UK Shadow Home Secretary forces By-Election on principle

Bit of back story for this one: last night in the UK Commons there was a vote on a proposal to allow people suspected of terrorism offences to be held for up to 42 days without/before being charged (under certain circumstances). The limit for this type of offence is currently 28 days. This has been a huge talking point recently and was widely held by some commentators to be tantamount to a personal verdict on Gordon Brown as much as anything else. The Government won and the Bill passed this stage, but by only 9 votes and the support of some of the Democratic Unionists, who had previously appeared to be against the measure. A good number of Labour MPs voted against the Government proposal, contrary to instructions, as did the Conservative party.


David Davis, the Conservative Home Secretary, so his party’s spokesman on this and other issues, has just resigned his post as an MP. His stated intention is to force a by-election in his constituency which he will fight on the basis of opposition to the Labour Goverment’s ‘erosion of civil liberties’. The 42 day limit seems to be just the trigger - he’s just given a statement with a long explanation of his actions. One of his fears seems to be that the Government will use the Parliament Act to force this legislation through the House of Lords if and when it faces opposition to the 42 day limit there. Story here

The resignation seems to have been a huge shock both inside of the Conservative party and outside and appears to be a move pretty much without precedent. Off the record briefings hint that the Conservative leadership aren’t very happy - it has been said that there won’t be the normal party admin type support for his fighting the by-election.

I have to say - I’m stunned. I am about as left-leaning as you can get in this country and still bother to vote at all, and David Davis has never struck me as much more than an odious Tory politician. However, I find myself almost cheering for this man! It really does seem to me that he’s putting his job on the line, along with any further hopes he had of higher office (he did stand for Tory leadership and lost to David Cameron, the current Leader of the Opposition) over a matter of principle. The fact that I do mostly agree with his concerns is almost a side issue.

It seems that his majority was around 5000, so in theory there is a chance he won’t be re-elected. That’s less of a risk to him if we look at recent results and the hammering the Labour party have taken, but I’d say it does mean his gesture isn’t totally an empty one, even if you don’t believe he’s genuine.
So what say you Dopers? Do you believe this is on principle? Is he doing the right thing? Will it have anything other than short-term impact?

Side issue, and not to detract from the main point, but I couldn’t resist. Didn’t Alan B’Stard represent Haltemprice?

It’s not for me to judge the principle or whatever. He probably does feel it’s worth it and he probably also hopes to strengthen his position. Even if he loses, he’ll still have a lot of influence.

Few things in politics change quickly. But they do change.

Fair play. Tory bastard he may be but I’ve got to say that that is a principled move and I find myself in the strange position of totally supporting the action of a Tory.

He’s put his job on the line, pissing off his own party in the process on a principal that I find very compelling. In these days of cynicism and politicians being mangers rather than representatives this is a very positive thing IMO.

The Lib-Dems, who ran to second place in his constituency, will not be running a candidate so he might be in danger if, as Labour argue, the Great British Public do support the law.

Good for Davies. I’m sick to death of this incompetent, lying, war-mongering government.

Wow - I arrive back in the UK after a 3 year absence, and the first major news stories I hear are the accidental leaving on a train of top secret intelligence documents, and this 42 days farce.

I really don’t think Davies is in much danger of losing his seat, even with no Lib Dem. By-elections tend to be treated as referendums on the government, and Brown is not exactly popular right now. It would be nice if the voters considered the issue at hand, though, because I’m not at all convinced that popular support for this new law is anywhere near as great as Labour claims it to be. But still, assuming he is re-elected, the Labour spin folks will simply point out what I mentioned above: that governments rarely if ever win marginal by-elections, that it had nothing to do with the PTA, etc.

It’s nice to see a Tory taking a somewhat principled stand, and I applaud him.

Rumour has it that Labour aren’t going to contest it either, which is a little odd. While it sort of takes Davis’ thunder, it does beg the question over why they won’t defend their policy.

And I must confess to a little frisson of amusement over the difficulty it’s causing Mr Cameron.

It’s been a topsy-turvy couple of days al’ right. First I actually find myself thankful we have a House of Lords that will vote down this 42 day bollocks. Then I find myself liking a Tory…

Maybe tomorrow Brown will admit he was wrong about something… Anything… His choice of breakfast cereal?

He did the wrong thing.

Let’s face it, the next government is going to be a Tory government; Brown’s dead in the water. He’d have been better served making clear his objections (as he did on the Politics Show this last weekend, where he stated his first task as Home Secretary would be to repeal the law) and waiting for his role in government to effect his libertarian policies.

Now, there’s a slim chance he may not get re-elected, and there’s an even greater chance he won’t be included in the cabinet of any Cameron administration.

Davis is well respected in his constituency for being an MP who’s genuinely put some efforts in on behalf of his constituents. Whatever he says he’s doing it for, they’re going to vote for him anyway - because the 42 day detention issue is one that, quite frankly, most people don’t care about (although they really, really, should).

The Lib Dems might have had a shot at it, but issue or no issue, Labour stand no chance at taking the seat off him.


  • if they don’t field a candidate, they risk being accused of not defending their policy
  • if they field a candidate he’ll lose and the opposition/Davis will claim that “the people have spoken”

It’s a lose-lose situation really.

I admire Davis (even if he is a Tory ;)) for making his beliefs on this issue totally clear throughout the whole debate (and indeed agree with stance on 42 day) but this achieves precisely fuck-all. Its a pointless stunt (even if Davis doesn’t realise that himself).

In the fight against Labour, I’m not sure. It did take the shine off Brown’s victory, and overshadowed Diane Abbott’s excellent speech. But within the Tory party and for himself, it’s a very cunning move. It sets him up if Cameron fails, it will increase his prestige within the party and the country, and it will make it much harder for the LibDems to unseat him at the next election.

I don’t think there is any chance of him being in the cabinet from this point forward, although they have replaced him with someone who is also against the 42 day rule.

Most of the spin will now concentrate on a Tory party split instead of the 42 Day rule. It is quite possible his actions could overshadow the very reason that he decided to resign in the first place. What I really don’t understand is how did the Tories miss this or fail to prevent it?

A principled stand it may be, but it has the distinct possibility of turning into a complete farce.

Well, as far as opponents go there’s talk of Kelvin Mackenzie, a former editor of The Sun newspaper (a shitty little Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid rag, for you non-UK posters) running against Davis, with the financial backing of Murdoch. Says Mackenzie:

This makes me literally queasy. I simply can’t believe there are people who think like this in this day and age.

On Davis himself, I find the situation hard to read. Despite having been portrayed in the past as your typical Tory lock-em-up bastard by an unimaginative press, he’s actually got a decent enough set of libertarian (little “l”) credentials. Sufficiently so that did he not so obviously still covet the Tory leadership, I’d be willing to take his motivations entirely at face value. I certainly believe that he does in fact stand for the principle he’s claiming; I’m just not sure it’s his primary motivation in forcing the by-election. I’m not sure it’s not, either, of course. :slight_smile: Anyway:

Regardless of the Tories’ current huge lead in the polls, it’s pretty undeniable that Cameron has thus far failed to carve out much of a new identity for the party, which makes their lead vulnerable to a Labour resurgence. It’s quite possible that Davis is trying to stake out his territory as a person of genuine principle, something it would be very hard to accuse Cameron of being. Davis can’t seriously believe he can mount a leadership challenge between now and the next election, though, and gambling on a Cameron failure seems risky to say the least. So on balance, I think I’m taking Davis at face value, with minor reservations. As I say, I certainly believe this is a genuine principle of his, and it’s one that I’m so happy to see being fought for that I’m willing to put up with a certain amount of Machiavellian subtext.

Well, I think you’ve hit on the point for it yourself. At the very least, conducting a mini-referendum (no matter how symbolic) should serve to push the debate more into the public consciousness. I imagine about three people tuned in to the commons debate on this vote (I thought Davis performed admirably, incidentally; even-handed but firm, even dismissing trite arguments against the 42-day increase from his own benches), and as you say, people seemed less interested in the argument itself than in what it might mean for Brown if he lost. So if Davis’s move forces people to think about the actual issues at stake (and it’s about more than just the 42-day limit), then I think it will have achieved something, even if the by-election itself doesn’t carry much meaning. The risk, to my mind, is that the issue will get ignored yet again in favour of uninteresting speculation about the political eddies behind it.

Yes, it does seem to be turning into a bit of a bad move for Davis. Latest news seems to be that Mr. Davis’s esteemed sole opponent may well be one Kelvin Mackenzie, ye Gods help us. Mind you Mackenzie can smell a chance to get his mush in the press from miles away, so we can just hope that he’s not going to go through with it.

I think the Labour position is that they won’t dignify this stance with the attention of contesting it. I’m starting to think now that Davis’s action may have in fact increased support for the measures, or at least raised positive interest in them for the first time. Like tagos says, the Labour party certainly claim that the Great British Public support these kind of measures and certainly the reporting I’m hearing is that this is believed to be the case.

I’m still shaking my head in wonder at the idea that I’m supporting a Tory over something like this.

I’m pretty sure his primary motivation is to increase his chances of becoming Tory leader in the event of a Labour win at the next electiopn (which I still think is a distinct possibility). It’s a last throw of the dice for him, gambling on Cameron being deposed in th enext couple of years. I don’t doubt that he is sincere about fighting for liberty and all that, but that’s secondary to him.

He was just on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show and basically said, in effect, that if Labour don’t field a candidate he’ll stand because Rupert Murdoch says they’ll support him.

David Davis was also on and definitely sounded like he was doing it through genuine motivation to get the subject on the radar. I’m starting to think that he genuinely hasn’t thought this through. Its gonna be a fucking circus.

No it didn’t - it moved the story on nicely from “Brown scrapes win thanks to paying off the Unionists” and dropped it firmly back on the Tories and whether:

  • they’re incompetent/split
  • Cameron will automatically disagree with anything in order to look controversial/electable
  • The tories don’t care about what “the people” think

Minor damage from not fielding a candidate aside, Brown will probably enjoy every moment of this.

My gut is that you’ll hear Labour branding it a stunt and saying that they won’t “dignify it by standing,” and the moment Kelvin and the Sun get involved it’ll turn into exactly that. Meaning Brown will even get an “I told you so!” moment out of it at the end.

Oh, and the only new debate it’ll provoke is whether we should (in the eyes of the Sun) extend 42 days to cover anyone suspected of being an immigrant or a Germany supporter.

Also, its knocked that “Top Secret Folder Left On Train” story off the front page, which is rather nice for the Government as well.

I’m waiting for them to hide the difficulties with the now defunct Lisbon treaty behind this as well.

Fuck it, at this rate if the Tories didn’t pay Davis’ election expenses i’m reasonably certain Brown would write him a personal cheque.

Definitely a good couple of days to bury bad news…


David Davis has a safe Tory seat which would vote for a turnip if you put a blue rosette on it… add DD’s personal qualities as a constituency MP and there’s no chance he’ll lose.

Were it a marginal seat it would courageous, instead it’s self-indulgent and childish.

Labour only had 13% of the vote last time, so even if they did put up a candidate it wouldn’t be one of their A-listers. And let’s not forget that a majority of people in the UK - and even more so among Tory voters - support the 42 day limit.

For all those praising Davis for his “principled support of liberty” let’s remind ourselves that he’s consistently voted against gay equality rights, supports the death penalty, and had no problem voting for 28 days… after all, if Magna Carta means anything, it applies to 28 days as much as to 42 days.

Gesture politics at its most pathetic.