It’s not often I touch upon politics on this blog, but having spent most of the last 24 hours listening to endless analysis on radio and TV, I feel compelled to comment on David Davis’s resignation as an MP to “defend British liberties”. And yes, this is the same David Davis who served as an MP under Thatcher and Major. In fact, he was a Government whip; his distaste for parliamentary deals and so on evidently didn’t weigh so heavily with him then.
It’s hard to know where to start. What about the claim, by various of his friends and colleagues, and some in the media, that this is a brave and courageous decision? What definition of those words are they using? Because as far as I can see, Davis is risking next to nothing. At the very worst, he might lose his job (I have no idea whether or not he, like many MPs, already has a second job – it’d be nice to see a few of them get upset about that, too), in which case he’ll have to kick his heels, maybe while accepting a few well-paid directorships, for a couple of years until he gets selected for a safe Tory seat at the next General Election.
Except that he made sure to get the agreement of the Liberal Democrats NOT to stand against him in the forthcoming by-election. Given that they are the only realistic threat to him in the constituency, where’s the risk? He also knows full well that whatever he might say, people in Haltemprice and Howden will not vote purely on their views on the 42-day detention debate. They’ll vote, as they always do, on a whole range of issues, not least of them Davis’s own record as a constituency MP, which by all accounts is very good.
What about Davis’s so-called principles on this particular issue. He’s been keen to mention Magna Carta at every opportunity, but as far as I know, it didn’t make provision for holding prisoners for 28 days without charge. Davis has made no objection to that shorter (but still very long) period, just the 42 days. He’s no more an upholder of the principles of Magna Carta than Gordon Brown is. The inescapable conclusion is that what he’s doing has nothing to do with political conviction, and everything to do with opportunism and an ego running out of control. He realises, I suspect, that by losing the Tory leadership election a couple of years back he lost his only real chance of ever becoming PM, and now he’s making a last-ditch bid to grab the political spotlight – this is the act of a desperate man.
Finally, where was he in the 1980s, when the party for which he was and is an MP was trampling over all sorts of civil liberties in the UK, including press freedom and, more than anything, workers’ and union rights? Engineering strikes in order to use the police as the paramilitary wing of the Tory Party and crush the unions (the court actions that followed the 1984 Battle of Orgreave are very instructive) isn’t what you’d expect from a party concerned to uphold the rights of the individual. Strangely, the Tories, including Davis, don’t plan to repeal a single one of the anti-union laws should they come to power (and it’s to Labour’s shame that they’ve done little in that regard, too). We faced a very real terror threat then, too, but Davis and the Tories showed none of this new concern for civil liberties in Northern Ireland.
Personally, I see no reason to have 42 days detention, any more than I do 28. There are far easier and more transparent changes that could be made, if the security situation demands it. But even if I did share the same view as Davis, his position would stink to high heaven of hypocrisy of the worst kind.