GoinggoingHow long can Blair go on like this…?

Defeated over his terrorism bill…

His own Deputy PM rebelling publicly against his education reforms…

Chaos in his Cabinet over the smoking ban…

Rebellion brewing over his ID cards bill…

And now an unexpected defeat on the religious hatred bill – a politically cynical piece of legislation, designed to curry favour with Muslim voters that Labour lost over Iraq.

The Telegraph thinks that Government Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong may be in the firing line for the defeat.  She had apparently allowed up to 25 Labour MPs to miss the vote in order to campaign for the Dunfermline and Fife West by-election.   Tony Blair himself missed the second vote on the bill – a vote that the Government lost by just one vote.

Policeinpulpit_1The defeat of the religious hatred provisions is a victory for a broad cross-section of campaigners.  Tories and LibDems joined forces with churchleaders and comedians to oppose what Labour had planned.  Rowan Atkinson had expressed his deep concern "for all performers and entertainers, because the climate in which we work will be very different if the government gets its way".  The Evangelical Alliance had warned that Britain risked seeing "the onset of an era in which freedom of speech and good relationships between religions will be threatened”. 

Gove_michael_6On his blog Iain Dale describes the result as "another Commons victory for the Shadow Home Affairs team".  David Davis and Dominic Grieve were also at the heart of Tony Blair’s ‘ninety-day defeat’.  Iain also highlights the speech that Michael Gove gave in the debate.  It certainly was brilliant stuff.  Here is a key extract from Michael’s contribution:

"There is one final area where the state arrogates to itself unwarranted power in the Bill—that is, in the very definition of what constitutes religion. It is wrong that the state should be able to extend to any group of believers a privileged status by saying that they constitute a fit and proper religion. If we consider recent reports about what happened in the Navy when an individual officer claimed for himself, on the basis that he was a Satanist, a safe religious space in which to enact his rituals, we can see that the present Government and future Governments may extend to all sorts of cults and other unsavoury groups the protection that is in the Bill.

I have no hesitation in saying, safeguarded by privilege as I am, that I regard Scientology as an evil cult founded by an individual purely in the interests of enriching himself and sustained by those who are either wicked or wayward. But if the Bill were to pass and I were to repeat those comments outside this House as an ordinary civilian, I would lay myself open to prosecution simply for having sought to point out the dangers of a fraudulent organisation masquerading as a religion."

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