Why we should support David Davis

7:51 pm - June 12th 2008

by Conor Foley    

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Like most people who opposed 42 day detention I was surprised by David Davis’s resignation. I have mixed feelings about both why he has adopted this tactic and how effective it will be. However, the more relevant question is what position should those who oppose the 42 day detentions should take towards the forthcoming by-election?

It seems likely that Labour will not field a candidate against him and then try to argue that the whole thing is an empty gesture. But, if there is not a Labour or Liberal candidate then there is no reason why members of the Labour and Liberal parties who disagree with the 42 days decision should not throw their support behind Davis.

Whether we like it or not, David Davis is now the most important symbol of opposition to a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation.

High profile endorsements from civil libertarians, pledges of support from Labour MPs (including perhaps some who felt that they had to vote for the Bill since a defeat could have brought down the government), visits to the constituency by celebrities and all the other usual campaigning techniques should be deployed to try and turn out a respectable vote for him.

Davis has already stated that he wants to broaden his opposition to 42 days into a debate about ID cards, the assault on jury trials, the unregulated growth of CCTV surveillance, and the civil liberty implications of the DNA database. He has warned about a “surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedom” and wants to re-cast the Conservative party as the champions of individual liberty.

Well, good. Someone has to defend these rights.

Up until yesterday, I was a member of the Labour party. I joined it at the age of 15, back in 1980, and have backed the party through its best and worst times. However, the 42 days law, following so closely on the racist tactics used during the Crewe by-election, clearly shows how the party’s strategists intend to try and avoid defeat at the next election. Labour has officially become the Nasty party of British politics and we can expect much more of the same over the coming two years. I do not want to have anything to do with Labour, but I would also like to try and extract guarantees that a future government led by another political party will not be worse.

The reality of British politics is that there is not a choice between the current Labour party and a purer, better, nicer party that we might like to see come into existence at some point in the future; it is a choice between Labour or the Tories, with the Lib Dems backing one or the other.

The good thing about Davis’s move is that it could help to change some of the terms of the debate about how the two main parties regard the issue of civil liberties.

If, for example, prominent Lib Dems and Labour rebels were to go his constituency and campaign for him it could provide the basis for a cross-party defence of an agreed set of basic rights. He is going to win anyway and presumably part of the reason that he is standing is to shore up support for these values in his own party. If we can help him do this then it will have a direct impact on the policies of what will almost certainly become the next government.

This could even be turned into a Charter88 type of declaration for a much broader campaign in defence of civil rights. Obviously many of us disagree with the views of Davis on many civil rights issues, but I do not see anything wrong with making common cause on issues where we can agree.

I have been viewing British politics, from afar, with increasing disillusion and dismay over the last few years. Davis’s resignation has just given me a little spark of hope that there is some point to keeping on conspiring.

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About the author
Conor Foley is a regular contributor and humanitarian aid worker who has worked for a variety of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently lives and works in Brazil and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His books include Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan. Also at: Guardian CIF
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Reader comments

Great stuff Conor, and I completely agree. I never thought I’d find myself backing a Tory, but there you go, such is the bizarre nature of British politics at the moment.

I love the idea of a Charter 88 type declaration, and I think potentially it could get massive support. Let’s go for it. C’mon Sunny et al, what are we going to do……..

I love the idea of a Charter 88 type declaration

Can someone contact Helena Kennedy? She’s already pledged to lead opposition in the Lords, and the Power report was a damn fine, if marginalised, effort.

Conor? There’s a reason I joined the Lib Dems 2 years ago, I could see this brewing and I need to be more involved. Splitting the Labour party wouldn’t be a bad plan either, a Liberal Socialist party in alliance witht he LDs might be our only chance of stopping a Tory landslide.

3. Conor Foley

Well obviously Anthony Barnett would be the best person to draft something of a Charter88 type nature and presumably to also contact Helena and the rest.

Incidentally, anyone want to make a prediction about the nature of the next Nick Cohen (“who’s to say it’s wrong to pin a suspect to the wall and pummel him until he talks”) piece?

One of the morons over at Harry’s Place has already said that he “wants to put his name forward as the first citizen to be detained for 42 days” because he fancies the compensation payments. Yeah, I laughed until I stopped.

Conor – “Incidentally, anyone want to make a prediction about the nature of the next Nick Cohen (”who’s to say it’s wrong to pin a suspect to the wall and pummel him until he talks”) piece?”

Can I tactfully suggest you decline to comment if he does write something up on this 🙂
Mind you, I noticed last week there wasn’t the facility to comment on his piece………..

“and wants to re-cast the Conservative party as the champions of individual liberty.”

… because he’s up against the Lib Dems in H&H, and now Nick Clegg has said they won’t stand agin him he’s suddenly broadening his platform…

Oh dear. We’re far too nice, we Lib Dems, aren’t we?

A good article, Conor.

I feel that more important even than political opposition will be opposition from the press. The fears of the public have previously been exacerbated by fallacious or sensationalist media reportage, and an increased scepticism towards governmental affairs may be reflected in the public.

“Mind you, I noticed last week there wasn’t the facility to comment on his piece………..”

He and Oliver Kamm have a faintly masochistic relationship with CiF.

There isn’t a commenting facility – but I believe there’s an e-mail address, and if you tear his piece to shreds on your own site, he does respond occasionally.

With regards 5, I should have mentioned in that last comment…

Well what view should we take?

Mostly, ignore it. Davis is the Tory MP for that constiuency, and will be afterwards, and nothing will have changed. He supported 28 days, spoke in Parliament for it, and voted for it. That’s a much bigger impact on this subject than any of us could ever have.

Ignoring it would be stupid while it stays a single issue. Yes, nothing will change…but the media will always be there to report. If Davies keep this as a single issue campaign, and he gets a record turn out and increases his majority by however much despite being the only candidate running then the press will report on it, they will create some level of national pressure from the actions of a single constituency.

Or maybe they’ll just do like you say and ignore it? Based on todays coverage I’d be surprised.

Ok, well don’t ignore it, but expose Davis as the hypocrite he is. Why is an extension to 28 days a good idea, one he expends political capital on, whereas to 42 days isn’t? Ask him to explain that, and support real belivers in civil liberties, not those who are clearly doing it for their own political purposes.

12. Conor Foley

Matthew: I think that you are missing the wider point here. This is no time for purism.

If Labour run against DD they will get hammered; so they won’t.

They are already trying to dismiss the whole thing as a “political stunt” (ironic given that the same can be said of their Bill – except DD’s actions are not going to get innocent people dragged out of their beds and banged up as suspected terrorists). They want people to ignore the by-election for the same reason that they don’t really care if the Bill gets thrown out by the Lords. It has served its purpose and now they probably just hope that it will go away.

But if there is no Labour or Lib Dem candidate then DD then becomes the Martin Bell of his day. You can vote for him, not because you agree with his politics, but because he is a symbol of protest. Labour MPs like John McDonell, and Diane Abbot could go and campaign for him without losing the whip. So could Helena Kennedy and Ken Livingstone. There are a bunch of Labour MPs, like Jon Cruddas, who voted for the Bill, while saying that they disagree with it, because they felt it was a confidence issue in the government. This would be a way of keeping some pressure on them.

It also keeps the issue in the news and, by linking it to a broader civil liberties critique of the government, it provides an opportunity to turn some of the arguments around. Of course the Bill played well in the polls (that’s why Brown did it!), but we need to try and make the point that there is a political price to be paid as well. If, as some people say, DDs decision is partly due to a split in the Tory party then, fine, let’s try to draw out some of the differences within the Labour party on this issue. Let’s here more from Sunder Katwala and Neal Lawson, for example.

Barring unforseen circumstances, the next election will either result in a Tory government or a hung parliament.

If it is the latter then the Liberals will have to decide who to back and so the way that the political parties line up on this will matter. If, on the other hand, Labour get back in, then they will likely claim that it is because of the position that they took on this issue. You might be right in saying that DD is a hypocrite, but how does attacking him encourage Labour to abandon its present strategy?

Remember, Brown has got two almost two more years until he has to call an election and he is likely to get ever more desparate. His potential successors are also going to be thinking about where they should position themselves in the post (or maybe pre) election scenarios that could arise. We actually can have an impact on the political atmosphere here.

13. Guy Aitchison

Very interesting and very good analysis. Your point about needing to find common cause with people from whatever party on this issue is absolutely right. Most people I’ve read want to dismiss this as a silly “stunt” and hope Davis looks silly when Labour don’t put up a candidate. If Labour doesn’t then it is because they are afraid of having a debate they know they have already lost. If they think 42 days is the right thing to do they should come out fighting.

I also like the idea of a Charter 88-style set of demands. A cross-party umbrella group with “Not a Day Longer” campaign as a model. Davis called it a “line in the sand”. Let LC help him draw it!

“Why is an extension to 28 days a good idea, one he expends political capital on, whereas to 42 days isn’t?”

As has been said before, the vote on 28 days was completely different to 42. MPs voted for 28 days because they feared that if they didn’t there would be a LONGER period enforced. 28 Days was also a simple doubling of the 14 that existed with all previous rules including the need for judicial oversight, 42 days will radically alter how this process takes place and the involvement of parliament (not to mention removalof juries from inquests). To try and even slightly suggest that someone is hypocritical by voting for one and against the other is to completely misunderstand politics and the political situations of the two time periods.

But that’s not right Lee. David Davis said he supported the extension, not that he feared to not vote for it would mean a longer – or LONGER – period.He gave the reasons he supported it, and argued for it.

16. douglas clark


I agree with what you have to say here. And I think we should be conspiring. On this issue at least I have more in common with DD than I have with the Labour Party. I’m all for Liberal Conspiracy having an impact.

If, for example, prominent Lib Dems and Labour rebels were to go his constituency and campaign for him it could provide the basis for a cross-party defence of an agreed set of basic rights.

See, this is a good point. But I’m really torn on this because while he may like civil liberties, and is a decent man by the looks of it, David Davis is still a social conservative and quite the authoritarian when it comes to locking up criminals.

Admittedly, our opinion of the tories is so low that David Davis looks like a shining star in comparison. But is he the person we should be campaigning for? I’d feel a bit uncomfortable about this… hmmm…

good article though.

Yes, but Sunny, if as Davis says he only intends to campaign on the issue of civil liberties and the surveillance state then we should have no problem supporting him on those specific issues. If he widens his campaign and start muttering madly into his beard (if he had one 🙂 about locking people up and throwing away the key, we make it clear that we’re distancing ourselves from him because of it…..

Conor, sorry, I missed you reply.

But if there is no Labour or Lib Dem candidate then DD then becomes the Martin Bell of his day.

No, really no.

Tthere is a major reason why this can’t be so. Martin Bell, for all his faults of which I am sure there are many, made a plausible anti-sleaze candidate.

David Davis does not make a plausible ‘pro-civil-liberties’ candidate. Support this stunt, and that’s what it is, you support David Davis, who this issue aside (and I have made my concerns about his solidity on this issue known above) hardly believes in any civil liberties – check his voting record on a whole range of issues, including prosecuting 17yr olds if they have sex with men, but not with women.

It’s no time for purism, but surely we shouln’t leap to the defence of any old right-wing Tory who wants to stake a claim for leadership of his party?

Interesting article – I agree that there is merit in thinking about how this offers an opportunity to shift the debate, and it would be better if Davis, rather than, say, Michael Gove ends up leading policy for the Tories in this area.

But the problem with supporting Davis as a champion of civil rights is that he supports the death penalty, opposes the human rights act, supports boot camps for young people, supports indefinite detention without charge of asylum-seekers, and opposes ‘so-called hate laws’. It would be a pretty odd charter which either didn’t mention these issues or supported him on them, and it is a very particular conception of individual liberty which he supports.

If the election ends up being Davis vs no hopers, then it doesn’t really matter how much he wins by. In some ways, what would really make a difference is if there were a really credible independent challenger who really believed in the security agenda. To change the terms of a debate, you have to beat the best of your opponents’ arguments, not pick a fight which you know beforehand that you are going to win. If Davis beat, say, a local ex-policeman who could put the case for the surveillance state persuasively and who was endorsed by the Sun, then that really would make a difference.

Hello everyone – I’ve been posting over at OurKingdom on this, sorry you have not been reading it Conor – a great post. I don’t know how much time we are going to have. I think we should and could launch a campaign called something like Democrats for David Davis. Giving us independence of his overall politics but making common ground on the issues on which he is calling the by-election. it is extremely important that he used the phrase database state, he rightly sees 42 days as a symbol of a much larger momentum – this is why it is different from 28 Days. he also grasps that it is about the innocent and NOT terrorists – see my article on this in OK which sets out the principles as I see it at least. The battle here is one man against the political class – a class that includes the BBC as well as the Sun. They want to make it about narcissism. That’s the kind of story they know. they hate the prospect of writing about ideas and principles and even policies that could hold them to account to, and oblige them to take the substance seriously. It is that corrosive. This is a very important moment. I have talked with Helena (who can’t support a Tory in an election but I hope will welcome the opportunity to take the issues to the people). PS: there is also the House of Lords debate coming up.

22. Conor Foley

Great – wonderful Anthony. Let’s go with DfDD. This could be exciting.

I agree that Labour won’t stand a candidate (as an aside, Kelvin McKenzie just suggested – only half-jokingly – on This Week that he might stand as a Murdoch-backed candidate if Labour didn’t put one up). But even if they don’t, I’d be very surprised if any Labour Rebels or Lib Dems publically campaigned for him. I think it’s much more viable that they’d put their name to a robust, long-term, cross-party campaign on general civil liberties issues (someone should get Liberty and Amnesty involved too) which might be able to stand up in defence of the Human Rights Act and such-like well into the next few years (although I don’t think Davis should be the ‘leader’).

But I think not fielding a candidate could still hurt them – they have made public support a major plank of the case for extension and now they’re too scared to fight on exactly that issue? Plus, I think that once the Westminster/media hysteria about how crazy and counter-intuitive this is wears off the prinicpled stand may start to play better, even if it hardly wins people over to bleedy-heart lefty-ism and its variants. Not having a candidate will return the issue to Brown being indecisive, not wanting to put key issues to the public (a la Europe and bungled election) and will keep 42 days in at least some headlines.

Some people have suggested that this takes the heat off Brown in the short-term by detracting attention from the DUP/Labour Rebel bribes. Maybe it did today. But I think in the medium term, the Davis campaign will provide a relatively prominent platform to keep talking about that – not to mention that there are now several weeks where more damaging detail might come to light on exactly how much arm-twisting there was.

24. Conor Foley

If Labour or the Liberal Democrats want to make a principled case against DD then they just have to stand a candidate against him and we can discuss who has the better policies.

If they don’t then this by-election is about what the only declared candidate so far says what is about – and we have to balance that against the views of those who say that the issue does not matter and that DD is “bonkers” for thinking that this is a sufficiently serious issue to justify what he has done.

I think that the battle lines are fairly clearly drawn on this one. A progressive intervention could create its own dynamic. Finding good reasons to do nothing certainly won’t.

But it is kind of bonkers – that’s the problem. If he was reisigning and standing as a anit-42 days indepndent, or he was taking his case to the country via public meetings, or he was going to stand against Gordon Brown in his constituency, then it would make sense to join in the election on one side or other.

But he’s not.

He’s resigning to stand again for the same party in the same seat on the same policies that he stood in 2005, with the certainty that he will win as the Lib Democrats aren’t standing.

Thinking some more, the very minimum that a progressive alliance for Davis must demand in return for its support is that he quits the Conservative Party and stands as an independent. That shouldn’t be a difficult requirement for someone so passionately in favour of civil liberties.


the certainty that he will win

Are you sue of that? MacKenzie has done exactly what the anti- side needed to do, say he’ll run as a strong independent. He can legitimately attack Davis from the ‘right’ and back the abour line on civil liberties.

A lot of Davis’s core vote will be threatened by this, and a lot of Lib Dem/Labour voters in the area (a fair few of the LD votes will be tactical) will find it impossible to vote for a Tory, thus either abstain or vote for MacK.

Davis could lose this, and if the dodgy polls are right he might even start behind (in his own constituency) against a strong independent “tough of terror” candidate.

I’d be very surprised if he faced a serious challenge in his own constituency. but if Kelvin Mackenzie runs, the whole thing is surely even more farcicial, and becomes much like an internal Tory party primary.

Should we get involved and support the ‘better’ Tory candidate? I’d say no, but at that point the Lib Dems might consider themselves free from their obligation not to stand and put a candidate up a sensible candidate.

Sorry, my keyboard’s buggered.

The last line should be

‘put up a sensible candidate’.

My I prefer my original idea that Davis should be persuased to quit the Tory party and stand for a civil liberties party.

Can I humly submit that Democrats for David Davis is not the correct thing to call it. The democratic process has got us into this pickle. It’s liberty we’re after.

Those who are saying that Davis doesn’t have the right credentials to lead the fightback on civil liberties seem to be missing an important point. None of the MPs who have the credentials you think are required have had the cojones to follow Davis in resigning their seats.

Davis it is then.

But he’s resigning his own seat and standing for it again as exactly the same candidate, for the same party, with the same policies.

It would show cojones to announce he was going to contest Gordon Brown’s seat at the next election on the issue of 42 days. Or quit the Tory party and found a new party dedicated to civil liberties and challenge the Tories in his old seat.

I do see however that if Kelvin Mackenzie does stand as the Murdoch and Sun candidate it will be a lot of fun watching their arguments beaten.

The bottom line is that the issues he has raised are among the most important that any society can grapple with.

He deserves the support of all who care about freedom.

It is urgent that we turn around the message that Davis’ move is “a stunt”. The media and both the major parties are putting out this message because they don’t want to address the issues and admit to the divisons in their own ranks on this issue. So let’s get the message out as fast as possible that there is a key issue here.

By chance there is today on Juan Cole’s “Informed Sources” blog a definition of habeas corpus. It is indeed what is in the process of being eroded. Get that message out and use the by-election as a platform to continue to put oput that message.

Brown ducked an election yet DD is forcing one. Labour has closed down many police stations so that any response from the authorities may be 20 minutes or more. Very few Police Officers walk the beat and develop a rapport with the community. Very few officers speak immigrant languages. In the days off the British Empire , Indian Civil Service Officers had to speak 4 local languages and understand the minutae of the customs and religions of the local people. We have hardly an effective boder controls or customs and therefore do not have an adequate capability to check people and goods coming into this country. We do not know who leaves the country.

So what do we have: CCTV cameras, DNA database for practically everyone, every government department and apparently local government has the right to obtain telephone and e-mail data on people and in the pipeline is the proposal for a £20B ID card scheme and ASBOs for all. Many reasons children hang about on the streets and drift into trouble is the reduction in sports at schools and youth clubs. A boy who has just undertaken 1.5 hrs of hard rugby, boxing or rowing training will probably only want to stay indoors and rest or go out for quiet pint.

We are asked to trust the government’s competence , yet it keeps on losing important documents. The government spends a fortune on funding PCSOs , what about language training for the existing police force. If the Indian Civil Service expected their officers to speak 4 languages why cannot we expect the same of the police today. Police walking the beat 24 hrs a day who can speak immigrant languages is more likely to be beneficial than locking up innocent people for 40 days. Even our unfit youth can probably walk a mile in 20 minutes. Therefore if the Police turn up after 20 minutes later after an assault means the muggers could be 1 mile away. In the countryside the Police used to own houses in which officers lived so that they could respond quickly. Now the response time can be 1-2 hours if the police have to drive acroos the county.

Locking up people for 40 days, closing down police stations and relying on electronic surveillance is a an easy way of avoiding the need for physically tough and fit police who have been trained to speak the languages of immigrants walking the beat 24 hours a day . Many shopkeepers in immigrant areas are immigrants and suffer very high levels of assaults and robberies. If there were regular police on the beat who reduced assaults on the shopkeepers and spoke their languages and understood their customs I am sure this would be a marvellous source of information. After all it is people providing information and actively opposing criminals and terrorists who have the potential to be the best support the Police and society could receive.

Therefore let us support DD to push back the intrusion of an overpowerful yet lazy and incompetent government.

Davis is a loathsome hypocrite. Voted for 28 days, LOVES the death penalty.

Not the great liberal interventionist Kelvin Mackenzie then? Davis’ move is a stunt however much we like his message. But why do we need to back David to support calls to stop this law? Davis would have the Birmingham 6 hanged and section 28 maintained. Mackenzie is most likely much much worse. But it’s a circus and a bold and brash enough circus to be enjoyed even from the back in the cheap seats.

Anthony Barnett is spot on.

Never trust a Tory. Never.

Schmoo: Why stop at a Tory? Why should we trust any politician of any colour?

42. Ian Hirst

A lot of people are concerned about David Davis’s general right-wing beliefs but surely the whole point of this by-election is that he intends to fight it purely on the issue of civil liberty and as as such as a LibDem voter, I would be very happy to support him in whichever way possible. At the next General Election I would fully expect the LibDems to fight for the seat fair and square.

In a way I would be pleased to see DD up against a single-issue candidate but I fear if it is one of Murdoch’s ciphers the campaign will be polluted and derailed by News Of The World “Davis Love-Child Cocaine Shocker” tactics.

Thank you Liberal Conspiracy for helping people like me voice their views. Please do all you can to enable the average web-user like me to find ways of offering our support on this issue.

This may be a circus to some people here, but the cages outside the tent are not for the clowns and animals, they are being readied for you and me.

I am a Tory. I vote Tory and campaign for them. Judge me as you like, but this phrase resonates with me as much as any I have heard in recent times:

‘…. provide the basis for a cross-party defence of an agreed set of basic rights.’

You are right. Brown has done this to win an election and to reward him for it will result in more of the same.
I believe DD has resigned, not because there is a split [and I a local Tory], but because he fears that unless the boil is lanced and public opinion challenged, these presssures will remain and ANY successive Government will have to appease them or risk being thrown out.
The bidding war on terror has to stop.
I don’t think he is expecting miracles and a change of tide but if he can at least show people will vote even if you take this unpopular stance, – its a start.

44. Conor Foley

Thanks Ali. I am about to go back to Afghanistan, where I am doing some work on a justice project, so will be out of communication for a while, but I hope that Anthony and Sunny can take this forward.

May I humbly? It’s just that I would actually like some feedback on this, but the comment thread is descending into a slanging match between a conspiracy theorist and The Man Least Likely to Change His Mind About Anything Ever…


46. douglas clark

Ali D,

Good point:

unless the boil is lanced and public opinion challenged, these pressures will remain and ANY successive Government will have to appease them or risk being thrown out.

The bidding war on terror has to stop.

I’d agree. What we have seen is a ratchet effect on this issue. Unless public opinion is challenged, and that is largely led by hysterical Red Tops, we will only ever see an upward move in detention limits. I hope we can get something off the ground here.

47. Conor Foley

Alix: I have no idea what point the two guys on your thread are trying to score off eachother.

Obviously, it is up to the Lib Dems if they want to stand a candidate or not. My point is that, in the absence of a Labour or Lib Dem candidate, this by-election provides a possible opportunity for people from difference political parties to come together on the single issue of civil liberties to register a strong protest vote against the government. If that can be developed into a broader cross-party platform in defence of some basic civil rights than it seems to me to be worth doing. if someone has got any better ideas I would be interested to hear them, but all I have read so far is people saying that “we shouldn’t back DD on this issue because we don’t agree with him on others” which seems to miss the point about cross-party campaigning.

The problem with blogging IMHO is that people seem to spend far too much time trying to interpret the world, while forgetting that the point is to actually try and change it.

I have a fleeting stop-over in London on 26 June – en route to Afghanistan – and would be interested if there was a chance to talk about this face-to-face with some of you.

I guess many bloggers (myself included) don’t see the opportunity to really change things, and/or are disenfranchised enough with the idea that anyone *can* change things that blogging is all they can be bothered to do? Probably worth another article writing on that subject though.

“I have a fleeting stop-over in London on 26 June – en route to Afghanistan – and would be interested if there was a chance to talk about this face-to-face with some of you.”

I am totally up for this. I’m with Lee and Ian. I don’t see the point in playing this one party political.

Anthony is taking it rather seriously. I’m waiting to see how things unfold, but I think maybe there is scope to support this measure by Davis. Especially if MacKenzie is standing.

I’m also up for meeting on the 26th Conor.

51. Matt (another Matt)

It’s time to put away childish slogans.

This is serious. The Labour Party is sleepwalking towards a police state. Even though, paradoxically, there will be few police to police it.

David Davis is right.

And if Brown does not field a candidate, then the man will be seen for what he is. A morally bankrupt, politcal coward, who is scared of the electorate.

52. Andrew Adams

I can understand why people might want to put aside certain differences of opinion they might have with Davis in the interests of forming some kind of cross-party movement for civil liberties. The problem I have though is that for me opposition to the death penalty and support for the HRA/ECHR would be an essential part of any “pro civil-liberties” manifesto and Davis’s position on these issues is the exact opposite.

Also, we already have an influential, non-politically-aligned pro-civil liberties organisation and very good they are too. What I find shocking about events in the last few years is not just the various infringements of our civil liberties which we have seen but that it is a Labour government which has been responsible. What’s more I have been genuinely shocked by certain comments on the subject I’ve seen from some Labour party members on other blogs. For me support for civil liberties has always been a fundamental aspect of a centre-left viewpoint and I really worry that the Labour Party is losing its soul on this issue. Therefore what really would interest me is a movement championing civil liberties in a wider centre-left-liberal context. To demonstrate a real alternative to New Labour thinking not only on civil liberties but on issues such as foreign intervention (especially relevant given Conor’s potential involvement) and public services.

53. Andrew Adams

I guess a kind of Liberal Euston Manifesto Without Bombing People is what I’m after.

54. Conor Foley

Andrew: Indeed.

I don’t think that the Left can duck out of this. In years to come people will say “where was the Left when these issues were on the table?” “The only people willing to dicuss these issues were a Tory and a former editor of the Sun.”The Left will be identified with taking away people’s fundamental rights.

It is also an opportunity to say to both the major political parties (who are both embarrased by this episode) that there are people who care about these issues.

There is some deeply depressing stuff in this blog. A good half of the posters don’t seem to be able to see the difference between a man explicitly standing on issues of liberty and a police state – who has some other views, explicitly irrelevant in this case – and the instigators and operators of the police state itself.

On the balance of probabilities, I would be pretty confident that there was not a single adult Jew who died in Auschwitz who hadn’t done something that most of us would not fully approve of. However, that does not make the victims of another police state morally equivalent to the SS who operated the gas chambers. Just because you don’t like Davis’s view on the death penalty or clause 28 doesn’t mean you should not support him in this context.

To quote Churchill: “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

Failing to support Davis – even with reservations – is supporting 42 days, ID cards, universal surveillance and the database police state, just get over your 4th form squemishness and join the real world. Oh yes, you will also be supporting Rupert Murdoch.

His methods might be unorthodox and might even have a touch of egotism about them but David Davis is to be applauded. Nick Clegg too for his leadership in lining up the Lib Dems alongside Davis in his fight against the steady erosion of our civil liberties.

Davis is right about his use of the term ‘strangulation’ of our liberties, for that is what it is: not a sudden assault but a more insidious and creeping process….a line must be drawn and a stand must be made. It is a stand that should involve all good folk…not just Lib Dems and Tories but also Labour activists and I suspect a whole raft of people previously apathetic or disillusioned.

These are all very noble intentions but I can’t help but think that your efforts would be better used in lobbying the politicians who will actually be deciding on this legislation. Neither Kelvin, Davis, or the people of Haltemprice will have any say in the final result, so why waste your time on them?

This is a sideshow that will keep Davis and Kelvin in the limelight whilst keeping the real debate on the sidelines. As long as we have the spectacle of ‘mad’ Mackenzie and ‘mad’ Davis on the TV screens, the ‘mad’ idea of 42 days detention will be glossed over. No amount of liberal bloggers turning up to lecture bemused constituents in H+H will change that.

59. Winston Smith

I have just received the following txt from a friend

‘The Labour party has today changed its emblem from a rose to a condom. This more accurately reflects this government’s political stance.

A condom
– allows for inflation
– halts production
– destroys the nexr generation
– protects a bunch of pr*cks

And gives you a sense of security while you are actually being f*cked’

Go for it David Davis. Ignore the politicians – they have their own agenda (geting/increasing their own power, or holding on to it)
Ignore the newspapers – there agenda seems to be supporting their political buddies at the expense of the population.


I can’t help but think that your efforts would be better used in lobbying the politicians

We’ll be doing that too. But it’s a lot easier to lobby elected politicians if you can make the case to people and voters and show there’s genuine opposition to it.

To do that, you need a debate on the issues, which this forces, Murdoch and the Sun are now firmly behind the Govt case, we oppose alongside a lot of others. The public debate needs to be had, and we need to win it.

If we leave it and opinion polls continue to “back” the measure, then politicians have no motivation to block the measure, Tories in the HoL may decide it’s OK (many of them will want to), etc. Lobbying politicians is fine to deonstrate a principle, but to actually win an argument, you need to persuade the country.

Let’s do that.

61. douglas clark


I agree with you completely. What does that make us, a gang of two? How do we progress this?

Perhaps wiser heads than ours are taking the weekend to think about it, but frankly we should be using this weekend to determine whether we can establish a liberal / libertarian position that would allow us to support David Davies without getting tainted with the illiberal / illibertarian shit he spouts on other issues.

I believe that the issue of 42 day detention has been sold to the general public as a soap powder, a product that will ensure your safety and white nappies for your children. When it is in fact another civil liberty withdrawn by a State that thinks it can, knows it can and then treats us as idiots. I think that sort of invidious propoganda needs to be put to rest, once and for all.

I’d prefer everyone to be upfront. Is Davies supportable on this single issue, or is he not?

62. clive holland

I have not come across this blog before. I find the comments extra-ordinarily serious and sensible, unlike most of the others I hoover up like a junkie.

63. douglas clark

clive holland,

Well, contribute, why don’t you? 🙂

64. Andrew Adams

Perhaps wiser heads than ours are taking the weekend to think about it, but frankly we should be using this weekend to determine whether we can establish a liberal / libertarian position that would allow us to support David Davies without getting tainted with the illiberal / illibertarian shit he spouts on other issues.

That is the essential point. If Davis was standing purely on the issue of 42 days detention I would certainly support him but if he is standing on a wider “civil liberties” platform then it is much more difficult.

This is very encouraging indeed. The idea of holding Labour to account on a single issue, or even the greater issue of civil liberties must be tempting to the left. I have a few questions which I would raise though:

1. Has David Davis sought wider support from Human Rights groups and NGOs, and is he getting it? The Liberty statement from 12th June is brief, and clearly does not indicate any negotiations having taken place, nor a stance on his election campaign.

2. Has David Davis indicated any softening of his views elsewhere in the civil liberties debate?

3. What are the means of preventing David Davis from helping abolish the HRA, selling the message of a specific mandate of civil liberties campaigners?

4. What are the means of preventing David Davis from campaigning for the death penalty under the same false pretence? Consider the media support he would have on these two points.

5. Would either of these two outcomes lead you to regret lending support to the current campaign? If so, how can they be guaranteed not to occur? Would official support from a leading civil rights organisation be enough to extract certain important promises?

6. How would the left regather itself without a Labour Party to defend it, and with a Tory party that claims to have its full support?

7. Not detracting from the substance of the 42-day debate and surrounding issues, but are they worth sacrificing the HRA over? And risking introduction of the death penalty?

8. What if Davis isn’t seeking the leadership, but is adopting the good cop role for the long-term? Shouldn’t we wait to see what the Cameron has to say about official party policy, or attempt to extract solid promises, before worrying about a name?

9. Both parties’ policy on Iran will increase the threat to Britain. If they continue, another, more fatal, attack seems hard not to imagine. What then, under a potential huge Tory majority, will civil liberties mean to David Davis and the Conservatives? These policies must be linked to wider policies that compromise national security, then use that damage as an excuse to impose further breaches of liberty.

10. I admire what appears to be a courageous stand. But human rights and civil liberties are inseparable. How can someone become national spokesperson on these matters when they clearly lack an understanding of the interdependency of rights and liberties? You simply can’t pick and choose – and this man’s choice happens to be one that could collapse his opponents in Government. That makes me, at least, suspicious enough to say I would ask for more before voting Conservative.

To those who say that this is a one-issue vote and we must be pragmatic – be pragmatic. This could well be much bigger than one issue, and you need to be prepared for that eventuality. If this issue is worth his resignation, it is also worth some negotiation before committing support. I do not want to appear unnecessarily negative; I’ll finish where I started – this is extremely encouraging stuff.

66. douglas clark


To encapsulate your point: ‘sup with the devil with a long spoon’? Would that be a fair analysis? If so, it is one I’d agree with.

But I don’t think a Liberal Conspiracy should allow itself to be marginalised in the civil liberties debate by a Right Wing Tory. Even if that means agreeing with him on the single point he has raised.

Most of us are against 42 day detention, I think. And, as long as that – or it’s close relatives like DNA databases and ID cards – is the extent of his campaign, we should give it conditional backing. With the word conditional being in capital letters. On these issues, and this issues only.

Avoiding the debate just makes us look, well, Labour.

If we want to make a difference, here is an opportunity. It is up to us to figure out how to exploit it. So, your point about a negotiated support is well taken.

“we should give it conditional backing. With the word conditional being in capital letters. On these issues, and this issues only.”

Would there be a general agreement that those conditions be

1. That DD retract his support for the abolishment of the HRA.

2. That DD retract his support for the death penalty.

3. That DD promises not to support either in future by vote, by act nor by word.

4. That DD first makes a clear public statement on these conditions in Parliament before any support be extended.

5. That the “war on terror” will not become a pretext for further encroachment on civil liberties and human rights?

To have the chance to put these to the candidate could be revealing. If these could be agreed on, then I, for one, would support actively with immediate effect.

Damien, if we back him “On these issues, and this issues only.”, then bringing in issues we disagree with him on isn’t doing that, is it. So your first three points are moot as they are issues we disagree with him on—specifically, your first point seems to misunderstand his actual objection to the HRA and the way it has been implemented, but as it’s not the discussion at hand…

Your fourth I’m confused by—he has resigned as an MP, so how can he make a statement in Parliament? And your 5th does indeed seem to be the basic point of his campaign already.

Quite, Mat. What Damian is asking for is for someone to be his specific champion…a more persuasive or powerful version of his own views. Let’s get real shall we, even the MPs we most agree with have traits, views or voting patterns we disagree with. If we’re going to sit around waiting for someone that has every one of our principles on any political matter to come by to be our shining light then we’re going to be sitting in the dark for a bloody long time.

Admittedly 4 was in haste. Hansard struck me as the best public record that might stand weight against the media assault that could follow, and I hadn’t internalised that he’s no longer an MP. Any public statement would do, as I imagine his words will be closely followed from here on in.

But this is no wish list – it was an attempt to provide some form, other than simply accepting that which DD has offered. If you have a better idea, suggest it. If not, contact me.

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