Friday, June 20, 2008

House Points: Press barons, by-elections and David Davis

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Incidentally, if Bowles was the grandfather of the Mitford sisters then he must be a kinsman of our own Rupert Redesdale.

The Yellow Press

The prospect of Kelvin Mackenzie standing in Haltemprice and Howden on behalf of Rupert Murdoch reminds Leicestershire historians of the Harborough by-election of 1916. There, though there was a wartime truce between the main parties, the Liberal candidate Percy Harris (now best remembered as Matthew Taylor’s great-grandfather) faced a formidable opponent financed by the press baron Lord Northcliffe.

Thomas Gibson Bowles was the illegitimate son of a cabinet minister, the founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady, and the grandfather of the Mitford sisters. He had sat for King’s Lynn as both a Liberal and a Conservative. He stood in Harborough to protest against the Asquith government’s conduct of the war.

Percy Harris wrote in his memoirs: "The hoardings were covered with Daily Mail posters, ‘Buy Daily Mail and vote for Bowles,’ and a special issue of the Daily Mirror, then in Northcliffe’s hands, was published and delivered free to the voters."

Many thought Harris had no chance, "But I was young and energetic and kept to the front the query: ‘Were the electors to select their own MP or have one dictated to them by the Yellow Press?’ and a very effective question it was." So effective that Harris won by 4000 votes.

Now Kelvin Mackenzie is backing away from the contest and David Davis may find himself fighting just the Miss Great Britain Party. But should he be facing a Liberal Democrat?

David Cameron's strategy since becoming Tory leader has been to convince the world you can be a reasonable person - concerned about the environment and civil liberties - and still vote Conservative.

You may say amounts to little more than being in favour of motherhood and apple pie. But as Danny Finkelstein has pointed out, the Tories spent a decade giving every impression of being against motherhood and apple pie. So this marks considerable progress for them.

Now David Davis has taken it into his head to resign and fight a by-election on civil liberties. And the Lib Dems have stood aside to let him make the issue entirely his own. It is hard to see how that will help us win or keep the support of the liberally minded people Cameron is wooing. We should be standing in the by-election.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Davis's resignation has already proved a Westminster Village nine day wonder.

The Lib Dems would have gained nothing from standing in the by-election other than lots of national media coverage criticising the party for putting divisive party interest before an issue that is supposed to be at our core.

Davis has played a clever move to get himself some publicity and to improve his own position in his own constituency. Beyond East Yorkshire (and Cameron's office) his stunt will soon be forgotten.

Maybe a better move would have been for Nick Clegg to have resigned his seat at the same time on the same issue...