British Prime Minister Gordon Brown won a “hollow” and “shaming” victory after lawmakers narrowly backed plans to hold terror suspects for up to six weeks without charge, the British press said yesterday.
The government survived a rebellion of 36 ruling Labour Party members of parliament (MP) and scraped a victory on the anti-terror proposals by a nine-vote margin, with rumors rife of a deal with Northern Ireland’s biggest Protestant party to guarantee the winning margin.
“Last night, Gordon Brown faced personal humiliation over his plan to extend detention without charge,” the Times wrote in its editorial.
“In his effort to avoid this fate, he has humiliated Westminster instead,” it said.
The right-of-center paper said the vote was won “by browbeating MPs on what should have been an issue of conscience, and with thinly disguised bribery when browbeating did not work.”
“This hollow victory will buy him time in the Westminster village, but at a sad and further cost to parliament’s prestige,” it said.
The right-wing Daily Telegraph took a similar tone, asking why, if Brown stood his ground after enduring weeks of criticism for being indecisive, his victory feels “so much like a defeat?”
“Mr Brown has won the day, but reports of him beseeching MPs for their votes, and trickling out so many concessions that the legislation now resembles a dog’s breakfast, have done little to enhance his authority,” the paper wrote.
“All are agreed that eradicating the terrorist threat is vitally important — far too important to be treated as a party political football in this way,” it said.
Even the normally sympathetic Daily Mirror tabloid was critical, arguing that “locking up suspects for six weeks is likely to prove disastrously counter-productive.”
“The premier [sic] needs to focus on a long list of specific issues that really concern people, such as petrol and food prices,” it said.
The Independent said that even though Brown “will believe he has secured for himself a slightly longer lease on his premiership,” the thin margin of victory and the various concessions he was forced to dole out “only exposed his weakness and lack of authority.”
“It is no credit to the way of British politics that, in the very short term, the government’s petty inducements and bullying arm-twisting paid off,” the paper wrote in its editorial.
Only the Sun, the country’s most widely read daily, was supportive of the prime minister, describing him as having “stood up for the fight against extremism in the face of deeply hostile criticism and predictions of disaster.”
“The same cannot be said for the opposition who seemed more concerned about narrow self-interest than the national interest,” it said.
It continued: “Yes, it was a narrow government margin — just nine votes.”
“But that was enough to give police and security services the tools they need to test complex evidence against dangerous extremists,” it said.
The Guardian, a left-wing daily, summed up the general mood in yesterday’s newspapers, however, writing that Brown “won last night’s divisive vote — just — but lost the argument and shredded his majority.”
“The prime minister did not win last night because he convinced parliament of his case, but thanks to backroom deals,” it said. “It was a forced victory in the worst of circumstances, a law no one wants imposed by a government that wanted to look strong but ended up too weak to accept the obvious.”
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