In politics it never rains it pours. And David Cameron has had his fair share of April showers. Or should that be May? On Tuesday Home Secretary Theresa May had a difficult time explaining why she had decided to arrest Abu Qatada a day before the European Court of Human Rights deadline. After the latest ECHR judgment, May and Qatada had three months to appeal. According to the Home Office, that deadline expired on Monday night. But on Tuesday, Qatada’s lawyers issued a fresh appeal, potentially (if accepted by the court), delaying extradition proceedings yet again to Jordan by months if not longer. The farce was further compounded when May seemed to avoid direct questions in parliament about whether she had been made aware of a possible ambiguity surrounding the three-month period. The whole affair sought to further the narrative of an incompetent government, flailing since the budget, now dubbed by Tory backbenchers ‘a budget from hell’.
The ECHR made headlines once again as Britain, chair of the Council of Europe (a 47 member organisation not to mistaken for the 27 member European Union), convened a conference in Brighton on reforming the court. The court has for a very long time been under scrutiny for its massive backlog of cases (now 152,800 cases). An agreement was made on Friday to cut the backlog by reforming the criteria by which the court accepts cases. Will this deal satisfy Conservatives on the right of the party who have been very critical of the very jurisdiction of the court? The Telegraph reports a ‘tetchy’ exchange in cabinet between Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and Michael Gove, backed by Pickles and Duncan Smith where the cabinet table was ‘thumped’. An early day motion tabled by Bill Cash, the veteran Eurosceptic, and signed by more than 20 MPs including senior figures such as John Redwood, John Whittingdale and Bernard Jenkin, calls for a return to “Westminster parliamentary sovereignty and our own rule of law based on our own voters’ wishes.” So possibly not.
Meanwhile we reported last week about the Coalition fault lines in policy-making. The divisions within the government continue, this time with a vote on the provisions of the budget. Some disgruntled Tory backbenchers voted against parts of the budget in parliament. The Financial Times reports,
Ministers won the vote on hot food, dubbed the “pasty tax”, by 35 votes, after every Cornish MP voted against it. They won the vote on caravans by just 25, with 16 Conservatives voting against the chancellor… Several high-profile Liberal Democrats also failed to turn up to vote for the government, despite having been present for votes earlier in the day. They included ministers Nick Harvey and Sarah Teather, as well as Simon Hughes, the party’s deputy leader.
Sarah Teather has a history of not turning up, yet she is a government minister.
But the fortunes of Ed Milliband and the Labour Party are looking better. Labour has surged to a double-digit lead in the polls. The local elections on the 3rd May will be a mid-term test of the coalition and the fortunes of Labour. Can Ed bounce back after the Bradford West setback? As usual, Rawnsley in the Observer provides the better analysis,
Whether the omnishambles represents a lasting turning point in political fortunes will at least in part be determined by how the parties react to it. If these elections are seen as a disappointment for Labour, then the coalition will breathe a bit easier because Ed Miliband will face renewed doubts about whether he is a convincing candidate for prime minister. If these elections are seen as confirming that the coalition is in deep trouble, then the heat on them will intensify and with it the risk that the government will go into a self-consuming downward spiral. The night of 3 May will be a long one for all the party leaders. What you might call an omnisweat.
And so the rough and tumble of politics continues and a week is indeed a long time.
Joke of the week: “I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.” Ok was a bad week. Don’t worry about tipping the waiter on the way out.
I leave you with an ‘explosive’ exchange between Galloway and Aaranovitch on BBC Question Time this week! Worth a watch.