conservatives across the floor of the Commons is to all intents and purposes the “sunset clause” which the two parties have been clamouring for over the past three days of debate; it will enable the Bill that has now passed into law to be re-examined and revised next year.

It is true that the “sunset clause” would have brought the new Bill to an end whereas the Government's proposal keeps it in existence. But the vital principle that the Bill is a bad one and can be revised has been established.

If this was Mr Blair's fall-back position why did he not offer it earlier and by doing so prevent a great deal of acrimony and wasted time? The answer, of course, is that he wanted to put the Conservatives at a disadvantage by making them appear opposed to anti-terrorism legislation.

The Government seems to be more worried about Conservative prospects at the coming election than it cares to admit. In an interview on BBC radio's Today yesterday morning, Peter Hain, the leader of the Commons, delivered a venemous assault on Michael Howard, accusing him of “opposition for opposition's sake”.

Mr Hain, of all people, should know that it is the Opposition's duty to oppose.

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