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Fighting for survival

Brian Taylor | 14:45 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

There is an opinion poll in this morning's Times which suggests that Gordon Brown's personal leadership standing now matches that of Iain Duncan Smith.

That's right: IDS, the quiet man himself, the scourge of the EU, the visiting friend of Easterhouse.

Lest you have forgotten those troubled times in the Tory party, it is not notably good news for GB to be compared with IDS.

It is against that background that one must judge the PM's problems over the issue of pre-charge detention - and the comments from Scotland's Lord Advocate, Eilish Angiolini.

Ms Angiolini's comments are widely reported in the papers this morning but were first carried by Newsnight Scotland last night (BBC Scotland first with the news, as ever).

She says, in a customarily cautious letter to an MP, that the case for extending pre-charge detention from 28 days to 42 is "not supported by prosecution experience to date."

In essence, that is a "not proven" verdict. It is, however, a judgement which may have considerable impact, especially as Ms Angiolini is echoing doubts already voiced by the director of public prosecutions in England, Sir Ken MacDonald.

Two worlds are colliding here. For Gordon Brown, this is now quite simply a matter of political survival. To be clear, the division in the Commons this week is not tantamount to a confidence vote in the PM.

But it will scarcely shore up confidence in his prospects, should he lose.

Mr Brown is in a curious position. Lose the vote and his leadership is further undermined.

Win the vote - and then what? Do you imagine that on the streets of, say, Crewe, their votes hinge on whether terrorism suspects are held in the slammer for four weeks or six?

All of which is, of course, purely a political calculation. By contrast, law officers are institutionally and intellectually obliged to consider the permanent legal framework of Scotland and the UK.

They have to judge what is right in the longer term for the judicial system, mostly disregarding the interests of a "here today, gone tomorrow" minister, to pinch Robin Day's splendid phrase.

In short, they have to consider future trials, not the current tribulations of a political leader, however senior.

Sometimes there can be cross-over. Witness the pressure upon the former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in judging the legality or otherwise of the Iraq war.

On this occasion, albeit in cautiously framed language, Ms Angiolini feels she has to reflect the concerns of the legal and judicial system.

It must help, of course, that her loyalty is to the Crown - while she attends Alex Salmond's Cabinet, not Gordon Brown's.


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