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Thursday, June 12, 2008 

Davis deserves and needs support.

Apart from "Aha!", the other catchphrase that Alan Partridge bequeathed us was "and on that bombshell...". I'm sure that Steve Coogan won't begrudge us somewhat stealing it to describe David Davis's completely unexpected resignation from the post of shadow home secretary and as an MP to contest a by-election entirely on the Labour government's bonfire of civil liberties.

Let's get the sniping and conspiracy theories out of the way first. Numerous sources are alleging that this was Davis going nuclear: either because Cameron wouldn't commit to repealing 42 days if it reaches the statute book should the Conservatives win the next election, or because he was fed up with the Cameron clique muttering behind his back over his stranglehold on home affairs policy, doing things that were not going down with the all so important Murdoch press, despite the Sun being almost in a minority of one in Fleet Street in supporting 42 days. Others still are suggesting that this is to carve out a niche for the old-school hard right, or even the first step towards Davis launching a bid for the leadership.

It would be naive to dismiss the possibility that it could be all or any of the above, and certainly foolish to not realise that they must have played some role in his decision to step down. What is also clear however is that Davis has been for a while now completely aghast at the casual, crude and populist way in which our ancient liberties have been abused, diminished and now finally, with 42 days, almost taken away entirely. As others have written, Davis doesn't care much for liberties which have been won partially thanks to Europe, such as the Human Rights Act, which despite its shortcomings still offers some protection, but rather out of a patriotic sense of disgust at ancient, uniquely British liberties being sold on the open market and for short-term party political gain. For him, 42 days has been the final straw.

Reading the dismay, in some places verging on despair posts that have been written across the whole spectrum of blogs in this country, many of those online, although hardly being representative, feel exactly the same way. 42 days has been a wake-up call beyond what 90 days was for many because we all knew that not even Blair could possibly get away with such a constitutional outrage. 42 days however is meant to be more reasonable; just look at the safeguards, look at the judicial supervision, looking at us bending over backwards so far that the powers are almost worthless! None of this alters the fact that being held in a police cell for six weeks, only to then be possibly released without charge is quite simply unacceptable in any democracy worth the name. The bottom line is that we don't trust the police, we don't trust the security services and we don't trust the government to use such a power responsibly, only when it is needed and only against those that they say it will be targeted against. All three have lied to us time and time again, all have exaggerated the threat and all are motivated, not out of this benevolent desire to protect the public but out of their own self-interest.

This isn't to suggest that David Davis isn't at least being partially motivated by his own self-interest. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be human. Unlike those in the government however that are pretending to be just that, he is at the very least standing for what he believes in. While legion after legion of Labour MPs yesterday passed through the lobby, not because they believed in the legislation but because they had either been bought off or to support the Supreme Leader, the principled few stood up and said that abandoning civil liberties to those who would remove all our liberties were they to have their way is not just wrong, it is bordering on the actionable.

If this is then a stunt, then it's a stunt that deserves not just applause and praise, but that deserves the most ardent of support. Yes, David Davis is a Thatcherite. Yes, he's a social conservative rather than a genuine social libertarian. Yes, he supports capital punishment. All of that however pales into inconsideration when he makes his case so clearly and so singularly against this shabby Labour government:

But in truth perhaps 42 days is the one most salient example of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedom.

And we will have shortly the most intrusive identity card system in the world. A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it.

We have witnessed an assault on jury trials, a bolt against bad law and its arbitrary use by the state.

And shortcuts with our justice system, which will make our system neither firm nor fair and a creation of a database state opening up our private lives to the prying eyes of official snoopers and exposing our personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers.

The state has security powers to clamp down on peaceful protest and so-called hate laws to stifle legitimate debate, whilst those who incite violence get off scot-free.

This cannot go on, it must be stopped, and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to take a stand.

The partisan Labour hacks think they've got the most wicked wheeze to respond to Davis's stand: don't stand a candidate at all, and let him stew in his own embarrassment. It is indeed a good position to take; that it is politically bankrupt and therefore typical of New Labour is almost superfluous to mention. If Labour decides not to stand a candidate against Davis, then all it will show is that it is simply not prepared to go to the public and have a one-on-one debate about where it has taken us, with in most cases the slightest of public consultation but with the full support of the most authoritarian parts of the "popular" press. If it declines to defend the obscenity of the cost of £93 for an worthless piece of plastic, to support the notion that innocent members of the public should permanently have their DNA and fingerprints stored on a database simply because they were once arrested, and a system by which individuals can be followed around the country that has been completely built by stealth, and instead presents Davis's stand as a lone individual barking at the moon, then it truly deserves to be absolutely trounced at the next general election. If I lived in Davis's constituency, I would be voting Conservative for the first and probably last time.

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Agreed. It's infuriating but I'd vote for Davis too. It makes me feel ill, and I blame labour.

I don't agree. It would be different if Davis had resigned and was going to contest (say) Gordon Brown's seat at the next election, or he was standing as an independent 'civil liberties' candidate, or forming a new party. But he's standing in his own seat, for the same party, with the same policies, when the Torieis are 20% ahead and with no real chance of losing.

The best outcome would be to get the Lib Dems to change their mind of standing, and field a candidate who was opposed to 42 days, and 28 days (unlike Davis who argued for it in parliament) and also showed an understanding of other issues of civil liberties, for which Davis doesn't, and get the voters to endorse that.

That wouldn't be too hard, can it?

Now, if Alan Partridge decided to stand in the by-election...

matthew: In an ideal world, that would far better, yes. We're not however, and this might be the only possible way to have a proper debate on civil liberties while also raising their profile immensely. If Labour doesn't stand a candidate against them, and it's Kelvin MacKenzie vs Davis, it'll just confirm that the Labour party is no longer interested in what its own supporters think, but rather what Rupert Murdoch and the scandal sheets do.

The 'New' Labour party never was interested in what its own supporters think. At least since Blair became leader, it has only been interested in what the party apparatchiks think its supporters ought to think. The lunacy, in electoral terms, of this delusion is only now beginning to become apparent.

Clearly Davis is better than Mackenzie, but wouldn't such a choice highlight the obvious choice: none of the above?

No-one's obliged to play David Davis's games, and/or any other Tory MP who takes advantage of their poll lead to indulge in similar stunts. No-one, I think, believes Davis is a civil libertarian, he believes in jailing 18yr old boys who have sex with other boys, jailing anyone who takes drugs, for example, and so we can surely do better?

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