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David Davis. Ambition unconstrained, tactical thinking… limited! June 14, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Conservatism.

Politics goes on despite Lisbon. And the goings-on across the Irish Sea are bizarre in the extreme. For as reported in the Guardian yesterday here:

David Davis, stunned David Cameron by announcing he was resigning his seat yesterday. He said he intended to fight a byelection designed to stop “the insidious and relentless erosion of civil liberties in Britain”, symbolised by the Commons’ decision to back the extension of pre-charge detention to 42 days.

I thought initially on hearing it that it was some sort of Tory stunt to put pressure on the government over 42 day detention… and incidentally, what a mess that is. Brown pushing something that is pointless. Cruddas and a number of soft-left Compass Group MPs demonstrated enormous bad judgement – in the kindest interpretation, and the kindest interpretation isn’t the correct one – in rowing behind it (harpymarx has more on this here). My on the fly analysis was that it was to highlight Browns position and put further pressure on those in Labour wobbling, while keeping the issue alive.

But no. There was no mistaking the thin lipped response of David Cameron on the news on Thursday. He was, at the least, furious. And why wouldn’t he be? He like…

….many of Davis’s colleagues felt he had made a unilateral and serious error of judgment and accused him of self-indulgently destabilising the Tory leader at the very moment Gordon Brown was on the rack over his handling of the 42 day issue.

And as the Guardian further reports:

Masking his anger, Cameron described the Davis bombshell, relayed to him late on Wednesday night, as “a very courageous and brave decision”. “But it is a personal decision and not one of the shadow cabinet, or the Conservative party,” he said.

Ooops. Splash. Man overboard! And one gets the impression that he’s not overly concerned to send out search parties after him.

But David (former Territorial Army – SAS) Davis was not for turning…

“I want Labour to debate this pre-eminent issue. If they think we are soft on terror, or my arguments don’t run with ordinary people, then turn up at the byelection and prove it. If they don’t come, we will have the campaign anyway, and find people to argue both sides of the debate.”

Well, that it would be – if anyone turned up. But there in lies the rub. No one appears to want to. After all, why try to contest a safe Conservative constituency? What political percentage is there in that. So the Liberal Democrats have announced they’re not in the running, while giving rhetorical support for his stance, and Labour will presumably follow suit – without the support rhetorical or otherwise.

And what is odd about this, or indeed to use that word again – bizarre – is how predictable it all is. It’s not as if he wasn’t warned…

Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, tried to persuade Davis he was making a tactical error in the hours after the vote on Wednesday night. She told him he wielded more influence by leading the attack on government policy from the front bench. She feared he had been caught up in the emotion of the moment.

Because what is Davis going to be left with?

That leaves him facing the risk that he will defeat a few fringe parties on a derisory turnout and fail to trigger a great national debate on civil liberties.

No great national debate. Merely one man and his ‘approach’ managing to very neatly distract attention from Gordon Brown and his ‘approach’ at the very point where the latter is under enormous pressure. He claims: “…the only way to break through that is to get a serious debate going in a one issue byelection.”

Really? The only way? Near genius-like in it’s self-regard.

And the Guardian has some pertinent points about the whole issue in its editorial, in particular,

Davis … has fought a dogged, sometimes lonely battle within the Conservatives to ensure that the party would vote against plans to lock up terror suspects for 42 days, which it duly did on Wednesday. [but] …much that is important is missing from the Davis brand of freedom.


The liberty he is concerned with is, almost exclusively, liberty from official interference. There is little place in this conception for freedom from destitution, for example, which only the state can provide. ….Mr Davis’s defence of the age-old liberties of English common law, such as habeas corpus, is impressive, but his past disdain for the Human Rights Act sits strangely with that. The European convention which that act codifies may not be exclusively English, but it will provide the only legal basis for a challenge if 42 days becomes law…Liberals who see that as the most basic freedom will be uncomfortable with Mr Davis’s personal support for the death penalty.

And this highlights the problems of his actions. The Guardian may see some Flames of principle, however, were also discernible. as much as bright flashes of ego. But in the absence of a structured approach which included the above elements it is hard to see this as being anything other than a near knee-jerk response based in, as the Guardian reports, ‘a strongly patriotic dimension, baffling to those who see rights as universal’.

Perhaps had Davis and a Conservative MP in much less safe seat agreed to swap seats, ensuring a better chance that the other MP would be re-elected and that it would be a real contest for Davis… but no, that was never going to happen. And Davis must be hoping that he isn’t put under pressure by a ‘celebrity’ candidate as the Guardian suggested. He should be safe enough, but… reports that Kelvin MacKenzie, former Sun editor was half thinking of running might give him pause for thought.

And should we wonder what the chat at the sort of parties that Rupert Murdoch frequents turns to … wonder no more:

The idea of a MacKenzie candidature was initially floated as a joke among guests at one of Murdoch’s summer parties on Thursday night. But Murdoch and the Sun editor Rebekah Wade were attracted to the proposal and yesterday MacKenzie, who was already receiving offers of support from experienced campaigners, said that he was “90%” certain to have his name on the ballot paper.

And MacKenzie? Ever ready as the standard of unthinking populism determined to go the extra mile…

[he] told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there were two reasons he could run. “One is that the Sun is very, very hostile to David Davis because of his 28-day stand, and the Sun has always been up for 42 days, or perhaps even 420 days, frankly. And secondly this is a bizarre cost to the taxpayer.”

Great isn’t it? More populist nonsense (…’always up for’…) gets an airing – although there is something in his second point. And it is this lack of seeing the inevitable that seems to me to underscore just how ill-thought out this whole mess was. Davis could have easily predicted that any such moves on his part might well inflame an uncontrollable response.

Meanwhile the Conservatives are attempting to spin their way out of this suggesting:

…beating MacKenzie, and by implication the Murdoch press, would give Davis’s standing in the party a significant boost. “I had thought that David would come back to the Commons a diminished figure. I’m not sure about that now. Kelvin MacKenzie has given his campaign the shot in the arm it needs,” he said.

Still, another thought struck me reading the reports. The entertainingly parodic Dominic Grieve (consider his drawl, used to maximum effect on Thursday’s C4 News) has been appointed shadow home secretary in David Davis’s place.

Cameron immediately appointed the libertarian shadow attorney general, Dominic Grieve, as shadow home secretary, partly in a bid to kill off the suggestion that Davis’s resignation masked a row between Davis libertarians and those favouring more of a security state.

A Prime Minister absolutely wedded to the security state, a right-wing opposition split between libertarians and security statists. David Davis or Kelvin MacKenzie… What a choice. Eh?


1. Dan Sullivan - June 14, 2008

I wonder if I should run…I should check the requirements


2. Dan Sullivan - June 14, 2008

hmmm….ten electors in the constituency required and £500 as a deposit but they do allow folks from here in the other isle to stand.


3. Ian - June 14, 2008

The irony of the whole thing is that Gordon Brown actually has public backing on the 42 days issue (which is sad and quite frankly, should not be indulged on such an important matter). Had it been a marginal seat, its quite possible Labour would have won!


4. WorldbyStorm - June 14, 2008

Yeah, that’s true Ian. It’s bizarre, but then Kelvin is counting on that sentiment, isn’t he?

Dan, go on, give it a lash. I’ll stump up a 1/5th… 🙂


5. Tom Griffin - June 14, 2008

I have to say I’m with Conor Foley on this:


If Labour doesn’t stand, then at a minimum, the opponents of 42 days will be argue that it hasn’t got a mandate. If Kelvin Mackenzie stands so much the better. What is the real spirit of democracy, deferring to the opinion polls or taking on the Murdoch press and starting a real debate about a real issue?

It’s dispiriting that some on the left shares the Westminster village’s horror at the latter prospect, whatever other agendas might be mixed up in it.


6. WorldbyStorm - June 14, 2008

Tom, I’d love the government to be stuffed on this issue, but I don’t think Labour is going to stand. Apologies if the opposite seemed to be my meaning, I was just fascinated by Davis himself and his approach.


7. Tom Griffin - June 14, 2008

I apologise myself if I have been casting aspersions unjustly. In my defence, I can only say that the way the media has spontaneously, uniformly and unswervingly set about obscuring the fundamental issues at stake has wound me up no end.


8. I know when I’m wrong « The gaping silence - June 16, 2008

[…] grounds again, other than not wanting to have the argument? WorldbyStorm puts it well, again – in a post which I’m afraid takes the anti-democratic side of the argument, again: Well, that it would […]


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