If you had the misfortune to miss Theresa May’s statement on the deportation of Abu Qatada this afternoon, it would hardly stretch your imagination to work out how the occasion went. It involved MPs cheering May, May making it clear that the government has done very well and then pointing out (again) that she does want reform (which the Lib Dems disagree with). MPs took care to praise the Home Secretary, mindful of all the chatter about Qatada’s departure being good for her own leadership ambitions. Even if you’re not on the TM4PM bandwagon, you might as well ingratiate yourself with her in case something unexpected happens.
All pretty formulaic stuff. David Cameron popped in for a few minutes at the start, and gave James Brokenshire a congratulatory slap on the thigh when he was praised for his efforts too. Then he trotted off for tea with Andy Murray.
The only thing worth noting is that as well as providing another happy moment for the Conservative party, Qatada’s deportation has offered the Tories and the Lib Dems another opportunity to differentiate from one another. We’ll be seeing much more of this in the coming months as party conferences approach. The Lib Dems for their part were keen to differentiate in two ways today: firstly by not sending any ministers along at all to sit on the front bench and congratulate the Home Office on its work, and secondly through an intervention from Simon Hughes, who pointed out that on human rights, the Lib Dems and the Tories ‘fundamentally’ disagree.
Human rights is one of the areas where both parties feel they benefit from talking loudly about their differences, and as I reported in May, Chris Grayling is already looking at plans for the Tories to differentiate themselves clearly and with concrete ideas on human rights. He made a few more noises to this effect yesterday on the Sunday Politics, saying ‘we will go into the next election in our manifesto with a clear plan for change that will set out exactly what we will do, when we will do it, how we will do it, what the legal basis of doing that will be’. Expect plenty of references to shopping trolleys over the next few months.