Friday, 13 June 2008

Doing it for the Sun

What to make of David Davis’s decision to resign as an MP and shadow home secretary and fight a by-election on the sole issue of the government’s plans for 42-day detention without charge? Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t ‘a very courageous and brave decision’, as his discomfited party leader, David Cameron, felt compelled to describe it yesterday. Standing for election in Baghdad Central would be brave, canvassing support from the voters of Kabul would be courageous. Resigning and standing again in a safe Tory seat when none of the other major parties is going to oppose you, and the government is among the least popular since polling began, requires about as much bottle as the man who invented milk cartons.

And now Kelvin MacKenzie is stepping in where the real politicians supposedly fear to tread. The former Sun editor, who says he is ‘90 per cent certain’ to stand against Davis, brings a surreal touch to the proceedings with his declaration that there are two reasons why he’ll do it: ‘One is that the Sun is very, very hostile to David Davis because of his 28-day stand, and the Sun has always been up for 42 days, or perhaps even 420 days, frankly. And secondly this is a bizarre cost to the taxpayer.’

Well, the cost of the election in Davis’s constituency was £95,520 in 2005 – or rather less than the £135,600 it cost to keep the average MP in pay and expenses last year. Not to be sniffed at, but it’s hardly going to break the budget. And anyway, standing in an election as a protest against the cost of that election hardly has the ring of logical consistency about it.

So that leaves the improbable spectacle of one of the most right-wing editors of a British newspaper in living memory campaigning for 42-day detention (or 420 days, since he doesn’t seem to mind) against a diehard Tory fighting on a civil liberties’ platform. If that’s not bizarre enough, Davis appears to have the support of around three-quarters of Conservative Party members for his stand but is opposed on the issue by almost three-quarters of the electorate at large. A similar proportion seem to hate Gordon Brown and his government more than they support 42-day detention, though. So Davis should still win comfortably, despite the intervention of MacKenzie and the Sun, even though he’ll probably not convince a majority of voters that he’s right on the single issue that he says he's fighting on.

This has more of the appearance of an emotional spasm than clever tactics - in which respect it could turn out to be a big mistake for Davis, the Tories and civil libertarians alike. But it should give the Sun something to spout about for a few weeks later this summer and it will be entertaining to see the sort of knots that the rest of the Tory commentariat get themselves into in trying to reconcile their dislike for Gordon Brown and the government with their instinctive support for anything hardline and illiberal.
POSTSCRIPT Reverse ferret: MacKenzie and the Sun bottled it. Rupert Murdoch likes nothing better than a winner and Davis is bound to win. Cowardy custard by Obsolete is a good account of what happened.


John Wainwright said...

Don't be so sure that it's Davis and not the rest of the political class, the Sun and Murdoch included, who's got his political instincts wrong on this one. If this had been a Labour MP you'd have been dancing up and down with delight. I agree it's not very courageous but at least Davis is doing something.

Anonymous said...

Bob Marshall Andrews the Labour MP is supporting Davis. So am I-Labour party member of 17 years.

davey g said...

youre mad then. all you ll do is help the tories. do you really think they will be more liberal than labour if they get it?

Anonymous said...

How long do you keep supporting this government because "all you'll do is help the Tories" is you criticise them? What's helping the Tories most is Labour doing their dirty work for them.

Liberty Bill said...

You are a natural Davis supporter, undogmatic, libertarian and open to reasoned argument. Forget your socialist prejudices and join his campaign. I'm sure you will be very welcome.

Jane Pritchard said...

Is it true that Tony Benn has said he will speak in support of Davis if Labour doesn't stand a candidate?