Tony Blair is looking even more like a lame duck prime minister after two more embarrassing parliamentary votes overnight.
In the House of Commons, the government carried the second reading
of its schools reform plan, the Education and Inspections Bill, by 458
votes to 115. That sounds impressive, but only because almost all of
the opposition Conservatives supported it. Fifty-two Labour MPs voted
against and 25 abstained; if the Tories had opposed it as well, it
would have gone down.
Education reform has been the centrepiece
of Blair’s third-term agenda, but his party’s left is deeply hostile to
the idea of giving schools greater independence and breaking down the
distinction between public and private schools. The fate of the bill is
now problematic, since the government will depend on Tory support to
withstand hostile amendments.
The opposition and Labour rebels only failed by ten votes in a move to extend debate on the bill. According to The Guardian,
Blair attacked Conservative leader David Cameron for voting with the
rebels and “downgrading the priority of the vote for Tory MPs to a
two-line whip.” Cameron responded: “I’ll tell you what: you worry about
whipping your side and I will worry about whipping mine!”
Earlier, the government had been defeated for a third time in the House of Lords on its plan for ID cards.
The government had promised that the cards would be voluntary, but is
now trying to make them a requirement for anyone applying for a
passport. The Commons voted earlier in the week to stand by the
requirement – Blair’s home secretary, with breathtaking
disingenuousness, told them that passports are “voluntary documents” –
but now the Lords have again deleted it, 218 to 183.
It is possible for legislation to be passed without the Lords’ consent, but that’s regarded as a last resort – the procedure
has only been used seven times in almost a century. It’s not at all
clear that the government’s majority would hold up if it tried to use
it on ID cards.