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Could terror test the coalition’s libertarian credentials?

October 31st, 2010

How will Cameron resolve the control orders row?

The latest terror threats could not have come at a worse time for the coalition partners because, as Andrew Rawnsely reports in the Observer this morning, there’s a huge row going on about the future of control orders and extended detention without trial.

There’s a report waiting to be published which says that these should continue in a slightly restricted form – something that would be totally opposed by Nick Clegg’s party. After a recent meeting Cameron ended without agreement Cameron is reported to have said “We are heading for a f**king car crash“.

As Rawnsley writes: “..this question also profoundly splits the cabinet. The Lib Dems around the table pledged to abolish control orders and they have Tory allies. The justice secretary, Ken Clarke, hasn’t budged in his opposition. Mr Clarke has been round the Whitehall block several times in his long career. He has been home secretary. He is not intimidated by the heavy breathing of the head of MI5. He understands that politicians should be attentive to the advice of the security services, but not slaves to them. Nick Clegg knows that he will look terrible and his party will be in uproar if he dishonours the pledges he made in opposition. One colleague describes the Lib Dem leader as “caught in the headlights”. David Cameron, scared of rupturing his coalition, yet fearful of over-ruling the securicrats, is just playing for time. I have learned that the publication date for the review has been put back yet again towards the end of the year.

There is a route out of their dilemma. That is to stick to their promises, scrap control orders, charge those suspected of terrorism in open court and lift the ban on the use of intercept evidence to give prosecutions a better chance of success. To resistant members of the security agencies, the prime minister should say, and will have the support of many professionals in saying it, that they ought to concentrate on the intelligence-led approach to countering terrorism which has proved to be the most effective method of stopping bombers…”

What’s going to happen? This really is in Cameron’s court because it’s is an issue that is far far more problematical for the yellows than student fees.

If the PM rules that control orders are kept even in a restricted form it could seal the fate of Nick Clegg and the whole coalition deal.

But what an awful time for this debate to be taking place for yet again we see that the world gets a whole lot tougher when you move from opposition into government.

Mike Smithson