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This page provides occasional items, linked to the original articles, as we attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on civil liberties.
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2002 - 2004

1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005


Why civil libertarians should back Davis’s re-election

Earlier I wrote an article arguing that David Davis’s resignation and by-election campaign opened up an opportunity to alter the political climate to be more friendly to civil liberties. I’ve seen various arguments put forward attacking Davis’s campaign, from people committed to civil liberties, and this article is a response to them. The arguments I’ve seen are as follows:

  1. It’s a safe Tory seat, and the second placed party is not standing anyone against him, so Davis is bound to win and therefore it’s not important. One person arguing this suggested the logical vote is therefore simply to stay at home.
  2. Davis’s record on civil liberties is not perfect and/or other candidates have stronger stances on civil liberties, so we should back them instead.
  3. It’s just a stunt from a politician seeking attention.

Below I tackle each of these points in turn and argue that:

  • Davis has already done the cause of civil liberties some service in helping reposition the Tory party and, with his resignation, in generating debate and publicity about the erosion of civil liberties.
  • If we’re to avoid a potential set-back on civil liberties, we need to ensure Davis is returned with more votes than he won last time round, and with a decent turnout.

So, taking each argument in turn:

  1. I agree it’s a safe Tory seat and it’s unlikely that Davis will lose. That does not mean however that the election result is unimportant. A low turnout or a reduced vote for Davis will suggest to party strategists that the voters are do not care about civil liberties. Conversely, a high turnout and increased vote for Davis will send the opposite message.
  2. I agree his record is not perfect, but he is making a strong stand, he has helped reposition our likely next governing party to be more friendly to civil liberties and voting for other candidates risks damaging the cause by reducing Davis’s vote, therefore sending the wrong message to party strategists. If Davis is returned on a reduced vote or low turnout, Davis would have proved that campaigning on a civil liberties platform damages your chances of getting elected. Only if one of these other candidates was actually likely to win outright would this calculation be altered. But this is unlikely in the extreme.
  3. It is a stunt, but he is seeking to raise the issue of the erosion of civil liberties in the public eye, and has succeeded in doing so and it is doubtful he could have achieved the same effect without resigning. He also threw away a strong chance of being a cabinet minister to do so. As I argued earlier, if played correctly, his campaign may make it easier for a future government to reverse the erosion of civil liberties. I don’t think he could have created this opportunity by staying on as shadow Home Secretary, and he sacrificed a real chance of a ministerial career to do so.

In my view, David Davis has already served the cause of civil liberties by being instrumental in moving the Tory party to a more civil libertarian stance under David Cameron’s leadership (e.g. promising the scrap the National Identity Scheme, opposing 42 days), and using his resignation to generate publicity and debate over the erosion of civil liberties. Given that the Tories look like being the next government, this is an important development, and if Davis is returned with a stronger mandate and continues to campaign on civil liberties it will only strengthen the Tories’ commitment on this issue further.

But as indicated above, Davis could be returned with a lower turnout and/or reduced vote. That risks weakening the Tories commitment to this issue and weakening Davis’s ability to push civil liberties up the agenda. For these reasons, it seems to me the logical choice is to back Davis. If I were one of his constituents I’d vote for him.

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