What are the Lib Dems doing about David Davis?

Today David Cameron joined David Davis on the campaign trail in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election in support of Mr Davis’s candidature. Perhaps he did so through slightly gritted teeth – the former Tory shadow home secretary’s resignation put in the spotlight Tory divisions on 42 days just at the point when pressure was piling on Gordon Brown following his ‘non-deal’ with the DUP to secure a wafer-thin Commons victory. But, whatever his private feelings, Mr Cameron did it.

Doubtless he joined him for many reasons – to avoid repeated stories of Tory splits, and because he recognised how popular Mr Davis’s move was with a significant part of the population. But there’s no doubt that uppermost in Tory strategists’ minds right now – especially in the wake of the Henley by-election – is that Mr Davis is the ultimate Lib Dem ‘lovebomb’. A maverick, yes, but a Tory maverick; a principled guy prepared to stand up to this bossy, interfering, liberty-loathing Government, and to stand up for individual rights. Why would Mr Cameron not wish to embrace him?

Which brings us to the bigger question for Lib Dems: how should we respond? I’ve no wish to re-hash the arguments that raged here on Lib Dem Voice and around the blogs about whether Nick Clegg was right to agree not to stand a Lib Dem candidate against Mr Davis. On balance, I think he made the right call. But, whatever your view, that’s a done deal.

What I’m more interested in now is how the party will make the best of its decision? How do we associate the Lib Dem cause with Mr Davis’s thinking on civil liberties, while emphasising that Mr Davis is by no means representative of Conservative views in the shadow cabinet? When will Nick be sharing a platform with David Davis? When will the party launch its Lib Dems for DD website? (I’m only half in jest). Why haven’t we tried to adopt him as one of our own – on civil liberties, I mean – the better to show up how disunited and un-libertarian the real Conservative party is?

The decision Nick took to give Mr Davis a free run was a brave one: he knew it would be controversial, knew it would be unpopular with some members. But he took what he felt to be the right decision. That is, after all, why we elect leaders. However, the strategy seems to have stopped there. There appears to have been no thought given – or at least not which has resulted in a public plan – to what should happen during Mr Davis’s campaign itself. And that seems to me to be a real wasted opportunity.

There’s just a week now ‘til polling day. Isn’t it about time the Lib Dems made up our minds what we’re doing?

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I have still to work this one out. If David Davis is in the business of discomfiting Cameron and challenging him from the right (as Enoch Powell did Ted Heath), then he has chosen the wrong issue. He would have been better to pick Europe, immigration, law and order, the perceived loss of British identity, the decline in “traditional family values” and the disintegration of society. But he opted for none of these. Instead, he is making a stand on a single civil libertarian issue which we would not expect a right-wing Tory to champion.

    The contest has attracted a number of fringe candidates, some of whom have (more or less) serious points to make.

    David Icke will use the opportunity to tell us that attacks on civil liberty are part of a carefully planned agenda by the “Illuminati” to create a worldwide fascist state. He may (in part) be right.

    Then we have Jill Saward, who is promoting the Laurence Boyce line that the state needs more powers to tackle crime, not less. Civil libertarians must address her points and answer them.

    Watch out for a vicious slagfest between the Greens and David Icke, who loathe each other with a passion. To Icke, the Green Party are “robot radicals”, people who think they are being anti-establishment when in fact they are being manipulated by the same forces that control the mainstream parties. And he has a point of sorts. The Green Party is the only political party (as far as I know) which has adopted acceptance of the “official” account of 9/11 as party policy, any questioning of which is a disciplinary offence.

  • “How do we associate the Lib Dem cause with Mr Davis’s thinking on civil liberties, while emphasising that Mr Davis is by no means representative of Conservative views in the shadow cabinet?”

    Wasn’t enough said in the previous discussions to show that on a number of civil liberties issues we shouldn’t want to be associated with Davis?

    As far as I can see, the national media are ignoring the peculiar little contest in Haltemprice. Why not just do the same?

    No doubt there will a brief report at the end of next week that Davis has won on a derisory turnout, and that will be the end of it. I’d be surprised if the majority of the electorate even notices.

  • johninpenarth 2nd Jul '08 - 9:40pm

    We shouldn’t be associated with him.

    It happens that on this one point liberal thinking and Davies’ constitutional conservatism converge, but they do so only because of coincidence.

    We come to our stance through the application of heartfelt concern for civil liberties; Davies because of a yearn to hark back to magna carta (albeit via a somewhat rose-tinted reading of that docuemnt, since it made no provision to protect serfs from arbitrary detention, and it did also allow, for e.g. for the detention of foreign merchants and traders in time of war…)

    We can’t adopt him as one of ours, even if we wanted to do so just to embarrass the Tories, because he isn’t and never will be.

  • David Heigham 2nd Jul '08 - 9:44pm

    Ming Cambell has already laid the basis. His magnificent speech in the House debate is perfect material for David Davis canvassers trying to get out the LibDem vote.

    Cameron’s grudging, petulant treatment of Davis’ stand trapped Cameron into needing to show himself in Haltemprice in order not to look petty. Nick Clegg does not seem to know how to look petty, has no such pressing need to go there and will be misrepresented if he does. However if Ming turned up to put the same message over that he put in the House, everyone would have no doubt where the LibDem’s stand. He would be newsworthy and he would put the Haltemprice party in good heart.

  • Cheltenham Robin 2nd Jul '08 - 10:03pm

    When Davis first approached Nick we should have secured a joint press conference with them both with David Davis praising the Lib Dem stance.

  • We failed to put up (a candidate), so we’ve taken the next best action of shutting up.

    Whilst 42 days might be important to activists, most people outside of Westminster are more concerned about the soaring prices of fuel and food. This is why the turnout in H&H will be very low.

    When are we going to start campaigning on those issues?

  • Yes, I do disown the Glorious Revolution for it was neither glorious nor a revolution.

    It was a grubby sectarian coup the effects of which are still evident in Northern Ireland today.

  • Mark Littlewood:
    “Stephen, you ask “How do we associate the Lib Dem cause with Mr Davis’s thinking on civil liberties?”

    Answer: We don’t.

    He supports 28 days detention, is in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment, supports the repeal of the Human Rights Act and has a very patchy record on gay rights.”

    Steady on there. _We_ support 28 days detention. Unfortunately.

  • Anyway, perhaps we were right to give one of the Haltemprice candidates a clear run. Some things are more important than party politics:

  • Grammar Police 3rd Jul '08 - 8:45am

    Oh Martin, “28 Days Anonymous” is a regular poster about this. I did suggest he wrote to Chris Huhne’s office to ask about this issue; he claimed he did but has never come back on this.

    I asked myself, and this is the reply I got:

    [] – your understanding of our position on 28 days is current. It is best set out by Chris last Monday during the debate on the renewal of 28 days which I attach below. We did not oppose the continued extension, but made our view clear that we think progress in other areas is increasingly making it unnecessary. Let me know if you require any further information.



  • Grammar Police

    No, I didn’t say I wrote to Chris Huhne’s office. I said I rang the party’s policy department.

    Frankly, if that’s _all_ of the reply you were given, I think it’s a bit misleading.

    In the speech referred to, Huhne said:
    “Our judgment is that 28 days detention in present circumstances can be viewed as proportionate, given the evidence from Operation Overt, the investigation in 2006 into the Heathrow bomb plot.”

    And of course, Huhne has said in other speeches recently that he views 28 days as justifiable, and that he is “very happy” with it. Though to be fair, he said almost in the same breath that there was a lack of evidence that it was necessary (?!?).

    And yes, I am a regular poster about this, because I think it’s an important issue.

    Anyway, our position on detention without charge seems to be pretty much indistinguishable from that of the Tories. We support 28 days at present, though we should like to reduce the period in the future.

  • Grammar Police 3rd Jul '08 - 10:07am

    I don’t think there’s anything misleading about “We did not oppose the continued extension, but made our view clear that we think progress in other areas is increasingly making it unnecessary.”
    As I’ve said all along, my interpretation of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team’s actions on this is that we tactically voted for 28 days (as Martin says above) and we’re currently not opposing it. We want changes that would lead to it being reduced. I don’t think that amounts to support for 28 days.

    What is Tory policy on 28 days? As is usual with Conservative Party policy at the moment, I’ve been unable to find any. From the stuff I have read, there don’t seem to be any calls to reduce this period, and we know that the Tory shadow cabinet were split on whether to support 42 days.

  • Grammar Police:
    “What is Tory policy on 28 days? ”

    Well, obviously there’s no point my providing you with any information on that.

    Your only response will be to claim it means the opposite of what what it says!

  • Chris Huhne didn’t say there was a lack of evidence that 28 days was necessary. He said the arguments in its favour were weakening as other measures came in. Specifically he talked about proposals for:
    (1) post-charge questioning (in the Bill currently going through),
    (2) use of intercept evidence (being consulted on – may be added to Bill),
    (3) increased resources for the Security Service and counter-terrorist policing, and
    (4) a substantial development in the flexibility of the threshold test (recognition that the CPS has been too cautious in allowing charges to be brought).

    He concluded:

    “Making progress on the four areas that I mentioned can make the need for lengthy periods of detention without charge unnecessary, and whether an extension beyond 14 days is necessary will warrant reconsideration before next year.”

    Comparing the two speeches, Chris went a lot further than the Tory spokesman (David Ruffley) who, although he said that the renewal must be examined each year in the light of evidence available, said nothing to suggest that there was anything currently on the table that was likely to change the situation.

  • Although I supported Nick Clegg’s decision not to stand in the H&H by-election, I don’t think he should be backing him and sharing a platform with him.

    Firstly, those who disagreed with us not standing would probably be pushed over the edge and just resign. Particularly members in H&H and nearby.

    Secondly, if I lived in the constituency I would (first the first time ever) just not vote. Regardless of Nick Clegg’s endorsement I couldn’t back someone who is not a liberal and we shouldn’t expect any of our usual supporters to.

  • Hywel Morgan 3rd Jul '08 - 12:07pm

    I also wrote to Chris who told me that “We took the view that to argue for a reduction in the 28 day limit during the passage of the bill would be to risk confusing the argument”


    “I remain of the view that we will be able to return to a 14 day limit – or even lower – in the near future”

    In other words we have our principles but we didn’t actually stand up for them. We’ll never be able to get back to 14 days if those MPs who purport to support 14 days never propose an amendment to do so.

    I am however less bothered by the tactical nuances of supporting 28 days. What irks me is hris Huhne’s apparent mendacity in claiming he wanted a reduction to 14 days “or even lower” in the leadership election and then saying that “at the moment I am very happy with a period of 28 days” a few months later.

    All of which is only tangentially relevant to out tactics in H&H. Not having a candidate doesn’t preclude doing some campaigning for what we believe in. Indeed in the constitution standing candidates in elections is a means to an of acheiving the objectives set out in the constitution.

  • The Lib Dems should have nothing to do with Davis and ought to be campaigning for:
    use of intercept evidence and continued questioning after charge.

    The 42 days issue is largely bogus. The party supports 14 days where it voted for 28 or not. It is a question of judgement, not principle.

    Imagine if this catches on and we have MP’s resigning and fighting by-elections on the principle of; abstaining on whether there should have been a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty? Or bringing back the death penalty, or banning abortion.

    Personally, I’d rather be detained for 42 days in the UK without charge than be detained for 42 minutes in Zimbabwe.

  • Grammar Police 3rd Jul '08 - 1:03pm

    28 Days Anon – another dodge of the question. Please provide details of Tory policy on 28 Days.

  • Grammar Police

    Well, here’s a Telegraph report from a couple of weeks ago in which Dominic Grieve comes out with something very similar to Huhne’s line.

    Though no doubt according to you it will be completely different …

    But Mr Grieve yesterday signalled that he is minded to reverse that change [14 to 28 days].

    He said: “28 days is much longer than I would like to see a person detained pre-charge. If there was an opportunity to reduce it because the evidence allowed us to do so, then it is, by my view, something we ought to be considering.”

    However, he added: “The reason why parliament coalesced around the 28 limit was because there did appear to be evidence that 14 days that might not always be sufficient.”

    While he was currently “content” with 28 days, “it’s a matter that needs to kept under constant review.”


  • George C:
    “Chris Huhne didn’t say there was a lack of evidence that 28 days was necessary.”

    As a matter of fact, he did:
    “At the moment, I am very happy with a period of 28 days. We should stick with that period because that is what we voted for, but we need to regard it as an emergency measure and keep it under constant review—especially given the lack of evidence that even 28 days is necessary.”
    [Hansard, 11 June]

  • Grammar Police 3rd Jul '08 - 2:48pm

    Chris Huhne also said:

    “We will not oppose the need for 28 days temporarily in the UK, partly because it is widely accepted that we face a greater threat in this country than in many others—due not least to our misguided participation in the illegal invasion of Iraq, which is this Government’s sad and lasting legacy on this issue. That does not mean, however, that 28 days should be seen as permanent or that we will not oppose this in future.”

    What Grieve says is similar to what Chris said. I think the difference is the Lib Dems have made suggestions (on intercept evidence and and post-charge questionning) which would mean the period could be reduced permanently. Then again. Perhaps the Tories want this too?

  • Hywel Morgan 3rd Jul '08 - 3:09pm

    “and campaign in the country to demonstrate that the idea that the public supports this is faux”

    But not in H&H where at the very least there is a bit of a media focus on the issue. Davis is also talking about wider issues than 42 days (CCTV, DNA databases, jury trials etc)

    “Anyway – to all those out there in cyberspace – blogwar is declared!”

    How much will that reach outside of the “political classes”?

  • David Morton 4th Jul '08 - 2:49am

    I think there is a degree of denial on here from some posters. We have been taken to the cleaners and its too late to do anything about it. We have offered Davis a completely risk free By Election at the following cost to the party.

    1. We have written our selves out of the narritive on what should be one of our core isues.

    2. We have surrendered to long term damage/destruction a developed Constituiency with a strong second place. £100k of uncontested tory propoganda is being dropped on H and H with no response and thats before the Greens come second.

    3. We actively endorse every subliminal message that Cameron has put out in relation to us since his election. We are all liberal Conservatives now.

    4. we have conspired to help canonise, perhaps even transfigure, a senior Conservaive politican as an authentic, civil liberties hero spite the fact that he is pro Section 28, pro iraq and pro death penalty and, dear god, pro HRA repeal.

    5. but worst of all we have allowed liberty in this debate to be defined in High Tory, Olde England, real ale and roast beef terms not our own.

    Now all politics is about deals so lets in fairness look at the other side of the balance sheet?

    What has the party got in return ?

    1. a joint appearence? or any kind of endorsement ?

    2. a recipricol arrangement in another by election ?

    3. any policy concessions ?

    This decision was taken from a Westminister buble perspective and in some haste. We were ment to get a Thursday through to the Sunday broad sheets 4 day news cycle about Conservative chaos and process stories. While that would have enraptured the people that write Henley by election tabloids and Opposition watch pieces on here no one seams to have thought for a moment about.

    1. the possibility that Davis might have been sincere rather than destructive

    2. that his move would be popular or would resonate.

    3. the long term consequences of handing liberty over the the Tories as an issue

    As is suggested up thread we have the bizzare spectacle of the party spending £100k on debating Oxfordshire planning policy but surrendering intellectual territory which is the core of its being.

    This decision has much further to run yet and there is nothing we can now do about it. We signed and then posted the blank cheque weeks ago.

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