Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 16:08 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One


Gemma Garrett and David Davis
Beauty and the big beast: the by-election angered some senior Tories

Looking at the picture of a grinning David Davis next to a beaming beauty in white, you can almost imagine a wedding shot with further assorted batty relatives in the background.

But this was more like divorce proceedings, with Mr Davis choosing to leave his partner of many years for another cause: to fight the by-election over 42-day detentions.

There is still irritation in the shadow cabinet at his decision.

Surely he had not calculated that Labour would not stand, I asked one senior member of David Cameron's team.

Well, he had been warned of exactly that the night before his announcement, came the reply between clenched teeth.

So what will his relationship be like with the front bench?

A new Tebbit?

Mr Cameron says he "will talk to him about what the future holds, but I have a very strong shadow cabinet".

One shadow minister is worried that he would become a catalyst for the right on the backbenchers - "a 21st-century Norman Tebbit".

Another appears delighted with the prospect of having a champion for civil liberties so prominent in the party: "He'll be Shami Chakrabarti multiplied by 60."

The Conservatives are already known for being tough on law and order. The 42-day issue is a way of asserting the party's libertarian credentials.

The shadow minister's only regret was that the Tories had not branded the subject "six weeks' detention" rather than 42 days.

But the most influential intervention of the week on detention without charge came not from the East Riding of Yorkshire but in a maiden speech in the House of Lords from the redoubtable Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5: "I have weighed up the balance between the right to life - the most important civil liberty - the fact that there is no such thing as complete security and the importance of our hard-won civil liberties.

"Therefore, on a matter of principle, I cannot support the proposal in the [Counter Terrorism] Bill for pre-charge detention of 42 days. I understand that there are different views and that these judgments are honestly reached by others.

"I respect those views, but I do not see on a practical basis or on a principled one that these proposals are in any way workable."

Tricky passage

That view may well be echoed among current senior MI5 officials. Behind the scenes their view has always been that this is a measure demanded by the police, not the security services.

Lady Manningham-Buller's intervention, as well as those of former law lords, means that the Bill will have a tricky passage through the second chamber.

The counter terrorism minister Tony McNulty admitted on the World at One: "I don't doubt it'll be very, very difficult to persuade colleagues in the House of Lords on 42 days."

In fact senior government sources have admitted to me that there is no chance at all of it passing, so we are in for a long period of parliamentary ping-pong, with the bill passing backwards and forwards between the Commons and the Lords.

It will be interesting to see whether any Labour MPs who supported it will change their minds during that process. That could undermine the government's small majority of just nine votes.

Gordon Brown must have been relieved to leave domestic politics behind for a while to attend the G8 summit in Japan.

Lavish banquet

There he took a forceful stand on Zimbabwe, urging stronger sanctions and an arms embargo on the Mugabe regime, which he described as a "criminal cabal".

But of course British politics inevitably intruded.

His decision to mount a campaign against food waste wasn't the best-timed, given the lavish banquet the next day.

The prime minister was also mocked for agreeing to a journalist's question that he was like the Emily Bronte anti-hero Heathcliff.

One Conservative I met this week had some sympathy for his position. "When things start going badly for you, then everything counts against you, as we discovered in the nineties," they said.

If Gordon Brown were riding high in the polls, then perhaps the food initiative would have seemed a real show of character, Scottish thrift and integrity.

Even Heathcliff's brooding persona might have indicated a passionate heart beneath those recitations of statistics. But maybe that is just a bit too Gothic.

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