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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 David Davis’s stand is important

On Wednesday, not only did the government win the “42 days” votes, but prior to that opinion polls were published which suggested the public supported the government’s line on the issue.

As someone deeply opposed to the erosion of civil liberties, both of these events would be depressing events for David Davis. They also point to a wider depressing fact about the political climate in Britain. For many years now, the idea that one must erode civil liberties in order to be “tough”, or at least to be seen to be “tough”, on crime and on terrorism has influenced both the government’s political strategy, the media’s handling of the issues and many people’s perceptions of the issues.

We have had draconian measure after draconian measure pushed onto the statute books, and part of the argument against the opponents is that by opposing these measures they are being “soft” on crime and terrorism. It’s not merely a party-political thing but something that permeates the political arena generally.

And it seems to me that whilst the current government is likely to lose the next election, it is not clear that this is because people are outraged over eroded civil liberties. The issues of “spin”, sleaze and sheer incompetence on the part of this government are the more likely candidates for explaining their poor showings in the polls at this point. Civil liberties concerns may have contributed to the poor showings to some degree, but not yet as a major factor, as far as I can tell.

Thus the idea that standing up for civil liberties means being “soft” on crime or terrorism, holds enough sway in the media and with the public, that it will hamper any efforts of a would-be Home Secretary (or PM) to halt and reverse the erosion of civil liberties Davis refers to. It will need to be confronted if any lasting changes to strengthen civil liberties are to be made. I suspect it’s why, whilst we’ve heard some encouraging noises from the Tories (e.g. pledges to scrap the national identity scheme), it’s also why Cameron’s approach on these issues has had a cautious air to it.

By resigning his seat and fighting the by-election on a civil liberties platform, David Davis has created an opportunity for this idea to be challenged, and the political climate changed, before the next general election is held, thus giving an incoming Tory government a freer hand to strengthen civil liberties than would otherwise have been the case.

Thus the opportunity here is to alter the political landscape that the shadow cabinet and probable next government will be operating in, to strengthen the hand of those who believe in civil liberties. This seems to me to be Davis’s intention.

Because it involves thinking and acting outside the currently normal parameters of the Westminster “bubble”, I think those in the media and in politics who have been attacking him are misunderstanding the nature of what he is doing (or possibly understand too well and don’t like it).

But there is also a risk here for the cause of civil liberties. Suppose Davis loses his by-election. Won’t that damage the cause? I think it would, potentially seriously so and this is an outcome to be avoided.

I suspect he’ll win though. Nevertheless, I think anyone who believes in civil liberties should help Davis fight this fight, and make the debate on civil liberties he’s called for become a reality. By doing so, they will give this opportunity to alter the political landscape in favour of civil liberties the best possible chance of succeeding.

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