The British government has suffered a series of embarrassments recently and is lagging way behind the opposition Labour Party in the polls (despite the lackluster Labour leadership).
It believed that it had recorded a success. Diplomatic intercession with the Jordanian government and with King Abdullah elicited a Jordanian commitment to guarantee one Abu Qatada, a Muslim firebrand and a lieutenant to the late unlamented Osama bin Laden, a fair trial.
The European Court of Human Rights, that had blocked the cleric's deportation to Jordan to face a trial on terror bombings, was apparently swayed by the assurances, and therefore Home Secretary Theresa May could inform Britain that Abu Qatada would shortly be leaving on a jet plane and wouldn't be back again.
The subject of these proceedings has resided in Britain since 1993, when he entered the country on a forged passport and then proceeded to claim asylum.
Abu Qatada has been implicated in terrorist schemes and has issued inflammatory speeches. Theresa May was convinced that Abu Qatada had missed his opportunity to file an appeal on the ruling allowing the deportation. The court ruled, however, that he had until Tuesday to file the appeal - rather than Monday as the government assumed.
The first stage of the appeal is over the size of the panel and whether it merits the grand chamber of the court. This wrangling could last for more than a year. In the interim, Abu Qatada will cost the country additional millions in legal fees and security costs.
When it looked like Abu Qatada was going to leave imminently, the news was received with satisfaction on both government and opposition benches and Theresa May basked in her success.
Still, a minority felt dissatisfied. Some civil libertarians believe that the government deal with Jordan was a sham and that Britain was violating the spirit of the law in securing the approval of the European Human Rights Court.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was dismay over the deportation for totally different reasons: Britain had worked within the system and the courts had proven flexible enough to allow the deportation. This tended to undermine the argument that Abu Qatada symbolized the perversion of the human rights law that had become a crutch for arch terrorists. Those on that side want to break the system, not seek accommodation with the courts.
The new delay in deporting Abu Qatada reinforces the position of those seeking rupture rather than compromise on this issue.