7:51 pm - June 12th 2008
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.
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
· Other posts by Conor Foley
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