Gordon Brown is facing the threat of his first defeat in the Commons since taking over as prime minister, after a Guardian survey found strong – and growing – opposition among Labour MPs to the government’s plans to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days.
As the Labour party gathers in Birmingham for its spring conference, where ministers will be lobbied by opponents of the planned anti-terrorism laws, the Guardian found as many as a third of the party’s 205 backbench MPs could rebel against the government.
Brown has a Commons majority of 67 which means the government could be defeated if 34 Labour MPs rebel, assuming every opposition MP votes no.
The Guardian contacted all 205 backbench Labour MPs. Of the 78 MPs spoken to, 27 said they were planning to vote against the government. Twenty-nine said they would support the government, while a further 22 were undecided or would not comment.
If this pattern is replicated among the other 127 backbench Labour MPs, there may be a further 43 rebels. This would take the total to 70, though even the rebels believe that figure is unlikely.
The Guardian found that opposition extends beyond the “usual suspects” of the 23-strong Socialist Campaign group.
Andrew Dismore, chair of the parliamentary human rights committee, is one mainstream figure planning to oppose the government despite supporting Tony Blair’s more controversial plan to detain suspects without charge for 90 days. He said: “I’m not convinced the government has made a case. I voted for 90 days because I did not see an alternative. What has changed my mind is that I now think there is an alternative package.”
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