And so it came to pass that Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith have managed to get their proposal to detain shifty-looking brown people for up to 42 days through the Commons. Yet another milestone has been reached by the most authoritarian British government in living memory. Andy has already posted on the intrinsic significance of this. God help us, I suppose we must hope for the Lords to strike the measure down, which isn’t a comfortable position to be in.
But more interesting is the politics behind the win. The Labour rebels (and we don’t see nearly as much rebellion on the Labour benches as we used to, which tells you something) did actually manage to put the government under enormous pressure. So a formal majority of 66 was reduced to a majority of nine on the proposal.
And then you look at where that majority of nine came from. Say hello to the nine MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party, who voted with the government en bloc after several days of frantic discussions with Brown. Just to provide a little cushion, Brown was also backed by Ann Widdecombe, the sole Tory to break ranks, and maverick MP Bob Spink, who defected from the Tories to UKIP a couple of months back. In other words, Brown found himself relying on the most reactionary ratbags in the British parliament. Liam has some choice words on this.
As for the DUP, both Robbo and Singing Willie have publicly denied that Brown bought their votes. But they wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they hadn’t managed to extract some goodies. The DUP leadership are smart guys, and will be very much aware of how Smiler Molyneaux and Trimble used to squeeze John Major any time a close vote over Maastricht came up.
What these goodies will be, only time will tell. There’s been speculation about additional finance for Stormont. There has also been a rumour floating about that Brown has promised government assistance to ensure that any amendments to the Embryology Bill that might loosen the North’s ban on abortion would be blocked. If that’s the case, it says a lot for the government’s feminist credentials. Not to mention that they would put in the effort to retain the status quo on abortion for women in Britain, but women in Britain’s Irish colony don’t get the same consideration.
On the other hand, it may be that we should take the DUP at their word and assume that they, and Widdecombe and Spink, feel a genuine affinity for New Labour’s proposals. Wouldn’t that actually be scarier than an opportunistic deal?