New labour was due to face a tough battle this week to force its draconian assaults on civil liberties through parliament.
The unpopularity of the Iraq war has fed growing opposition to Tony Blair’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation. Now sections of the back bench have broken with the main parties’ consensus over terrorism and are voting against the government.
A range of anti-war and civil liberties groups have come together to lobby MPs against the bill on Wednesday of this week. These include the Stop the War Coalition, Liberty, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain.
“It’s important that this new broad coalition has been pulled together to oppose these laws,” said Chris Nineham from the Stop the War Coalition.
“In many ways these arguments over terrorism and civil rights are the most difficult we have to face. Yet despite that Blair is on the back foot over them.
“Even on this issue he’s not making any headway. That’s why it’s so important for the movement as a whole that we keep up the pressure against this bill.”
Much of the parliamentary debate focuses on Blair’s plans to allow police to detain people for 90 days without charge. Some Labour MPs and opposition parties are calling for this period to be increased to “only” 28 days from the present 14 days.
George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, intends to vote for this amendment, according to a Respect statement, not because he agrees with it, but because it gives the police fewer powers than the government proposal of 90 day detention without charge.
But Galloway will oppose the final bill even if these amendments are passed, the statement adds. An amended bill would still endanger the civil rights of those opposed to Blair’s wars.
George Galloway faced criticism last week after missing a parliamentary vote on an amendment that the government ended up winning by just one vote.
“While we regret missing the vote last week, George Galloway will vote on subsequent important amendments to the bill and will oppose the bill on its final reading,” the Respect statement says. “He has cleared his diary commitments to ensure that he is available to vote against the bill at its final reading.”
But it is the opposition to the bill outside parliament that has created the possibility of Blair being defeated inside the Commons, the statement adds. “In this crucial arena George Galloway’s activities in opposition to the anti-terror legislation remain second to none.”
Lobby against anti-terrorism bill, Wednesday 9 November, 1pm, Moses Room, House of Commons, followed by a public meeting at Westminster Central Hall, 6pm to 8pm. For more details go to www.stopwar.org.uk