Lib Dem Voice yesterday highlighted the contrast between David Davis’s passionate opposition to Labour’s attempts to bang up citizens for six weeks without telling them why, and the rather more lacklustre opposition of the Tory leadership:
I don’t doubt for one second the integrity of David Davis, the Tories’ shadow home secretary, in opposing Labour’s draconian 42 days proposal. He is one of many Tories who have shown themselves to understand the importance of defending hard-won freedoms. But what if Mr Davis weren’t to be the Tories’ home secretary? What then? Would his successor stick to his guns? That the question can legitimately be asked shows how fragile is the current Tory leadership’s commitment to opposing the Government’s careless junking of individuals’ liberties.
If we needed further evidence of this, it came with today’s shock move by David Davis to resign as an MP and fight the subsequent by-election on the issue of 42 days, and Labour’s undermining of civil liberties. The official Tory line emanating from David Cameron’s office is that he fully backs Mr Davis’s stance. I don’t believe if for an instant.
Mr Davis recognised that the Tories’ influential neo-cons in the shadow cabinet, George Osborne and Michael Gove, would much rather have backed the Government over 42 days: only tactical considerations of defeating Labour in the Commons persuaded they and Mr Cameron to rally behind Mr Davis’s stand. But none of them, it seems, wanted to fight the proposal through the House of Lords, and try and defeat it again when it returns to the Commons.
Only Mr Davis felt this was an issue of principle on which the Tories must continue to stand firm. And that is why he has resigned.
With the Lib Dems backing Mr Davis in the subsequent by-election – and Labour recording just 12% of the vote at the 2005 general election – he will almost certainly return to the Commons with an overwhelming personal mandate, a hero to those Conservatives and others, including the Lib Dems, who genuinely understand the importance of civil liberties.
Will Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Gove then dare to stop him calling on the Tory party to continue to fight the 42 days proposal? Of course not.
Mr Davis will have made his point, and forced the Tory party leadership to stand by their opposition to Labour’s monstrous extension of detention without trial. But that he had to go to such lengths demonstrates how flimsy is the Tory leadership’s commitment to opposing 42 days.