Opinion: Why we should stand against David Davis

It is no secret to any regular reader of the comments on these pages that I am bitterly disappointed by the decision that the Liberal Democrats will not be standing against David Davis in the upcoming by-election in Haltemprice & Howden. Often in the heat of debate points get lost and come out half-formed and therefore I think it is worth taking the time to step-back a little.

Whatever we may think of the decision Davis took and its motivations some fundamental points need to be made against the position put forward by the leadership. Simon Hughes says in his explanation of the decision that Davis will “fight specifically on the basis of his opposition to the 42 day detention proposal.” This is true, but it is not the whole truth and everybody knows it. It is important to remember that Davis is not a single-issue candidate; he is not Martin Bell, and he is not the Kidderminster hospital campaigners. He is a Conservative candidate fighting to return to Parliament as Conservative MP. He might make 42-days his campaign theme but this does not make it the only issue on which he is standing. So a comparison with Tatton does not stand up to a moment’s examination.

His stated platform is no different to the stated view of the Conservative Party; if it remains Party policy then his platform will be that of all the Conservative candidates at the next election. Are we expected to stand aside for them too? ‘No, of course not,’ Simon would no doubt say. But he will probably add that the circumstances mean that the issue will be on the spotlight. Maybe it will (and maybe it won’t – because it looks like the big story will be the press scenting a return to ‘Tory Wars’): but where will the Liberal Democrats be? They certainly will not be in the spotlight because their will be no candidate to speak for us and our members might well be too busy tramping the streets on the behalf of a Conservative candidate.

People who imagine that somehow Davis winning will ‘soften people up’ for our civil liberties case are ignoring two facts:

a) We will be mute during this campaign, and;

b) Our vision of civil liberties is fundamentally different to that of Davis.

Let’s deal with a) simply: how many people imagine journalists rushing to call Nick Clegg during this campaign? Seriously, we struggle to get a mention when we are standing if it is in a seat where we are are a distant third; to imagine that when we are not standing at all we will be flavour of the month is mind-bending to say the least. Conversely, if we had been standing we would have received a lot of attention because we were in a position to win the seat.

B) is a serious point because it makes our backing of Davis’s candidature fundamentally unprincipled. Our vision of civil liberties is part of a broader vision which includes respect of human rights. The ‘Davis Defence’ is based upon a wish to preserve the rule of law (hence, for him, there is no fundamental contradiction between supporting the death penalty and being against 42-days). Our failure to present the voters of Haltemprice & Howden with this vision is a breach of faith with the electorate and our principles.

Finally, let me ask this question. Are we going to accept that when it comes to these issues then the Conservative Party is the one that people should turn to? Are we going to meekly stand by and let them steal the debate and woo people with their vision? The answer the leadership has given is yes; my answer is no.

If you agree with me please sign this petition.

* Darrell Goodliffe blogs at Moments of Clarity.

Editor’s note: the LDV poll asking whether readers think the Lib Dem leadership was right or wrong not to stand a candidate against David Davis is still open: look in the right-hand column. At the moment, Nick Clegg’s decision is backed by a roughly 2:1 majority of readers.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections.


  • Since David Cameron and the Parliamentary Conservatives have washed their hands of Davies, they’re not going to strongly benefit.

    The idea that Davies has a fundamentally different view of civil liberties isn’t convincing. It’s dredging up differences where they’re not needed. Increasingly authoritarian legislation calls for practical politics, and that means compromise, not hair-splitting.

  • ICM poll summarised on politicalbetting.com shows a massive swing to the Tories from LDs in Haltemprice and Howden, when asked how they will vote in the next general election (not the by-election)

    OK – things may change in time as the heat dies down on the story, but it does go to show what happens when others make a name on policies we have been championing. We have got to sort out our PR.

    I’ve signed you petition Darrell

  • passing tory 15th Jun '08 - 3:08pm

    The difference is that it seems as though Davis’ move was linked to Clegg (and the people he conferred with) agreeing not to stand. So, either you think that Clegg should go back on his word, or it is a matter of using the undoubted opportunities that this position provides to sell the need for civil liberties.

    It is actually rather to sad to see how many posters here are focussed only on how to futher the Lib Dem party cause against using the opportunity to take the case to the government against the errosian of civil liberties.

  • Douglas Oliver 15th Jun '08 - 3:14pm

    The issue is solely about standing against 42-days, as has been explicitly made clear. Notwithstanding Davis’ stance on issues like the death penalty, which is far from ‘libetarian’, on this particular issue, party interests should indeed come second to the struggle for certain civil freedoms.

    Incidientally howevr, not standing may well serve to aid the LD’s longer term interests. Despite the libertarian image the Tories have sought to paint of themselves since 2005, Davis forthright stance on the issue may quickly expose the party’s divisions. The Tory grass roots are still reactionary and authoritarian and cannot be easily reconciled to Davis stance Cameron’s opposition to the bill and weak support for Davis’ crusade is evidence of his unwillingness to face up to these latent divisions.

    Whilst not standing on the ballot, the Lib Dems should make clear that the party fully support Davis on this fully in terms of the campaign and challenge David Cameron to take a firmer stance – which he doesn’t want to. (Clegg did well on this with Andrew Marr, supporting him, whilst highlighting the briefing again Davis)

    Perhaps i conjecture, but this may serve to encourage Tory splits on the issue coming to the surface and show that the only real party-political home for civil libertarianism is in the liberal democrats.

  • David Heigham 15th Jun '08 - 3:57pm

    I am a Yorkshireman who has voted Liberal or Liberal Democrat for more than 50 years. If I had a vote in this by election, I would vote for David Davis whether or not a LibDem stands. Civil liberties, the liberties of the subject as we used to call them, were hard won over centuries. They come first.

  • Note to editor
    “the majority of readers”-including many non-Liberal Democrats!

    Passing Tory
    The cause of the Liberal Democrats is civil liberties.
    Many Tories support 42 days.

  • 3:57pm
    Glad you don’t have a vote David.
    Please re-read your Liberal Party history books.

  • passing tory 15th Jun '08 - 4:35pm

    Manfarang, sorry to disappoint you but from what I have read here and elsewhere (which is a LOT), civil liberties is the number one priority of a surprisingly small proportion of Lib Dems. If it is what gets you out of bed then great, you have my support in this matter, but there is easily as strong a commitment within the Tories.

  • Has Darrell and Laurence given any thought to the possibility, that given that David Davis talked to Nick Clegg before he resigned, there might now not be any by-election in Haltemprice and Howden had Clegg told that the Lib Dems will stand against Davis?

  • Hywel Morgan 15th Jun '08 - 6:16pm

    “Davis winning will ’soften people up’ for our civil liberties case are ignoring two facts:
    a) We will be mute during this campaign, and;”

    Why do we have to be mute during the campaign? All the things we do in an election to communicate our ideas – leaflets, letters, newspapers, canvassing, speaker meetings, can be done even if we’re not standing a candidate.

    There’s actually no reason why we can’t set up a “Lib Dems for Davis this time” campaign office and do just that.

  • Standing against Davis would have made us look totally unprincipled in the eyes of the many voters who think Davis has done the honorable thing. As it is this campaign is going to make the Tories look split (which they are) – frankly the best thing to do with this whole mess is to stay as far away as possible.

    The Haltemprice poll shows us this move has boosted Davis’s standing; would that have been any different if we had said we would stand? I suspect it may have been even worse if we had acted in a way that would look totally mercenary in the eyes of many voters.

    I can respect those who argue that we should simply stand whenever there’s an opportunity, no matter what the situation. But the idea that this is a opportunity missed seems bizarre, if we had stood we would have lost, would have looked cynical and short-termist and would have taken attention away from the splits in the Tory party. Given that the party is hardly flush with cash, spending more money on a by-election with those consequences would be daft.

    As it is we can play up on the Tory differences, (see Clegg’s interview today on Marr) and focus on Henley – as I’m sure all those complaining about this decision will make up for it by helping out down there.

  • Martin Land 15th Jun '08 - 6:22pm

    What’s done is done. My objection is that it looks like yet another backroom Westminster Bubble deal.

  • Paul Elgood 15th Jun '08 - 7:40pm

    I agree with Darrell.

    At the very minimum the local party there should have had a meeting to vote on whether to stand a candidate or not.

    David Davis is not one of the good guys. Look at his stance on issues such as civil partnerships, section 28 or Iraq.

    Didn’t we run a campaign recently to hold those Tory MPs who voted for the Iraq war to account?

    If we’d stood, Labour would have had to put a candidate up, we’ve actually let them off the hook.


  • The local party has asked David Davis to meet them and discuss his views on a whole range of human rights and civil liberties issues. The answers to those questions will, I am sure, determine the local party’s stance to Davis in the by-election.

  • I don’t think this is a particular question which we should get skittish over, but neither is it one on which we should remain silent.

    Perhaps local H&H members will plan a series of public events to show their relevance to the debate and highlight their organisational skills.

    Of course civil liberties are something around which LibDems instinctively unite, but neither should that mean we ought to deprioritise any other concern we have or distract us from achieving what is possible where possible.

    I think it is a good advertisement for Nick Cleggs political instincts to have been so decisive and correct in his judgement on this occasion, despite the potential this has for creating division – it shows that he knows how to distinguish between matters of principle and partisan interest and isn’t afraid of playing the longer and more honorable game, even if it is at the expense of personal or short-term gain.

    Those of us who are overindulging in introspection should be comforted to know that although David Davis may be running as the Conservative candidate this creates a challenge to Cameron, both to his leadership, party unity and to their strategy.

    So we shall have to wait and see whether we are able to profit more by sitting this one out, but considering the risk balance for each side the governments’ 42-day policy is in a no-win situation and both Brown and Cameron have nothing to gain, so, by implication, we are in the no-lose position.

    In poker, as in politics, sometimes it’s better to pass.

  • To add to the philosopher’s roster I think you’ll find Emmanuel Kant was in favour of the death penalty to (do foreigners count?). Personally I’m against for the same J.S.Mill was for, stringing them up is too good for them.

    On the substantive issue of D Davis I remember numerous times on programmes like Question time he supported these causes with far greater conviction and force than our Liberal Democrat representatives on the same programme, did I say representatives plural? I meant Mark Oaten.

  • Nick Clegg has clearly made the wrong decision for the Party.

  • Lloyd wrote: “ICM poll summarised on politicalbetting.com shows a massive swing to the Tories from LDs in Haltemprice and Howden, when asked how they will vote in the next general election (not the by-election)”

    This might have happened even if the Lib Dems would have stood against Davis, maybe even to a higher extent. Meanwhile did you notice the ComRes poll also summarised in politicalbetting.com? According to it “Tory support dropped sharply after David Davis announced he was standing down. In interviews before 1pm on Thursday, the Tories stood at 48%; in interviews carried out afterwards they were on 41%.”

    – So maybe the resignation of David Davis increased his support in Haltemprice and Howden at the expense of the Lib Dems, but it seems it decreased the support of the Conservative Party as whole (probably because it highlighted their internal rifts), and thus benefitted the Liberal Democrats nationally.

  • Passing Tory 4:35pm
    Pull the other one it’s got bells on!
    I didn’t notice this strong commitment during the days of internment in Northern Ireland.
    Why do the Tories want to abolish the Human Rights Act?
    To sing the praises of the English legal system isn’t the same as supporting civil rights.

  • “ICM poll summarised on politicalbetting.com shows a massive swing to the Tories from LDs in Haltemprice and Howden, when asked how they will vote in the next general election (not the by-election)”

    That poll was commissioned for the Mail on Sunday, and it has really caught the imagination of Mail readers.

    Here’s the current list of the most popular stories on the paper’s website:

    Newlywed Coleen shows off her £250,000 wedding bling
    Trinny and the trouble with Johnny Too Bad
    Liz Hurley and my husband… by wife of the co-star she got close to
    Zoe Ball and husband Norman Cook are going through another rocky patch
    Chanel casts a £3million spell on Mademoiselle Hermione
    Fergie flaunts the cellulite that exercising cannot banish
    Pregnant Natascha McElhone puts on a brave face month after surgeon husband was found dead on his doorstep
    Mystery of Euan Blair’s £550,000 bachelor flat – bought two weeks before he starts first ever job
    Pregnant Billie Piper’s cravings for Greek food
    Kate demands a botty double … because (you’ll never believe this) she thinks hers is too big

    Why doesn’t Lib Dem Voice ever discuss the issues the public _really_ cares about?

  • Passing Breeze 16th Jun '08 - 6:49am

    Internment in Northern Ireland was introduced by the Ulster Unionists.

  • Frances Amrani 16th Jun '08 - 7:10am

    I really wish our party could move on and realise it’s not about winning by-elections. Party hacks are brilliant at this and I’ve taken part in quite a few- but so what? We shouldn’t be about attrition but rather raising our profile nationally so we can affect change for our values. The reality is we need to decide how to be an effective opposition, get our message across, challenge the government at every opportunity and raise our profile nationally – by not standing Nick Clegg has done this and we’ve probably had more media airtime and column inches as a result. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and we need to improve our political skills in other ways than just fighting by-elections- sorry guys.

  • Passing Breeze
    The Ulster Unionists took the Conservative whip in the House of Commons for many years hence they were sometimes called the Ulster Tories.
    I don’t recall Willy Whitewash trying to end internment.

  • Darrell wrote: “Right. Sometimes the right principle is to put Party first. This is one of those times. We have gifted the Conservatives the opportunity to come forward as the spokespeople of English civil liberties.”

    You are hopeless. You have incited yourself into such a rage, that you aren’t listening anything other people are saying. And by refusing to listen others you are giving the impression that you are one of those people, who would always put the party before the principle.

  • Grammar Police 16th Jun '08 - 9:12am

    Weren’t the Ulster Unionists originally part of the Conservative Party who broke away under Heath?

  • Anony 9:02am
    That’s why an independent who genuinely believes in civil liberties should stand in this by-election.

  • Manfarang

    Yes – why not someone who could hold Davis to account for his support of detention without charge for 28 days?

  • Well, describe an occasion where you think that Lib Dems should stand aside. Wyre Forest? According to his BBC profile, Richard Taylor … “supports a reduction on fuel taxation and the renationalisation of the railways. … He is mildly Eurosceptic, backs section 28 on preventing local councils promoting homosexuality…”.

    I don’t see why should the Lib Dems stand a candidate against David Davis, when they haven’t stood against Richard Taylor.

  • anony 11:31 am
    Please tell the BBC section 28 has been repealed.

  • For Info.
    Whether or not Dr Richard Taylor goes for a third term in Wyre Forest or not, the party has decided to put up a candidate this time.

  • Manfarang, if you take a look at the link, you’ll find out that it is from 2002, before the section 28 was repealed.

    Anyway, some have argued for standing against David Davis because he opposed repealing the section 28 in 2003. Do you think it was more acceptable to stand aside in Wyre Forest for a candidate supporting the section 28 before and after it was repealed, than standing aside in Haltemprice and Howden for a candidate who supported the section 28 after it was repealed?

  • Grammar Police
    Of course the arch-Tory Enoch Powell was an Ulster Unionist MP from 1974 to 1987.

  • Darrell, I disagree. It’s not end of story. I don’t see why it would be more acceptable to support an illiberal independent than an illiberal member of another party. Unless you are again putting party before principle. Or, indeed, making the party a principle above others in your mind.

  • Besides, Dr Richard Taylor isn’t an independent, he’s a member of a political party called Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern.

  • Anony
    Section 28 was a very defective piece of law.It such a bad piece of law I wouldn’t use it as a criterion.

  • A criterion to what?

  • David Allen 16th Jun '08 - 6:33pm

    Of course Nick Clegg made the least bad decision. If we had tried to steal the seat, from a man who chose to resign and make a principled stand (however flawed) that we agree with, we would just have got ourselves completely slaughtered by public opinion.

    Yes, it’s galling to play second fiddle, but have we any alternative?

    Well … there does need to be an opponent, of course, now that Mackenzie has pulled out. If we really must do something, how about dressing up a dummy candidate, named Gordons Ghost, wearing ball and chain, slogan “vote for me if you don’t care about your freedom”!

  • Clegg made a bad decision here. To misquote Brown, we’re now making one man’s stunt a real farce.

    The suggestions now being put forward that we should go delivering leaflets in H&H (and elsewhere) saying what a wonderful man David Davis is just plain ludicrous.

  • Anony 2:15pm
    of anything.

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