British security politics last week descended into farce. The lawyers of radical cleric Abu Qatada lodged an appeal against his deportation to Jordan an hour before a deadline set by the European court of human rights. The Home Office had thought the deadline passed the day before. They now face having to release him on bail while his case goes back to Strasbourg. The row made a fool of Teresa May, the home secretary.

Many different political games are in play here. The quarrel played out in parliament was mere surface. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, made hay. By tabling an urgent parliamentary question, she forced May back in front of MPs to explain herself and her department. Cooper subjected May to a theatrical drubbing, casting herself as tougher on terror than her weak and incompetent opponent.

Cooper’s attacks are cynical, but they also needle away at tensions in…

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