Alert: Police officers in Downing Street after Home Secretary Theresa May raised the UK's terror threat level to 'severe', 29 August. Photo: Getty
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David Cameron to announce new plan to tackle Islamic extremist threat

The Prime Minister will make a statement in the Commons later today as parliament returns after recess and the coalition continues this morning negotiating how to widen anti-terror laws.

Following the news last week that the government has raised the terror threat level to “extreme”, David Cameron is expected to set out in the Commons how the government plans to widen anti-terror legislation, as parliament returns after recess today.

As conflict in Iraq and Syria builds, there is a mounting concern in the UK about those British nationals who are travelling overseas to join the jihadists, who may then return and pose a direct terror threat to the UK. Cameron is to speak specifically about how best to deal with British national jihadists either travelling to or returning from these zones. He promises to close what he sees as “gaps in our armoury” when it comes to anti-terror laws.

However, it won’t be that simple for Cameron. Although a matter that is clearly of highest priority to the government – whether it’s a “knee-jerk reaction”, as Paddy Ashdown and others have called it, just to look like it’s doing something, or a genuinely necessary response to a very real threat – it has become a subject of coalition contention.

The Lib Dems have clashed with the Tories over the latter’s wishes for expanding existing anti-terror legislation. It is reported that the Conservatives in government want to introduce new measures to seize passports, and also impose temporary bans on fighters travelling back from foreign conflicts. Under these new proposals, if a Briton was thought to have been involved in terrorism abroad, they could be prevented from returning to the UK for some time, although allowed to retain British citizenship, according to the BBC.

However, the Lib Dems – including high-profile figures who have been heavily involved in foreign policy in the past, such as former leader Paddy Ashdown, and current MP and former leader Ming Campbell – are concerned about the legality of these measures. Nick Clegg has been locked in talks with Cameron over the weekend, regarding the government’s response to the terror threat unfolding in light of intensifying terror acts by Islamic State (formerly known as Isis).

Also, UN conventions on statelessness mean that the government could be breaking international law with such measures as stripping people's passports, and denying them access to Britain. Tory MP and barrister Edward Garnier warned the Today programme this morning that, "parliament can pass any law it likes, but the government is already bound by two UN conventions on statelessness."

Clegg and the Lib Dems are concerned about the encroachment on civil liberties of the Tories’ proposals, and also warn about the potential illegality of rendering citizens stateless, even if done so temporarily. The Lib Dems have been accused of putting a brake on the government’s action against terrorism, although Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon denied this, and the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee and Labour MP Hazel Blears called on the Deputy Prime Minister to “get off this kind of high horse that he’s on” and drop his opposition to the controversial control orders.

Indeed, Labour, at odds with the caution of the Lib Dems, has been calling for the return of powers allowing authorities to put jihadists under close surveillance and enabling them to force jihadists to move away from their homes if necessary, placing restrictions on their movements.

The Prime Minister will address the Commons later today, laying out the government’s plans, but his talks with the Lib Dems are likely to continue this morning, revealing the last-minute nature of the agreement over new anti-terror measures, and also hinting that the new plan will be watered down from that which the Tories were initially hoping for.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad