Why I’m not backing Davis


11:50 am - June 15th 2008

by Unity    


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I received a couple of Facebook requests this morning, both of which I accepted without thinking too much about it, having not quite got my head together.

A cigarette and cup of coffee later, I logged on Facebook, accessed the group I’d joined while still half asleep, took a quick look at its membership list to see who else had signed up, and then clicked the link to leave the group.

The group of which I was very briefly a member is called “Fight For Freedom – Support David Davis!” and my decision to duck out of the group had nothing to do with its members. There are plenty of good bloggers in the group, people whose opinins I have a lot of time for. However, while I’ve got every intention of arguing for civil liberties, if the by-election at Haltemprice and Howden goes ahead, the one thing I’ve no intention of doing is supporting David Davis.

A partisan thing?

Not at all – anyone who knows my views on such matters knows full well that I’ve no brief for this government when it comes to their record on civil liberties. Forty-two days detention without charge is just the latest in a long series of assaults on our fundamental liberties enacted by the government under the pretext that such measures are necessary to fight terrorism and, in some respects, by no means the worst.

When you consider that we already have laws in place that permit an innocent academic to be arrested and held for six days for simply downloading publicly available material from a US government website for legitimate research purposes and that the Home Office are, because they a foreign national, now seeking their deportation despite their having lived peacefully in the UK for more than a decade, the various checks and balances forced on the government in order to secure a Commons majority for the Counter Terrorism Bill look like a model of judicial rectitude. If you’re genuinely looking for a modern day example of Star Chamber justice and wholesale abuse of the principle of habeas corpus, its not the length of time that the police are permitted to hold suspects without charge you should be looking at but the whole system of Asylum and Immigration Tribunals, an issue on which you’ll be hard pressed to find Davis or any other Conservative voicing concerns about civil liberties.

A vote for Davis is no more than a vote for a status quo that is already unacceptable, that much is clear from Dominic Grieves’ announcement that a future Tory government would repeal the detention provisions in Counter Terrorism Bill, returning the UK to a situation in which detention with charge is limited to twenty-eight days – and its for that reason that Davis will not be getting my support.

What will I be doing if the by-election goes ahead?

Well, for one thing, I will certainly be campaigning against Kelvin McKenzie, if he runs, but what will I be campaigning for?

My hope, at this stage, is that a candidate will step up and actively campaign against both McKenzie and Davis on a platform of reducing the limit for detention without charge below 28 days and on a package of other repeals and reforms designed to reassert, in law, the liberties that have been leached away, degree by slow degree, over the last seven years – and for that reason I find the response of the recently-formed Libertarian Party to be rather a disappointment.

I would have hoped that, if the party genuinely has the courage of its professed convictions, it would be spending much less time on nonsensical publicity stunts and rather more time on putting together an clear argument for a reduction in the upper limit for detentions without charge, if not going the extra mile by running a libertarian candidate against both Davis and McKenzie. At the very least, this would provide definitive proof that the Libertarian Party are something more than a bunch of dilettante keyboard warriors who’re more interested in heaping embarrassment on a government they patently despise, from a nice safe distance, than they are with giving the people a positive choice in this by-election; a chance to vote not just for the status quo but to register a vote for more liberty.

So, how about it DK?

As it’s apparent that Davis has no intention of taking up your kind offer of party membership, is the Libertarian Party up for taking a stand on its principles and giving the voters of Haltemprice and Howden a positive choice? The field, is after all, yours for the taking and, if Davis is true to his word, the fight will take place on what should be the Libertarian Party’s natural ground.

But what if no such candidate presents themselves, whether from LPUK or as an independent? What then?

There is one other way that the voters of Haltemprice and Howden could register a positive vote for liberty in the absence of such a candidate, and its a method that I would expect to sit far better with those on the liberal-left who harbour serious misgivings about his reactionary social values.

To the 17,000 plus Lib Dem voters of Haltemprice and Howden and to those amongst the 6,000 or so Labour voters who see the government’s track record on civil liberties I has this suggestion. You have what amounts to a free vote in any by-election in the constituency and if there is no candidate prepared to make a stand on restoring the civil liberties lost over the last seven years, no one who is prepared to send a message not just the government but to parliament as a whole that we are not only unprepared to sacrifice any further freedoms in the spurious name of security but that we actually want our old liberties back, then don’t just sit out the election campaign and stay at home on election day.

You can still send a positive message if only you organise, campaign for and turn out en mass on polling day and deliberately spoil your ballot paper as a vote for the restoration of civil liberties lost over recent years.

If no one will go in to bat for the restoration of liberties, then that is what I’ll be arguing for and supporting over the next few weeks, and not David Davis.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


Unity,

Three things that LPUK currently lack: money, time and bodies, although they are building slowly. We also lack on the ground organisation: we have no literature at present (something that we have learned that we definitely need). We are learning gradually but we need more time yet.

Unless, of course, Labour members like yourself are offering to help us out? No, thought not.

We could stand against Davis on the grounds that he doesn’t go far enough and, indeed, we considered it. However, it seems rather pointless when we could wait a bit longer and try to campaign against those who are even less liberal than Davis, e.g. just about anyone else. Especially your lot.

I would have hoped that, if the party genuinely has the courage of its professed convictions, it would be spending much less time on nonsensical publicity stunts…

Sigh. Unity, I am not LPUK and LPUK is not me, OK? What I do on my blog and what LPUK does are not the same thing. You know that very well.

If no one will go in to bat for the restoration of liberties…

Talking of keyboard warriors, Unity, why don’t you stand as candidate for the restoration of liberties? Come on, we could all form a Bloggers For Freedom Party. I’m assuming that you are passionate about this to put up the deposit too?

DK

There are lots of people demanding that Davis incorporate their pet desires on his platform. I’ve commented on why this is futile at my own site.

3. Conor Foley

So why don’t you stand yourself Unity?

There is something very strange about debates in the blogosphere where people are constantly calling on other people to do things. I have noticed the same thing in the debates about humanitarian intervention.

There is going to be a by-election because DD has sacrificed his career on an issue of principle. You can support him in this or you can back the government (either by supporting his probable opponent, splitting the vote or calling on people to abstain, spoil their ballots etc.). The rest is just sophistry.

Forget the LPUK, this situation also bodes badly for the Libdems.

As Alix Mortimer argues convincingly here, the narrative was always going to turn into “a man of principle”, thereby shielding any criticism of Davis.

But I think they should have not said anything, and then waited until the furore had died down to say that their candidate was going to take an even more radical agenda on civil liberties and social liberalism.

Instead, now, the Tories can paint themselves as the principled party of civil liberty! Its absurd!

Conor – take your point. I think I’ll actively get involved in supporting Davis is MacKenzie runs.

Ermm, Conor…..

Someone who writes the following sentence…

“You can support him in this or you can back the government (either by supporting his probable opponent, splitting the vote or calling on people to abstain, spoil their ballots etc.).”

…is really in no position to accuse anyone else of sophistry.

Much has been made of DD’s apparent support for 28 days.

“A vote for Davis is no more than a vote for a status quo that is already unacceptable, that much is clear from Dominic Grieves’ announcement that a future Tory government would repeal the detention provisions in Counter Terrorism Bill, returning the UK to a situation in which detention with charge is limited to twenty-eight days – and its for that reason that Davis will not be getting my support.”

DD had no choice but to vote for 28 days as the vote was structured by the government to ensure that had 28 days failed then in all probability the 60 day limit would have been imposed.

“Some observers commented that it was as if Parliament was holding Dutch auction. However, the situation was worse than that because the time periods were not presented in an appropriate order, and those who wanted a shorter time limit were compelled to vote for the 28 days after rejecting the 90 day limit in fear that the 60 day limit would have won.”

http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2005-11-09&number=85&display=policies

7. Conor Foley

Neil: I am not attacking Unity on a personal basis (and sorry if that is how it sounded) I just mean that this discussion needs to stay in the real world.

DD has resigned and is calling a by-election on the issue of 42 days. He is not going to resign from the Conservative party and nor is he going to change his views on a variety of other social issues. If people decide that they cannot support him because of this, well fair enough. My view is that, on this single issue, he deserves cross-party backing. The whole point about single-issue campaigning is that you make common cause with people on one issue while you disagree with them on others.

The current situation is that the Liberals have said that they are going to give him a clear run and Labour are too afraid to put up their own candidate and so are running the “this election is a meaningless farce” argument.

If Kelvin McKenzie stands then there will be a straight choice for voters on the issue of 42 days. If a third candidate stands then that will split the vote. Unity seems to want a fringe party to put up a candidate – presumably in the knowledge that they will either get a derisory vote, or be effective enough at splitting the “pro-civil liberties” vote that they will help Kelvin McKenzie get elected. Either of those outcomes helps supporters of 42 days.

Alternatively, he thinks that people should either abstain or spoil their ballot papers – which is what the government will be hoping for as well. Whatever his actual intentions all of his proposals objectively support the government and 42 days.

I understand long-time trouble maker and class warrior Dave Douglass is considering standing. If so there will at least be something positive for Labour voters not wanting to give either Davis or MacKenzie a punt.

Sunny, I don’t think the conservatives can paint themselves as the defenders of our civil liberties for the simple reason that David Davis resigned to fight against the opinion of the membership of the party who’ve grown agitated at being ‘bounced’ into the policy.

What it shows is how the Conservatives are an increasingly volatile alliance of libertarians and right-wing democrats and that David Cameron is only leader by dint of being moderate enough and credibly establishment enough to be able to bridge the divide – yet even he risks falling into the divide as they suffer the contortions which are wrenching them apart.

Frankly, the manoeuvres so far show just how incompatible democracy and libertarianism are, which in turn pinpoints the irrelevance of conservatism today.

Conor, I didn’t think there was anything personal there at all – just thought the implication that not supporting DD = supporting the government wasn’t the best way of making your argument.

Re: MacKenzie, I understand your concerns about splitting the pro-civil liberties vote, but I honestly believe that if he does decide to stand, he’ll get crushed. For a start, the public don’t like carpetbaggers; when stood next to David Davis (a man who gave up a shadow cabinet position in order to ‘go home’ and fight for an issue he believes in), MacKenzie is going to look like a shallow, opportunistic little shit who couldn’t give a toss about their constituency but likes the media attention. And this is before people start digging up his ‘colourful’ past.

Secondly, I don’t think the national polling on 42 days has any relevance to ths by-election. Since they decided to vote for the Tory in the first place, they’re going to be more inclined to be receptive to his arguments, and there are going to be just as many people who vote on the basis of what Davis’ action represents as on the issue of 42 days itself.

Davis isn’t going to lose the Tory vote, he’ll get a portion of the Lib Dem vote and I can’t see many Labour activists throwing their support behind a man who is an enemy of the working class. I think it’s a fairly conservative estimate to say he’ll double his share of the vote, and under those circumstances I don’t see a problem with spoiling a ballot or voting for a fringe candidate.

I’m increasing coming around to the idea that Conor is right, and that we have to take a stand on this…

Unity, your main premise seems to revolve around:
A vote for Davis is no more than a vote for a status quo that is already unacceptable, that much is clear from Dominic Grieves’ announcement that a future Tory government would repeal the detention provisions in Counter Terrorism Bill, returning the UK to a situation in which detention with charge is limited to twenty-eight days – and its for that reason that Davis will not be getting my support.

Well, it won’t be the status quo because the status quo is now 42 days… and Labour will try and push it through.

And what if the tories decide to take it lower than 28 days. Will you support them then?

The point seems to be that the only way to roll back the terrorist legislation is to support someone who isn’t over-triangulating in the last gasp for a few votes. By not supporting him, we risk the danger that any attempt to roll back the state on civil liberties is stunted.

On the other hand, supporting him, and capturing the public’s imagination could mean that they go further.

The LPUK gambit is a waste of time.

12. Conor Foley

Neil: I tend to agree with you that if MacKenzie runs he will get crushed. What makes this by-election interesting is that there is a potential revolt by ordinary people against the cynicism of the British political class.

The nauseating thing about the whole 42 days issue is that supporters of the government do not have the slightest interest in the actual issues of terrorism and public safety. They put this issue up as a way of staking out some political terrain because they think that a populist stand on this issue gives them some hope to recreating the 1997 Blairite alliance (Seriously, I know half the Cabinet personally, I know the way that they think and I know their motivations and limitations).

However, a large number of ordinary people seem to have seen through this. It has also sufficiently incensed DD to make this, essentially Quixotic political gesture.

I have no idea why DD has done what he has done because according to most convential political calculations it makes absolutely no sense. Now we can ignore this and carry on saying that it is all “politics as normal” or we can recognise that something quite interesting has just happened which requires us to think a little harder.

I think Unity is spot on here. Of course, Conor has a point: with no actual progressive candidate to vote for, all this talk is a bit empty. So why don’t we put one forward? Does any of us actually have the money for a deposit? I’d happily stand if I did.

I, for one, am not willing to let that man paint himself as defender of my liberties.

#12 Conor

> we can ignore this and carry on saying that it is all “politics as normal” or we can recognise that something quite interesting has just happened which requires us to think a little harder.

And the very fact that the entire political establishment, including most of the regular media, seem to want us to do the former, ought to be a sign that in fact the latter is the best course of action…

I’ve never voted Tory in my life, but I wouldn’t hesitate to vote for Davis, as a one-shot deal. I spent my childhood in the neighbouring constituency, and am well versed in the nasty politics of this part of Blue Yorkshire, but on this occasion he’s 100% right. It seems rather a waste of the moment to come over all ‘neither Washington nor Moscow’ about it. This is a (possibly the last for a while?) opportunity to make an argument on ground that this site was (at least partly) set up to fight for. And with Cameron’s government-in waiting listening.

So why don’t you stand yourself Unity?

Where is the money for the campaign going to come from?

16. councilhousetory

where is the money going to come from?

why not ask the labour party? the libdems? guardian?

that’s right, none of the champions of the left will put up their money or time. it must be quite a fix in islington at the moment. Gordon Brown and Rupert Murdoch, what an alliance for labour.

I think Unity’s second suggestion of organizing a campaign of mass ballot-spoiling (by writing the word FREEDOM in big letters on the paper with a marker, of course) would be great, but I suspect that we lack the time and energy and media exposure to actually get enough people to make a difference by doing it.

“I find the response of the recently-formed Libertarian Party to be rather a disappointment.”

You’ll have to explain to them that moving from 28 to 42 days will increase the amount of Hardworking taxpayers money that the government spends.

Well, for one thing, I will certainly be campaigning against Kelvin McKenzie, if he runs, but what will I be campaigning for?

Has anyone ever campaigned for a candidate with whom they were in perfect agreement?

Either the candidate does not go far enough, or is too radical.

I’m with Conor & Donald.

Like it or not, this by-election is a poll on civil liberties, and however imperfect a representative he may be, Davis is standing as the civil libertarian candidate. The more votes he gets the better, I reckon, in terms of sending a message.

And, if he gets in, then he will have no choice but make these arguments loudly in the house of commons, which, apart from anything else, could be a real nuisance for Cameron.

Sunny:

Instead, now, the Tories can paint themselves as the principled party of civil liberty! Its absurd!

It may be absurd, but surely if they – or any party – are making gestures in that direction, then that is a good thing, no? I’m all in favour of the Tories waxing lyrical about freedom and Habeus Corpus – it makes a future climbdown harder and more humiliating.


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