In the interests of balance: Why we shouldn’t support David Davis

12:57 am - June 13th 2008

by Jennie Rigg    

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What David Davis did today was not unprecedented, but it was something quite rare. However, I would urge caution on rushing headlong to leap into bed with him and give him our support.

– He’s an extreme social conservative
– He’s pro Death Penalty
– He’s anti gay rights
– He’s anti abortion
– He didn’t just vote in favour of 28 days, he argued in favour of 28 days.

Also, before we decide who to support in Haltemprice and Howden, we need to know who will be standing against Davis. We already know that my party won’t be fielding a candidate, and I’m not alone in being unhappy about that. Labour would be foolish in the extreme to field a candidate, and the BNP have already said that they won’t stand in Davis’s way. So who does that leave?

Well, tonight on This Week, Kelvin McKenzie announced his intention to stand against Davis on a pro-42 days, pro-surviellance society ticket. And there’s always an outside chance that an old MP for Haltemprice might be persuaded to put his hat into the ring too…

THREE extreme right wing, pro death penalty, anti-gay candidates? How will we choose?

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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Conservative Party ,Detention (28 days) ,Equality ,Humour ,Media ,Our democracy ,Terrorism

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Reader comments

If Kelvin MacKenzie stands, then I’m on the first bus to campaign for David Davis.

I think I might join you Sunny. Friend of mine lives there apparently, he’s probably got a sofa I can steal.

3. 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. (I am double posting this from my own piece – it would be good to try and discuss it collectively)

If it ends up being McK Vs Davis, we NEED a proper progressive, because although Davis is on the right side in this issue (and I was impressed with him running rings around Humpty this morning) he’s in the wrong on so many others, and if we support him on this we look like we support him full stop.

5. douglas clark

For the life of me I can’t see a downside in supporting David Davies on this issue only.

Especially if it is made very clear that that is what is being done. For instance:

“Whilst we, the undersigned are not Tories and disagree completely with David Davies on many other progressive issues.

However, on this issue – the increasing intrusiveness of the State into the lives of citizens – we agree with him completely.

This is an issue where the electorate has not been given the true facts by the government and we welcome this opportunity to air the issue publically.”

I don’t think that that is much different from what Nick Clegg said yesterday. Yet it would, I think, accurately reflect the opinions of most of the contributors to this site.


When you say he’s an “extreme” social conservative, what is that you think he believes in that a common or garden social conservative wouldn’t?

He’s clearly not homophobic (see the Michael Brown story and his work with Iain Dale), so it may well be that he opposed the repeal of s28 on the same grounds I did (and I think that homosexuality is as natural as daisies in springtime) – namely that the majority of parents probably didn’t want their children taught about homosexuality at school and that their views should prevail. Of course if we didn’t have something as grossly illiberal as a state education system, we wouldn’t be arguing over anything so silly, but as a John Stuart Mill fan, I’m sure that you recognise this and oppose state education like the great man himself.

Anti-abortion? I tend to steer clear of this issue. I tend to take the view that anyone who displays any moral certainty on it hasn’t thought it through properly. Suffice it to say that I don’t think an anti-abortion stance is necessarily an indicator of illiberalism.

Death penalty? Chris Dillow wrote a very interesting piece about this. In many ways it’s much more liberal than prison because the punishment is focused entirely on the criminal. Prison involves punishing the law-abiding by forcing them to pay for a criminal’s upkeep. And all punishment involves removing from a criminal some of their rights (in the case of prison it’s freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of speech). I’m not actually pro-death penalty myself, but my point is that supporting it doesn’t automatically make someone illiberal.

28 days? Valid criticism. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know whether he was toeing the party line then, or whether he feels 42 is going too far, or whether it was, as he suggests, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Oops. Spelt your name wrong. Humble apologies.

Having read around the blogosphere. I’ll stand corrected on Davis’ resignation.

I think he *is* making a principled stand. Also I don’t really have a problem with traditional conservative views – if they’re honest and consistent. Life is all about traditionalists and liberals. It’s bullshitters and cowards I can’t stand.

If McKenzie does stands against him, the entire Liberal cause, has a common ally in Davis. Full stop.

“Gay rights” is code for giving gay people license to enforce their association on others, through employment or contract, which is illiberal. Unless Davis advocates making homosexuality illegal, he is in favour of gay rights, i.e. the right to be gay!

But he is problematic in other areas. I haven’t checked myself but I am told he takes a hardline stance on drugs which is also intrinsically illiberal. I still feel he is worth supporting on this issue.

Labour probably won’t stand against DD. And this should tell you everything you need to know about this shower of a government.


For me drugs are a touchstone libertarian issue. But, like abortion (sorry folks), it’s a subject where I have sympathy for other people’s points of view. People have life-experiences that often trump their political alliances.

Maybe I’m just being too understanding today.

I don’t think I’d go as far as to say that it shows we support the Tories. People can spin it that way if they like but it doesn’t matter for two reasons, the first being that the support will only be in one strong tory constituency so the outcome won’t make a shit of difference, and that secondly it is easy to explain that the support is based on one issue.

News agencies and reporters had no problem whatsoever investigating the “protest vote” assessment of the local election results, so I fail to see why they’d be so naive on this issue that from day one has been hyped up to be on a single issue or single group of common issues.

It is disappointing to think that people can’t vote for the best candidate in these by elections and local elections. Lib Dem’s aren’t fielding a candidate, neither are Labour…there is nothing to lose by supporting Davis on these issues, you can still go back to being a Labour and Lib Dem supporter and you won’t have dirtied yourselves.

His other stances don’t matter on this issue, as supporting him on detention is not akin to supporting his stance on gay rights or capital punishment.

I also would like to know what you’ve seen in his speeches during the 28 day debate. it was far from being emphatically argued for detainment. He repeatedly stated that he did not believe that there was necessarily a need for 28 days.

He didn’t just vote in favour of 28 days, he argued in favour of 28 days.

Does anyone have a Hansard link for this?

14. Different Duncan

Surely this is a great opportunity for the Greens… maybe not the best constituency for them, but with no Labour or Lib Dems, they could easily get second place.

15. John Welch

Reading three broadsheet papers this morning and their comments on Davis’ resignation is disheartening. Widespread condemnation of him because he has dared to step out of line, is guilty of rocking the boat. As politics becomes more and more reflexive and self-contained, the preserve of professional politicians, people who in many cases have never been anything else, his action is if nothing else refreshing.

His action gets a ticking off from Michael White in the Guardian – on the grounds that ‘history is against him’ – and White quotes among others the case of the Duchess of Atholl who apparently ‘triggered a Perthshire byelection in 1938 after being deselected over her vocal opposition to Franco in Spain’s civil war.’ Well, what a silly girl, she should have know better. And ‘vocal’ with it.

All the papers accuse him of acting out of ‘vanity’. A politician with more than a hint of vanity – this is clearly unprecedented. . . And if commentators can ‘interpret’ his behaviour like this, then by the same token we can ‘interpret’ theirs. What is their ‘real’ motivation for undermining his stand using this cod pyschology?

Don’t think too much should be made of Labour not standing in this particular seat. If Davis had resigned and paired with another anti-MP who also resigned – say Bob Marshall Andrews – and took on Mackenzie as Independent or better still Blair as Official Labour in Medway then we’d have a useful bellweather party political by-election.

This particular seat cannot really be that. It is a stunt building towards a circus and the best we can hope for – and I think this is achievable – is that the process turns the 70-30 national polling on its head on this particular issue.

He said:

That is why my hon. Friends made it clear in Committee that we agree with the Government that the current 14-day limit is too brief and propose its extension to 28 days. I believe that that proposal will find widespread support among Members around the House, including on the Government Benches.

18. douglas clark

The degree of ‘spin’ the Westminster village – which obviously includes the media – is placing on this is really quite odd. It is almost as if Davies were a ‘class traitor’ for actually wanting to put his case to the people.

He argued against 90 days, 60 days, and 42 days.

Not the perfect ally, but one worth supporting.

Matthew, he also spoke against detention of any kind in the same speech.

“I have not yet heard the case that any terrorist incident would be prevented by an extension even to 28 days, let alone 90.”

“On Second Reading, I said that I did not really see an argument to go beyond 14 days, and one of the fears was that locking people up for a month is still harmful. The only reason that I would go to 28 days is that the Home Secretary has given an undertaking that the powers will be used extremely sparingly.”

I agree that if his views on drugs are as described then he is not the perfect libertarian. But as UK Liberty says, he’s worth supporting on these issues. And he is the only one making a stand.

22. douglas clark


The full Hansard quote that you linked to says a bit more than you quoted here. Firstly, it was about the Governments’ then proposal to extend the detention period to 90 days. In full, it said:

David Davies (Shadow Home Secretary, Home Affairs; Haltemprice & Howden, Conservative) | Hansard source

The hon. Gentleman will start terrible rumours if he is not careful.

The initiative will lie with the police. When the Cabinet Office gave me a Privy Council briefing on the matter, I expressed my concern that the provision will take the pressure off the police to resolve situations quickly. After all, even 14 days is a damaging experience for someone who is innocent, so 90 days is an enormously damaging experience that could wreck lives, ruin jobs and destroy relationships. We must understand that this is a fundamental British freedom that should not be thrown away lightly.

We recognise the Government’s difficulties on this. It is of course a matter of judgment. We acknowledge that the world has changed since the IRA halted its terror campaign. New technology brings new security challenges. As the Home Secretary said in relation to the National Technical Assistance Centre, the police and security services need more time to scour CCTV footage and to crack encrypted messages. The international dimension of Islamist terrorism also brings new challenges. That is why my hon. Friends made it clear in Committee that we agree with the Government that the current 14-day limit is too brief and propose its extension to 28 days. I believe that that proposal will find widespread support among Members around the House, including on the Government Benches. But the proposal before the House is not ours but the Government’s. The Government propose a full 90 days. The House must therefore ask itself this question: have Ministers made a robust, convincing and evidence-based case, not for an extension, as there is a case for that, but for 90 days? I do not believe that they have.


You have Robert Sharp assuming that David Davies is boiling frogs here. I do not see how arguing for 28 days in the face of a proposal for 90 days is quite that.

Maybe you could explain?

“He argued against 90 days, 60 days, and 42 days.

Not the perfect ally, but one worth supporting.”

But surely we can do better? Get the Lib Dems to put up a candidate who is against 28 days, the death penalty, section 28, and for equal rights for homosexuals etc. Why settle for supporting this candidate?

24. Ian Hirst

Is it just me or does anyone else hear the faint echoes of The Peoples’ Front of Judea versus The Judean Peoples’ Front ?

Douglas Clark has it spot-on. This is a SINGLE-issue vote and if David Davis sticks to that he has my support. At no other time could I see myself saying that.

I do not want the LibDems or any from the Centre or Left to offer a candidate on this one occasion.

Kelvin McKenzie or whomever Rupert Mordor sends in to oppose him will do his absolute best to derail the discussion and splinter any coalition behind Davis. Judging by some comments here I fear too many of us on the Left would take the bait.

(If that first or last sentence breaches the no-bickering rule please delete it with my blessing.)

25. Ian Hirst

May I just edit my comment slightly about not wanting a leftward candidate against David Davis…

A candidate form the centre-left who genuinely believed in introducing the 42 days rule and ID cards etc might be a good idea. These people obviously exist. The result might be a better indication of real publc opinion.

Ian, I entirely agree, and although there’s a lot of crossfire here and on Lib Dem Voice, I’m not too worried about Judaean implications.

The leadership made the right decision, and the press frankly aren’t going to care if a few members get uppety about the wider implications. It’s a great story, and we’re officially on the Side of Good, where we will remain until it stops being the Side of Good and becomes once more the Side of Being a Tory who Happens to Believe Some Good Things.

Now, can we please get back to the main points, which are (1) putting the boot in on 42 days and (2) putting the boot in on the Tory split!

Matthew: “But surely we can do better? Get the Lib Dems to put up a candidate who is against 28 days, the death penalty, section 28, and for equal rights for homosexuals etc. Why settle for supporting this candidate?”

If the Lib Dem’s were quick enough to do it first then maybe it would have worked out even better. As it happens Davis has done it and that’s that. The Lib Dem’s simply cannot stand now without having people ask questions about why they are standing against a single issue candidate on liberal issues. Quite aside from the fact Davis is fairly safe in his seat, Davis was also one of the more commanding voices. Unless Huhne quit his seat and then somehow got parachuted in the Davis’s constituency there was no way whatsoever that a Lib Dem could win this fight without coming out tarnished, so why bother? Tactically it makes no sense.

Lib Dems need to be quicker in the future if they wish to seek this kind of political capital.

Why bother? To engage Davis on the issues where he is far from liberal. To show that civil liberties are not just being-against-42-days-but-for-28 days. The LIberal Democrats could hardly contest this seat before being told it was vacant, and it’s not their fault that Davis has done this.

“are standing against a single issue candidate on liberal issues”

This is the great problem in my view. Davis is not standing as a single-issue independent on this issue in a seat he might not win. He is standing as the official Conservative candidate in his own seat on the same policies as he fought the 2005 election, most of them illiberal…

I’m for plural politics so that we can have exactly these sorts of debates in order to discover our own minds, not to be manipulated into supporting someone else’s.

For a matter of record I wish to state that I don’t agree with people (whoever they are and however they present themselves), because I agree with coherent ideas and consistent arguments. So if DD and I happen to be in the same place on this one issue (and we’re not entirely) it still doesn’t mean I’m prepared to abandon my own principles in support of his.

As a result I’m increasingly seeing the way this story is being presented as a political attack on the LibDems by attempting to divide the liberals from the democrats and get a return to two party politics (which is both illiberal and undemocratic).

If there is (at any point) the slightest hint of this issue being fought on party politics and manifesto’s then I would agree with thomas and Matthew, however the reality for me is that while the Lib Dem’s don’t fight it the need for party manifesto’s and such don’t come in to it, they need not come in to it.

Again, I have to wonder what Lib Dem’s that are making such a fuss about the Lib Dem’s not standing here have to gain by bringing attention to the man’s party and away from the issue he purports to be running on, and I also fail to see how it is impossible for even the most staunch Lib Dem or Labour supporter to support DD on this and still be a Labour or Lib Dem supporter to the hilt.

31. Ian Hirst

Matthew, I am sure every one of us would agree with your viewpoint come the next General Election but David Davis cannot magic-up a marginal seat, he can only use the platform he already has and it seems to me he is unequivocal that this contest will be fought by him solely on the civil liberty issues that have been crystallized in the shape of 42 days and ID card.

I say again, if he sticks to that and he gets a thumping majority (especially against someone like Kelvin McKenzie) surely that can only help in the fight against both authoritarian parties.

32. Diversity

I do not like David Davis’s views. I was relieved when he did not win the Conservative leadership.

However, I am all for people standing up for their principles. The principle of the liberties of the subject tah the is standing up for has my heartfelt support.

Damned be he or she who votes against David Davis in this by election.

If the present Labour leadership refuse to put up a candidate to argue their case for 42 days, that will merely demonstrate that they know they have no argument to put, and/or that they can not imagine electoral bribes capable of swaying the Haltemprice, etc., electors.

If Kevin McKenzie stands taht will merely demonstrate his Toad-like self importance; and his capacity to be wrong on every issue.

All that said , I look forward to the LibDems turning David Davis out of the Commons at a forthcoming general election.

33. douglas clark

I would have preferred it if this debate had been kept under the one heading.

Ho hum.

Over in the other house ‘Why we should support David Davies on 42 Days”, Conor Foley has suggested a meeting with as many of you as can make it to discuss this further. As the guy has an incredible campaigning and human rights record I would urge any of you that can go to take up that offer.

i dont want to sound too dogmatic as i do think the cause is just. But (and thanks for all your replies which have made me reconsider my views to some extent) . 1. As i said if davis was really serious about this he would stand as an independent. Not the conservative. 2. Cross party support does not mean standing down in elections. We could easily get a better candidate and really test public support for liberal policies, and or perhap but 3. .It smacks too much of a referendum and one where the electorate is chosen by david davis. Its not a test of public opinioh any more, perhaps less, than brian bloody souters referendums.

I wish I could, but unfortunately if I can make it to the event on Wednesday I’ll be lucky.

Above was in reply to Conor’s visit. 😛

“As i said if davis was really serious about this he would stand as an independent. Not the conservative.”

Why? I don’t understand what his party affiliations have to do with this.

As a centre-left leaning person, I’m backing David Davis. He has been the only one who resigned his seat on principle, not the nappy-wetting Labour MPs who time and time again swallowed their principles for political advantage… except THIS TIME, it will provoke a HUGE public backlash. By not standing a candidate in this by-election, Labour have shown themselves to be the cowards and the warmongers they really are. END OF.

“Why? I don’t understand what his party affiliations have to do with this.”

Well it’s quite simple, surely? He’s standing as a Conservative MP, his entire efforts in Parliament will be to return a Conservative government. No-one, I think, believes a Conservative government will be any better than this governemtn on civil liberties, indeed we know from Davis’s voting record that he would like them to be worse in many areas.

So why do you think relecting, with a bigger majority, a Conservative MP, is a good idea?

And of course, from Davis’s point of view, standing as the Conservative candidate in a seat with a majority of 5,000 – (at a guess given current opinion polls) – 15,000, means its basically a no-risk move. Demanding the Conservatives stand against him, but he stands on a civil liberties platform, would be courageous.

Cynically, wouldn’t putting up a “progressive” candidate who supports 42 days be a good way of splitting the Kelvin McKenzie vote, should it come to that?

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