Thursday, June 12, 2008

Conviction Stand or Political Stunt?

David Davis suffered a major reverse to his ambition when he failed to gain the Tory leadership. Worse, he was dismissed as a grey, unexciting, uninteresting politician compared to the man who steamed past him to the Tory prize, David Cameron. Now, with his announcement that he will resign his seat to fight a by-election over the issue of 42 days detention, Davis is back at the centre of the political storm. He is the one seen as a risk-taker. A politician prepared to gamble with his career in order to defend a point of principle. This is not a roundabout type of leadership bid, but it is a bid to remind the Tories, and the public generally, that he is a force to be reckoned with.

It is a fascinating political stunt, and you have to give credit to Davis for his understanding of political drama - an understanding lamentably absent when he fought for the leadership. But we should understand first, that this is a wholly unnecessary gesture, and second that it is not much of a gamble.
First, David Davis has always opposed the 42 days detention bill, and the other encroachments on civil liberties that he is fighting this by-election about. His position has not changed. His constituents know that their MP opposes further attacks on civil liberties, as he sees it, in the form of ID cards, 42 days detention etc. He is standing for re-election on exactly the same platform that he is currently representing his constituents. There is no change in his position. He is still a Tory. He has represented his views in parliament, for his constituents, with consistency. There is therefore no reason whatsoever for him to stand down and fight a by-election. It is an utter waste of public funds, and it asks for no new or fresh support for a radically changed position.
Furthermore, it is difficult to argue, a mere few weeks after Labour's catastrophic defeat in Crewe and Nantwich, that this is a big gamble. If Labour can't win in Crewe, the chances of them taking Davis' 5,000 plus Tory majority away from him in Haltemprice is as likely as Tony Blair apologising for something he was actually responsible for. Davis has taken a shrewd look at the political weather, seen that he risks very little for his dramatic gesture, and stepped into the political limelight with considerable agility. The main risk to him is that he becomes seen as irrelevant, or trivial.
And what of the Tory party? Cameron can hardly be pleased about this unnecessary political distraction. The last thing he needs is a prima donna prancing around the corpse of Gordon Brown. Once Davis is re-elected, there is little Cameron can do to avoid re-appointing him to his old job, with added grassroots support for admiring Tory members. Which is a pity, as the one good thing to come out of this is Dominic Grieve's well deserved shadow cabinet promotion as Davis' successor. Should Davis falter - and the political landscape is nothing if not rock-strewn - then the Tories will at least benefit from Grieve's new prominence.

5 comments:

consultant said...

I would imagine Cameron is fuming, and rightly so. He has built his credibility in the country as the man who has - apparently - united the Tory party and brought them out of years of irrelevance in the wilderness. He was starting to make them look, on the surface at least, like a party of government, a serious alternative to the current incumbents.

This clever illusion has been shattered by Davis' resignation. A political story which should have been about Brown's inability to control his back backbenchers has flipped to be a story about Cameron's inability to control his own shadow cabinet, and one of the most senior members of it at that. Tonight the Tories are the same laughing stock they were in the dying years of Major's leadership, and under Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard.

It has been a dark time for Labour of late, and throughout I have clung to the cliche that if a week is a long time in politics, two years till the next election is an eternity. Davis has given Labour supporters a tiny chink of hope that the next election is not as sewn up as many would have us believe.

Party politics aside, I really can't help but admire the man. I'm horrified by the notion of detention without charge for even the shortest period, and more widely by the way in which the vague "terrorist threat" has been used to sledgehammer civil liberties. There's also little doubt in my mind that the Tories in government would be heading much the same way - after all, these policies are very popular with the electorate, and the Tories' own record on human rights is pretty poor. Davis has chosen a bizarre way in which to take his stand, but his lack of regard for his own future, and his party's fortunes, is impressive. I really don't think this is a Quentin Davies-style grumpy old cynic making a fuss; we're talking about someone who could well have been Home Secretary in two years. He has put personal ambition aside, and whilst he might have gone a little bit loony, at least he has stood up for a cause his record proves he believes in.

And as for the Tories benefitting from the appointment of Grieve? I tremble at the thought of a home secretary as demonstrably homophobic as he.

GM said...

You overstate the 'disarray' within the Tory party. Cameron may well have been put out, but he has quickly rallied to Davis' cause and frankly any talk of this making the Tories look wobbly is wishful thinking. To say nothing of the fact that this by-election is a two day wonder before interest in it disappears and people turn back to the issue of how big a mortgage to take out to fund filling their petrol tanks.

As for Davis putting personal ambition aside, bollocks frankly. He is significantly raising his already strong party following, and once he's back - in three weeks time - he can be pretty well guaranteed a return to his old post in due course. He is still the most likely man to be Home Secretary in the next Conservative administration!

You have found a strange hero in Davis, consultant, but then politics does indeed throw up odd bedfellows!

Ben Ross said...

Surely Labour will say in the next few days, "this is a ridiculous waste of tax payers money and we are not going to field a candidate". Then the ensuing by-election will be one of the most pointless in history and this whole story will end up getting ignored. If it is not ignored, it will be because of this, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7452264.stm bringing the tories into a direct argument with the sun! How brilliant would that be for Labour.

Mainly what it has definitely done is move this story, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7449678.stm off of the front pages. Initial comfort for Gordon Brown and his cronies, who are probably celebrating at the news.

Davis has acted like a maverick and i think "late life crisis" has best summed up his actions.

Pier said...

Completely agree with Giles on your judgement of DD's intentions.

One can clearly see so from his judgement on the issue.

If you are the Shadow Home Secretary in an opposition which is/has creating/ed an aura of 'government-in-waiting' as Blair and Labour did in the 1990s, why resign over an issue which you are certain to be able to overturn in less than two years?

If he was so vehmenently opposed to 42-day internment, why does he not bide his time? Cameron was unlikely to remove him given he has a personal political base in the party which needs appeasing and his stellar performance in the commons during the 42-day debate, he was guaranteed the job! If he was so concerned, he must have been grateful in hindsight that he was one of the few people who was in a position to change things. After resigning, he's not, and I don't share your conclusion that Cameron will inevitably be forced to give him his job back.

By resigning to champion the cause, he has made the cause more likely to fail - a fact he must have been aware of when he did so.

Also, can anyone please explain why someone who is for the death pentalty and for 28 days internment, suddenly burning with libertarian desire?!

Comrade MAjor said...

A quick bit of research showed that in the 2005 General Elections, he had a 5000 majority.

That much is broadcast. A closer look shows that it was over the Lib Dems. And who first says they won't put up a candidate? The Lib Dems. In fact his majority over Labour was in excess of 14 000.

That was a cold political gamble, which he seems to have lost, because he has lost his frontbench place in the next most likely government, and is now regarded as a political joke.