8:58 am - June 17th 2008
David Davis’ resignation has generated a huge amount of debate on how the liberal-left should respond. Conor Foley said we should support him, and was met with stiff resistance by Jennie Rigg and Unity on here. On OurKingdom, Anthony Barnett openly welcomed his move.
In our internal email list too we’ve been having a raging debate, especially since the talk has moved on to discussions of what action we can take.
The dilemma is painfully obvious.
David Davis is socially illiberal. As it is, many on the left have very deep misgivings about supporting a Tory crusade. Even more, by being portrayed as supporting David Davis by his supporters, there is a danger we may look like we’re legitimising his other stances.
The other problem is that with Kelvin MacKenzie more than likely out of the picture, the by-election is in danger of turning into a farce – contested by a model, and some other random people. If we get involved, we may also end up looking silly.
On the other hand, I absolutely don’t want Gordon Brown’s government to come out looking good over this. That would not only legitimise their increasingly authoritarian policies, which they have now decided to accelerate, but it would also ensure they push through the 42 days even if the Lords reject it.
To illustrate, I got this press release over the weekend:
With focus now shifting to the views of new Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, Labour’s Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said today: “Dominic Grieve’s comments are shocking. Not content with his party this week opposing new powers for the police to deal with terrorism suspects, Dominic Grieve now appears to be going back on the Tories’ support for a 28 day limit on pre-charge detention, which has been central to their case during the progress of the Counter-Terrorism Bill.
“Dominic Grieve describes 28 days detention for terrorist suspects as “much longer than I would like to see” and says the Tories will consider “an opportunity to reduce it”. But the police and investigators have needed the 28 days limit to question and gather evidence against people suspected of serious terrorism offences.
So basically, the only hope of reducing this limit is through the Conservatives. Furthermore, David Davis wants to use his campaign for a major “freedom” campaign, which involves campaigning against all the authoritarian policies the left should be against.
Forget the politics for a minute. Forget that he may be positioning himself. Forget the fact that he is effectively out-maneuvering both the Liberal Democrats and even the Libertarians on civil liberties. Think about the outcomes.
If Davis fails, both Labour and Conservatives keep the status quo or push it further into authoritarian territory. As Anthony Barnett put it very succintly in his email:
Fact: we have to ensure we do win the vote in the lords and then we have to reverse the Commons vote in a year’s time to prevent the Parliament Act kicking in. Fact: we – the left – have to do this because we have to change the Labour vote. Fact: we can’t do this without public support. Fact: public support on this has to be cross-party or we can kiss democracy goodbye. Fact: we won’t win public support by crossing our arms saying ‘DD: we don’t like his smell’. That’s like saying we love liberty so much we are not going to let anyone we don’t like have anything to do with it.
And this is the dilemma we are in. How do we support David Davis on this specific issue, while ensuring we aren’t forced into legitimising the rest of his agenda?
Lee Griffin had this to say:
We know Davies is going to win, so we can use the opportunity. We don’t have to go and say “Davies is amazing as an MP, we support him because he is the champion of civil liberties” What we can say is “Davies is the only one in this contest that, on this issue, is talking any sense with regards to the erosion of civil liberties”. We can tie this in with a greater campaign of awareness, Lib Dem’s can even still use the opportunity to really push themselves.
This has been the line taken more recently by Shami Chakrabarti, Helene Kennedy and others. Here’s few other points to remember: David Davis’ stance on gay rights and 28 days is somewhat misrepresented.
So what form should action take, if any?
Actively campaigning in his constituency? A few people and organisations have seriously suggested this to me over the last few days. A carefully crafted letter of support signed by various people? Some other stunt to keep this debate alive? Ideas, thoughts welcome.
Surely the liberal-left has to come up with some sort of a response rather than remain in intellectual paralysis. This issue is too important.
Some other responses
Conspirators: Voltaire’s Priest is somewhat supportive; Septicisle thinks he deserves our support; Dave Osler thinks he’s an opportunist, Justin McKeating’s not impressed, neither is Jess McCabe and several others internally. David Semple is still supporting Labour; Paul Linford is content to sit back and analyse. Alix Mortimer’s piece is also very spot on: “If it is a Cameroon plot, it’s backfiring on them bigtime.”
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by Sunny Hundal
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