AFTER eight years of subjugation at the hands of Tony Blair's government the House of Commons asserted itself yesterday and in the process restored the power of democratic decision which has been dangerously eroded since 1997. Praise should go to the 49 back bench Labour MPs who refused to be bulldozed either by the Prime Minister's pleas or the threats of the party Whips. There will be lengthy analyses over the next few days and weeks of why the parliamentary worm turned on the issue of 90 days detention without charge for terrorists, but one fact stands out very clearly: Mr Blair's belief that his word is sufficient to carry the day is no longer justified. In this sense yesterday's vote was pay-back time for all those who felt deceived by those assertions of the threat to British security from Saddam Hussein that enabled him to win the vote of confidence in his Iraq policy. More fundamentally, the vote showed that there is still a hard core of MPs in the Commons who believe that the 300 yearsold principle of habeas corpus is worth defending and that it need not be left to the unelected House of Lords to carry that responsibility. All those who voted to defeat the government yesterday will now be told in some quarters that if there are new terrorist attacks they will bear some of the responsibility. This is rubbish. It has now been established that the men responsible for the July 7 atrocities in London had been under police surveillance in the past but it had lapsed some time before the bombings took place. The case for the 90-days detention without charge or trial has not been made in any convincing detail by the police and it is a condemnation of the prime minister that he gave the impression of merely passing on the police requirement to Parliament without verifying it himself, rather as he did with the intelligence information on Iraq which he accepted all too easily. Yesterday's defeat puts a question mark over Mr Blair's ambitious reform programme for the public services; in its immediate aftermath William Hill reduced the odds against him leaving Downing Street before the end of next year from 3/1 to 7/4.
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