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Saturday, November 12, 2005 

Did the public really support 90 days?

Before the vote on Wednesday, we were told repeatedly that public opinion supported the police and government push for up to 90 days detention for terrorist suspects. Out of the few opinion polls which actually tested that assertion, there were two which suggested they did. A poll in the Times suggested 64% supported the clause, while a poll either on the Wednesday or Thursday morning quoted by John Reid suggested that over 80% supported the government position.

Today a poll in the Guardian disputes the government's fallback position that the public supported them and not the Labour rebels, Tories and Lib Dems. Asked the question "The government could have compromised with MPs determined to vote against the 90-day period. Which of the following comes closest to your view?" 29% said the government should have compromised because it would have got longer than 90 days, 28% said 28 days is about right and 18% said 28 days is too long. 20% said the government should propose what it thinks is right, even if it is defeated. 5% either didn't know or didn't answer. That means that 75% did not support 90 days, whether they wanted 28, a slightly higher figure lower than 90, or felt that it should remain at 14 days. This is based on an random sample of 511 interviewed on Thursday and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

This does not mean that the public did not support 90 days before the vote. We have to take into account hindsight and wanting to be on the winning side after the event. What it does show though is that the government's and Sun newspaper's claims that the public was fully behind 90 days is in short, piffle. John Reid has not learned his lesson though, and today seems to be taking back up his position as the government's attack dog, saying that the Tories have slurred the police. The fact he has to come to the government's "rescue" as he did repeatedly over the Iraq war shows how serious this is to Blair.

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