For the first time since he was elected Prime Minister in 1997, Tony Blair was just defeated in a vote in the British Parliament. The issue was the so-called ‘war against terrorism’. Blair had insisted that the police be given extra powers to hold people in detention for 90 days before being charged and brought before a court. These were the laws of apartheid South Africa. These were the laws of ‘preventive detention’ enforced by the British Empire in the colonies. These were the laws Blair wanted to apply to British citizens. Forgotten was habeas corpus and the rights of the ‘free-born Englishman.’ Even the Conservative Party, which has slavishly supported Blair on Iraq, regarded this as an unwarranted and unnecessary display of authoritarianism. And enough Labour Members of Parliament voted against their leader to reject Blair’s measures by 322 votes to 291–a bigger than expected majority of 31.
Even before the London bombings of 7 July the Labour Government had declared war on civil liberties in the name of the ‘war against terror’. The main reason why Blair and his debased Cabinet wanted to push the new law was to avoid their own responsibility for the events of 7 July. They played on ignorance, prejudice and fear to frighten British citizens, a majority of whom know only too well that the reason for the attacks on London was Blair’s decision to participate in Bush’s war on Iraq.
He is a much-despised leader in the country at large and the defeat in parliament has weakened Blair’s authority in his own party. All his policies, his mistakes, his love of the rich, his aberrations, his vengeful platitudes as he denounces civil liberties, his warmongering has now been thrown open to the taunts of his critics, whose numbers too will increase. Many in liberal England who have been kind to New Labour will now begin to enquire into policies they had, till now, accepted on good faith. Blair’s desire to privatise education and health might now never be fulfilled. Ridicule and contempt could well drive Blair out of 10 Downing Street.
He has promised his loyal and faithful would-be-successor, Gordon Brown, that he would resign before the next elections. This defeat has wounded Blair, but he might still recover. He has not yet been shaken to the core. Expedient trickery will be used to try and revive him, but for how long? It is said by those close to him that he wants to leave on a high, that he does not want to be driven out by the Iraq war, but it is no longer up to him. The ignominy and disgrace he has brought to his country as a result of that war cannot be wished away so easily. Will his gutless Cabinet put on white coats and tell him his time is up or will they allow him to bleed slowly to death? These are the questions raised by yesterday’s defeat in Parliament.
TARIQ ALI is author of the recently released Street Fighting Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian, Speaking of Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org