BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
How did 7 July change politics?
By Ollie Stone-Lee
Political reporter, BBC News

Tube explosion wreckage
Fifty-two people were killed and hundreds injured in the attacks
Consensus was the watchword for political leaders in the aftermath of the 7 July bomb attacks. But a year on it is clear the London attacks have failed to bring a new era of cross-party harmony.

At the start, Tony Blair promised to get agreement on any new anti-terror laws if at all possible so those measures could be rushed through Parliament.

The Liberal Democrats agreed and Conservative leader Michael Howard said he was "proud" of the Labour government's response to terrorism. The three parties met a number of times to decide what measures they could agree were needed.

Little would anyone have guessed that four months later Tony Blair would suffer his first Commons defeat as prime minister as he sought to push through much tougher anti-terror measures than those which the other parties felt they could agree to.

"Normal" politics, with all its arguments, claims and counter-claims was back. But it did not mean that home-grown suicide bombers did not change British politics.

There is a contrast between bad laws and the beginning of greater concern about rights and freedoms
Shami Chakrabarti
Liberty

The weeks immediately following the bombings saw a flurry of cross-party talks over whether, and what, new laws were needed.

The parties all agreed a new ban on "acts preparatory to terrorism" was needed, and the Tories and Lib Dems said there were happy for intercept evidence to be used in court - something ministers promised to consider.

'Half-baked'

But that consensus effectively ended when Mr Blair announced a 12-point plan for tackling terrorism on the eve of his summer holiday, famously saying: "The rules of the game are changing."

Opposition parties complained they had not been consulted.

And John Denham, Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said the plans were "half-baked".

Bombed bus
The scenes of 7 July continue to haunt British politics and society
"The last few days really give the sense that the government has got into a real state of nerves," he said.

When the detailed law plans were published later, two proposals provoked particular opposition: extending the time limit for detaining terror suspects without trial from 14 to 90 days; and banning the "glorification" of terrorism.

In November, MPs voted down the 90-day proposal in a dramatic defeat for the prime minister and voted instead for a 28-day limit.

But other parts of the wide-ranging Terrorism Bill, including the glorification offence, were passed earlier this year.

'Politicking'

Amid all of this, there have been the traumas of the shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube and the recent Forest Gate raid, arrests and releases.

Meanwhile any successes in foiling attacks the security services might have enjoyed necessarily have less publicity, for intelligence reasons or because there are trials pending.

Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of the anti-terror laws, says consensus was never really likely.

Lord Carlile, reviewer of the anti-terror laws
Lord Carlile says people are perplexed about the new debate
"I think there's been a lot of politicking. I think it was affected by the Tory leadership campaign. To an extent terrorism became part of that," he says.

The Liberal Democrat peer says all parties were guilty of politicising the issue but stresses that a "dynamic tension" was needed in the debate.

He describes the controversy over the 90-day detention plans as a "distraction".

The debate over banning glorification of terrorism had much more impact as people did not like laws which were introduced for symbolic purposes and were unlikely ever to be used, he argues.

'Deliberately broken'

But shadow home secretary David Davis says it was the 90-day issue which really shattered the consensus.

"It was Blair deliberately trying to break the consensus, Blair always wanted to position us as soft on terrorism," Mr Davis told the BBC News website.

Former Conservative leadership contender Mr Davis highlighted Tory attempts to reach consensus.

He points to how the terrorism laws were brought forward at his suggestion to then Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

"We went as far as bringing it forward by three months, talking about intercept evidence - which did not happen - and acts preparatory to terrorism, which did," he says.

'Optimistic'

Mr Clarke has said he did not think the opposition parties were willing to compromise beyond a 28-day time limit.

And the prime minister insists he had to act on police calls for the extended time limit.

After his Commons defeat, Mr Blair told ministers there was a "worrying gap between parts of Parliament and the reality of the terrorist threat and public opinion".

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty director
Shami Chakrabarti suggests there is now more support for civil liberties
Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, says the consensus did not last as long as it should have done.

"I still think it's important that poor old Charles Clarke was apolitical in his initial leadership and that lasted for a while," she says.

"But once you get into the usual legislative approach and political manoeuvring between the parties it's difficult to preserve that."

But Ms Chakrabarti sees seeds for optimism in how Britain responded to the attacks.

She says: "The irony is there is a contrast between bad laws which have made it onto the statute books and the beginning of greater concern about rights and freedoms and the idea you don't need to make this false choice between freedom and security."

Instead, a framework for balancing the two is needed, she says.

'False choice'

With emotions running high after the bombings, one Labour MP had told Ms Chakrabarti that her opposition to ID cards and detention without trial had "come home to roost".

But generally the organisation picked up support, she says.

Ms Chakrabarti adds: "Most rational people knew about the threat so I don't believe the 7 July was a wake up call because we had lived with that kind of threat, certainly since 9/11."

That may be true but Lord Carlile says British politics has changed, especially with in the debate between security and freedom.

"I think people remain perplexed by the proportionality between damage done to individual liberties - for example, the two men arrested in the Forest Gate incident - and the general need to protect the public," he says.

The dilemma remains as hot as ever. Last week's High Court ruling against a key plank of the anti-terror armoury, control orders, prompted warnings about an "emerging constitutional crisis".

New concepts?

The Forest Gate raid, where two Muslim brothers were arrested and later released, exemplifies the sensitivities facing the police and politicians in the wake of 7 July.

Shahid Malik, one of Britain's few Muslim MPs, was involved in government talks about engaging British Muslim communities against extremism.

He says progress on some of that work has been disappointing.

"It really seems to me that unless we really start to initiate once more some of that activity which is about community engagement, about integration and interaction, we're never really going to make this country as safe as we could," he argues.

Mr Malik, a Labour member of the Commons home affairs select committee, says 7 July changed Britain and by definition British politics.

The balance between security and liberty has altered, says Mr Malik and a debate about how far it should shift towards security and safety had taken hold in a way not seen after the 11 September 2001 US terror attacks.

"9/11 was a terrible atrocity but if we are honest, it did not affect us in the way that 7/7 has," he says.




RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific