DAVID Cameron must be very short of substantive criticism of Gordon Brown and his administration to have brought up the matter of the Chief Whip's personal letter to Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. The handwritten letter was written by Geoff Hoon immediately after the government narrowly won the House of Commons debate on the Bill permitting 42-days detention without charge for suspected terrorists. It said: “I wanted you to know how much I appreciated your help. I trust that it will be appropriately rewarded!” That light-hearted second sentence and its exclamation mark in a private letter between close colleagues has been taken by Mr Cameron to buttress his fixed idea that the government “bought” the votes of Labour dissidents and Ulster MPs in order to win the vote. If Mr Cameron ever becomes prime minister the person he chooses as Chief Whip will have to tell him some home truths about the way parliament and the Whip's Office work. Mr Vaz gave his general support to the Bill early in April while pressing for safeguards for suspects held; subsequently the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, gave assurances that Mr Vaz accepted. Keith Vaz, a former minister and now chairman of an important Select Committee, might well have been in line for a peerage or knighthood. It will now be difficult for either to be given to him as a result of Mr Cameron's clumsy intervention.


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