Politics is a strange
business. Consider these two case studies: two prime ministers, both
concerned about terrorism, respond by proposing controversial new
police powers (controversial, that is, among commentators – both
leaders enjoy strong public support). Each faces dissent within his own
party, so their chances of getting the laws through unscathed will be
influenced by what the opposition does.

Case Study 1:
John Howard, whose opposition supposedly comes from the left, finds
them as docile as a prime minister could want. Kim Beazley expresses
unlimited faith in the police; he eventually proposes some changes to
the legislation, but locks caucus into a promise to support it even if
his amendments are defeated.

Case Study 2: Tony Blair,
facing a right-wing opposition, finds that they baulk at additional
police powers. Michael Howard’s Tories opposed the “glorification” of
terrorism clause and have refused
to go beyond 28 days detention without trial (Blair and the police want
90 days). Together with the Liberal Democrats and Labour rebels they
have already forced one rethink on the legislation, with the addition
of a one-year sunset clause.

Latest reports
suggest that Blair may now win tonight’s vote in the House of Commons,
but the legislation still faces an uncertain future in the Lords. It
offers the chance for Howard, with only another month to serve as
Conservative leader (the election for his replacement is under way), to
be remembered for something much more creditable than the covert racism
of this year’s election campaign.

Does Kim Beazley lose any sleep over the fact that he’s more cavalier about civil liberties than the British Tory party?