A Small Earthquake
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the Government's decisive defeat on 90 days detention without charge, I would say it is a small to medium earthquake on the political Richter scale. Only time will tell whether history regards it as a much larger earthquake that hastened Blair's departure from office.
Ignore those politicians and commentators who are trying to play this down. It's the first defeat since Labour came to power in 1997 and the first defeat of a governing party for ten years. Like many others, I thought that the Government would scrape through by a handful of votes. A defeat by 31 votes is astonishing.
This vote is a vindication of those of us who defected from Labour to the Liberal Democrats at the last election. This was precisely why we did so: to reduce Blair's majority in the hope that his own party would put a brake on his more extreme policies.
We were told that we were being irresponsible and might allow the Tories into office. Indeed, Polly Toynbee sent me an email saying I wouldn't be so pleased when Michael Howard walked into Downing Street. But that was never likely to happen.
The person who is making a future Tory victory more likely is Tony Blair and today we saw one of his biggest misjudgements.
There is worse to come for Blair. As Diane Abbott pointed out last Thursday, legislation to cut benefits and changes to the health and education systems have a much more direct and personal effect on Labour MPs' constituents than anti-terror legislation. And today those MPs were actually going against the views of many of their constituents, if opinion polls are accurate. If backbenchers were prepared to face down Blair today, what chance does he have of pushing through deeply unpopular legislation on other issues?
Today was a good day for the rule of law, a good day for Parliament and a good day for the Labour Party.