A week is a long time in politics

January 29, 2004 ,

IT is now a cliché that, as Harold Wilson said, “a week is a long time in politics”.

In fact 24 hours can be an eternity.

On Tuesday, as the division bell rang, the Government Whips believed they were 2 short in the crucial vote on the Higher Education Bill.

If they had lost it would have been only the 3rd time in 100 years that a government had been defeated at Second Reading.
The Second Reading is the first chance for the House to discuss a bill.
It is a debate about the general provisions of a bill, not about details.

The Government had got itself into a mess by proposing variable top-up fees, which had been ruled out in the Party’s manifesto.
But because of the credible opposition from Labour backbenchers concessions were made which transformed the proposals.

By giving grants of £3000 to students from poorer families and setting a firm cap on fees the Government scraped through by five votes.

Having survived Tuesday, Tony Blair faced the Hutton Report into the death of Dr. David Kelly on Wednesday.

As Michael Portillo said, the report could not have been more welcome for the Prime Minister had it been written by Alastair Campbell himself.

It exposed major failing in the BBC’s reporting, and marked the end of the honeymoon period for Michael Howard.

Having accused Mr Blair of lying repeatedly at Prime Minister’s Questions, he had to swallow the Report from Lord Hutton that reached the opposite conclusion.

In 24 hours the Government went from crisis to triumph, but while Parliament and the media are obsessed with spin, the rest of the country is worried about crime, jobs and schooling.

And those who want to use Hutton to foolishly call for privatisation should remember that without the BBC our national life would be impoverished.