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Friday, July 11, 2008 

David Davis and the end of Labour.

The coverage of the end of the Haltemprice and Howden by-election has been as dismal not just as the weather but also the coverage with which it began. We were told by those comforting journalists inside the Westminster bubble that this was a brave but barmy decision by a vain loner that was doomed to failure. It's ended with it being described as a brave but barmy decision by a vain loner that has failed. No doubt that makes those that began the coverage in such a way feel that they were right all along; that the public doesn't give two figs for civil liberties, let alone the human rights of "terrorist suspects", and that Davis was only one step removed from the actual loonies that fought the by-election alongside him.

The number of those that turned out in H&H, despite the weather, despite some students being away, and despite the lure of the Yorkshire show says otherwise. Turnout was at 35%, which although hardly great is not bad for a by-election, and especially one fought effectively on a single issue, as this one was. It's worth remembering that at the last election H&H was one of the Liberal Democrats' top targets, with Davis at the top of their so-called decapitation strategy. He won with a majority of 5,000, so this wasn't a safe seat until the Lib Dems stood down and cowardly Labour refused to put up a candidate. That Davis tripled his majority shows how despite all the media blathering about complaining individuals in the constituency, there was still a groundswell of enthusiasm and support for his stand, and with the Greens taking second place, on a ticket of reducing the time suspects could be held down to a single week, it showed how the debate was by no means dead. Also worth pointing out is that even on the 35% turnout, Davis received a higher percentage of votes from the constituent electorate than Labour managed in 2005, who received just 22% of the popular vote.

It goes without saying that the big question still remains: has Davis's stand changed anything? The answer to that is both yes and no. Yes because more than any other recent politician or any recent political issue, he's directly reached out to the public themselves and tried to garner their opinions and views above those situated around Westminster. He's directly enthused many that were becoming cynical about the intrinsically selfish nature of politics: giving up your job as shadow home secretary, when in a couple of years' time you're almost certain to become the actual home secretary can be described as both principled and foolhardy as it has, but it also signalled a politician not on the make or above involving the actual people who elected him in the first place. It also has inspired a debate on 42 days, although not as wide a one as some of us initially hoped, but also on civil liberties as a whole. It was clear that Davis for a time had both Labour and the "popular" sections of the media running scared: first ensuring Brown responded to Davis's charges with a speech which failed to even mention him, and secondly humiliating the Sun without him having to even mention the name Kelvin MacKenzie. One day he was "Crazy Davis", then the next week he was praised by none other than the Sun's deputy editor, which is a reverse ferret that you can't help but applaud.

As for whether Davis has seriously challenged the prospects of 42 days getting onto the statute books, the verdict is much less clear cut. The Lords were always going to reject it, but as Martin Kettle pointed out this morning, Manningham-Buller has surely killed all chances of it passing this year now. Her position is almost undoubtedly shared by MI5 at large, and they seem to be furious, not at Davis or the Conservatives for blocking the legislation, but at Labour and Brown for playing politics with an issue they believe should be above such posturing. Davis alone though was never going to end the bill simply by resigning, but by doing so he surely has helped those who were previously sitting on the fence with deciding whether they should speak out or not.

What's more, he has also certainly succeeded, whether he rejoins the shadow cabinet or not, with formulating Tory policy if they do win the next election. No way can they now attempt to introduce an extension themselves, which despite the current position was always a possibility when you have the likes of George Osborne and Michael Gove who were suspicious of Davis and a leader who is trying his best to ape Blair with his friendly attitude towards the Murdoch press.

The biggest impact however will be strangely, but completely acceptably on Labour itself. It's not just been the dealing and bribing which won the vote in the first place, promising billions to the DUP and making clear that abortion won't be introduced in Northern Ireland, it's been their attitude towards Davis and those who oppose 42 days from the beginning. The loathsome Tony McNulty was at it again today, accusing Davis of vanity and then comparing him to Homer Simpson. It doesn't seem to occur to them that this is their last gasp, that it'll be them in a couple of years who'll be the ones going "Doh!" as the results pour in. In any event, being compared to Homer seems preferable to comparing yourself to Heathcliffe.

There have been so many issues which could have completely ostracised the left from Labour, whether it be their obsession with the private finance initiative, the desire to thrust business into education as much as they possibly can, the casual stealth breaking up of the health service and eventual selling off to the highest bidder, the abominable and murderous foreign policy post 9/11 and the kowtowing to the right-wing press, but after all those things, it's been not 90 days but 42 days that has finally caused the schism. We expected that from Blair in his last mad days, but we didn't from Gordon Brown. Back in 2005, I suspect many like myself voted Labour, not because we believed in the party or in those leading it, but because we had a decent local MP that had either voted against the war or had prevaricated before abstaining, as mine did, and had also opposed the worst anti-terror measures prior to 7/7. Compared to Michael Howard, Blair still seemed preferable on those grounds. That MP has now gone, as have many others, and repeating the vote this time would be a waste, not that we're going to make that mistake anyway.

John Kampfner writes in the Telegraph that some Labour MPs are now fearing a complete meltdown whenever the next election is called, and it's hard not to see that coming to pass, at least on a similar scale to the landslide in 97 against the Tories. It's not just the MPs themselves that are demoralised, it's those that put Labour there in the first place too. It may have taken 11 years, countless betrayals and policy blunders, and it's unfair on Gordon Brown, but I think it's safe to say that most have had enough. Most of all what's put me off has been the behaviour not of those who supported 42 days, but those who were actually opposed but are so bitterly partisan and patronising to the Tories for whichever reason that they've spent the entire Davis campaign wind-bagging and mocking despite sharing the exact same opinion as him. Davis was right: this was the time to say enough was enough. Enough is enough. Labour's time is up.

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With a rotten and statistically corrupt voting system, landslides which give an incoming party an inflated Commons majority are inevitable when the public mood turns against a stale government in office.

One of the main charges against 'New Labour' is that they promised to remedy this and other constitutional defects such as Lords reform, but either failed to do so or botched [being natural botchers].

Many more voters than those who think of themselves as 'Left' had a euphoric moment in May 1997. The Tories were tired, sleazy and corrupt, and it was time for a change. 'New Labour' had the political ball at its feet, and almost immediately started to fumble it as those of us who have never been Labour supporters, but are broadly sympathetic to a progressive social agenda, rightly anticipated it would do.

Now, Labour is tired, sleazy and corrupt, and the Tories, if they play their cards right, will have the political ball at their feet after the next election. Even if you instinctively don't like Conservatives or favour all their policies, the most sensible thing all liberal-minded folk can do during the next couple of years and afterwards is to concentrate upon encouraging them towards policies which will be good for - or at least not harmful to - the country, instead of indulging in futile breast-beating of the "what's gone wrong?" kind, as it all too obvious what has gone wrong with the Labour government: first, the vanity and hubris of Blair, second, the bumbling incompetence of Brown, and above all the supine "me-tooism" of the hordes fo useless back-benchers who are overdue to be swept away into the oblivion where they rightly belong.

Ah, I see, windbagging is when you oppose 42 days but think that Davis is an egocentric right-wing reactionary, homophobe who favours introducing the death penalty and 28 day detention without charge.

Well, you choose your heroes if you wish, personally I wouldn't piss on him if he was on fire. But make sure you choose them well, because despite what you say about me being 'bitterly partisan' I detest much of what the Labour government has done over the last decade. But when we are in our 10th year of the conservative regime you crave, the poorest sections of our society will be feeling the sharp end of it, but you will be able to maintain your smug smile.

it reminds me of those student wankers who in 1979 urged people to vote Tory because "things couldn't get any worse under Thatcher'.

Fine fucking strategy that turned out to be.

Bob, much as I admire and respect you, I think you've chosen the wrong side this time.

Davis's support for capital punishment has always been irrelevant. It's never going to be introduced in this country, and while I disagree with him on 28 days (I think 14 days is perfectly adequate) anything less would have resulted in the police and Labour hounding him even more so than they did during the campaign.

Was Davis ego-centric? Quite possibly, yes. Does it sometimes require an act of egotism to put a message across? Again, quite possibly. What he's done is reinvigorate a vital part of our body politic which has increasingly been either ignored or sneered at. Regardless of what his resignation actually achieved, he's put civil liberties and the casual dilution of freedom firmly back on the map. Isn't that something worth supporting?

I do of course realise you've opposed much of what New Labour has done. It is however your complete allegiance to the party, whatever it does, even if you don't support it, that which is behind the mocking of what Davis did. This was beyond party politics, or it should have been.

The reason why I and so many others are fed up with Labour is as I wrote, not just one thing, but the steady culmination of so many different policies. You can only put up with so much; I hold no illusions that the Conservatives will be worse, but if Labour gets it act together, gets rid of the dead wood which is so weighing it down and reconnects with its mission and core, then needn't be ten years in the wilderness but four or five at the most. Cameron's sheen cannot possibly last, and another Blair clone is not what we either want or desperately need. Labour is tired, but it can still rebuild.

Labour is tired, it can still rebuild.

Well, i doubt it. The essence of the Party is its links with the working class through the trade union movement. No other Party has that sort of link, and that is the reason for staying with the Party.

I didn't oppose Davis because he was a Tory, although that's good enough reason. If Jeremy Corbyn or Lynne Jones, who I admire immensely, had pulled the same stunt, I would have said exactly the same. It hasn't opened up the debate, it hasn't even persuaded the voters in his own constituency to come out and give him a vote of confidence. If anything it will have entrenched the Labour waverers behind 42 days - hence Lord Winston on any questions last night who was previously opposed but has been persuaded of the merits of 42 days.

Davis stunt has certainly made it more difficult for those of us arguing against 42 days within the party.

"If anything it will have entrenched the Labour waverers behind 42 days - hence Lord Winston on any questions last night who was previously opposed but has been persuaded of the merits of 42 days."

This proves Septicisle's point: Labour people aren't supporting it because they think it's right, they support it as a high-profile Tory is opposed to it.

Anyway, the other bits (being pro-death penalty, anti-gay, etc) show how wrong Labour are as they've made a hang 'em 'n' flog 'em politician take a stand against it.

...or how wrong you are to give succor to a hang 'em and flog 'em politician.

Circular argument.

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