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Friday, June 13, 2008

The jury is out on Davis (and Clegg)

From where I am sitting David Davis' decision to resign and fight a by-election on the issue of civil liberties still looks sustainable. It is becoming increasingly unlikely that Labour will now put up a candidate, prefering instead to pass the baton to that other well-known liberal, Kelvin McKenzie, former editor of the Sun and one of the brains behind topless darts on L!VE TV.

In these circumstances, and discounting the intervention of the odd beauty queen and Monster Raving Loony, the idea of focussing the contest entirely on the role of an ever-burgeoning state may well just come off. As ever though it is a matter of timing.

Mike Smithson over on politicalbetting
poses the questions 'Isn't the news agenda going to just move on? Will we still remember the cause on polling day?' He has a valid point. David Davis' gamble and that of Nick Clegg in supporting him relies on the by-election taking place before the media and the public tire of the 42-day controversy and start debating other issues instead, such as the price of petrol and the tanker drivers strike, which started today.

I am not too sure that the good people of Haltemprice & Howden will want to talk about the niceties of detention without trial when they are stranded at home because of a petrol shortage. Nor am I convinced that the media will humour David Davis for long when there are so many other pressing issues to report on first.

In many ways this 'personal' decision by the former Shadow Home Secretary has all the hallmarks of a disaster for the Conservative Party. It ties them into his agenda at a time when they need to move on if they are to sustain their lead over Gordon Brown. It is little wonder that senior Tories look so uncomfortable when discussing it whilst Labour cabinet members are waundering around with a permanent smirk on their face. Tony McNulty on Question Time last night looked like he had just won the lottery. It is the first time in months that I have seen a Government Minister enjoy himself so much on a serious current affairs programme.

The by-election and the media circus that will inevitably follow it offers a useful breathing space for Labour in which they can re-group. Important as David Davis' cause is, it is not a vote winner. Nevertheless, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats look like they are in a win-win situation.

The Liberal Democrats have done the principled thing and stood aside, thus allowing the by-election to be fought on civil liberties, a key one for us. And even though in doing so we have ceded that agenda temporarily to David Davis, the fact that it is not a mainstream Tory issue and that Davis is acting in a 'personal' capacity without the full backing and endorsement of his leadership means that it will be there for us to pick up again after the by-election is over.

We have also won respect from many commentators and members of the public for taking the decisive step of standing aside so early on, thus allowing the by-election to take place on these terms. If the Tories lose support as a result of their own divisions on this issue and due to taking their eye off the ball on other domestic matters then we will be well situated to take advantage.

The only downside is if the by-election is delayed for too long. I cannot see why that should happen but if it does then all the momentum behind Davis' bold move will have been lost and the Liberal Democrats will look increasingly foolish for so eagerly agreeing not to field a candidate. In that sense the jury is still out as to what we should make about this whole affair and what its impact will be on the relative standing of the main parties once the votes have been counted and the result declared. It is a principled gamble but how the electorate will react once they have had time to digest and consider it is still an unknown factor.
What do the Lib Dems gain from not standing in a seat they can win?

Also how do they benefit from helping the Tories appear more Liberal?

Clegg has once again made a very naive decision. the only possible advantage is that it is even more damaging to the tories than to the Lib Dems.
As the man said...i decry anybody calling this a 'principled position', it isn't it's the complete opposite...David Davis is not an independant, this is not a 'single-issue campaign' like we have seen in the past (the Kiddiminster hospital campaign being a very good example of a single issue campaign)...if it was then it would be something that we might consider supoorting...

This is a campaign to elect a Conservative member of Parliament...if Davis leaves the Tories then ask me again what I feel but for now TWM is exactly right...this will end badly for us
I'm uneasy about this too, surely if there is to be a by-election (even this very unnecessary one) we should be fighting for every vote for the full Liberal agenda.
Gimmick upon gimmick ... but it won't be a complete waste of time if Kelvin Muckenzie stands, and he is given the same tabloid treatment as he dished out when he was an editor. :-)
if the campaign is to be fought on 42 days detention, CCTV and ID cards only with no other policies then how can we stand against a candidate who on these themes we agree with? I may be a Lib Dem but i see myself as a liberal first and think that on this issue Clegg was right and wasnt naive at all
What makes Clegg naive Anon is the fact is that he doesnt seem to asking Davis any searching questions about why he is doing this...about why he has been exiled from the Shadow Cabinet...about why the Shadow Cabinet is financially and rhetorically disowning him...this is a attempt to make David Cameron look bad and for Davis to position himself as 'champion in exile' of the Daily Telegraph/Conservative Home core of the party....already the Telegraph has used the episode to question the 'managment of the Conservative Party' by a 'small clique'...people need to do the math on this because Clegg nor our leadership appear to have done....
Maybe we could add the death penalty into the liberal issues that David Davis is asked to campaign against in making his case in the by-election. Oh no, he supports the death penalty.
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