Friday, July 11, 2008

Small by-election, not many hurt

To no one's great surprise David Davis regained his seat at Haltemprice & Howden.

Liberal Democrats will be relieved that, though the Greens came second, they obviously did not pick up our habitual voters by the handful. And it was reassuring to see Jill Saward, who supported the Labour/Daily Mail anti-liberty line, do badly. The 110 votes David Icke won suggest he finds it easier to win votes in cyberspace than he does in prosperous parts of rural Yorkshire.

When it was first announced that the Liberal Democrats would not stand against David Davis, people queued up to praise Nick Clegg's sagacity. Most notable was James Hook, who wrote:

I’m so proud of Nick Clegg for his decision that Liberal Democrats will not contest David Davis’ by-election.

Jon Neal, our superb candidate last time, came so close that I am sure we could win the by-election; even after the human and financial burdens of Crewe and Henley.

Detention without trial is a threat to our national life and it is right for Nick to support David Davis’ courageous stance.

Since then enthusiasm for Nick's decision has cooled. In particular, it has been noticed that the Lib Dems won no concessions from Davis in return for not fighting him and made no effort to turn his campaign into a joint one. So much so that James Graham has written on Comment is Free today that: "The main loser of this episode seems to have been Nick Clegg."

I think the main losers are David Davis and the prospects of keeping the Tories signed up for the civil liberties agenda. Before he resigned Davis was shadow home secretary and had every chance of being home secretary after the next election. Today he is a backbencher.

Meanwhile the big debate on civil liberties have taken place, not in Haltemprice & Howden, but at Westminster. As Martin Kettle argues in the Guardian today, that debate took place in the House of Lords and Eliza Manningham-Buller's speech was the most important.

Dominic Grieve, who has taken Davis's job in the Tory shadow cabinet, has an honourable record of fighting for liberty in the Commons. Yet you sense he is a good lawyer who has done the best he can with the brief he has been given. If the balance of power in that shadow cabinet changes or David Cameron changes his mind about where advantage lies, Grieve will argue against liberty just as effectively.

And, of course, Davis's absence from the shadow cabinet makes it more likely that the balance of power will change and that the likes of Liam Fox and Michael Gove, who would feel happier attacking the government for not being Neo Con enough, will be the decisive influences on Cameron.

And the Liberal Democrats?

We have failed to gain any advantage from the by-election but seem not to have suffered any permanent damage in one of our target seats. In the absence of any explanation from out leader, it is hard to resist the suspicion that our main reason for not fighting the Haltemprice & Howden by-election is that we were broke and knackered after Henley and decided to let David Davis get on with trashing his career without us.


Andy said...

Exactly. Who says Nick Clegg was putting principle ahead of party. It may well be that they decided that, as Alix Mortimer was arguing, Davis was simply unassailable and the party had just spent money fighting two byelections already. Plus, if the balance in the Tory party shifts as you suggest, then they move their tanks of our civil-liberties lawn. If you will.

Administrator said...

we should really have put up a candidate it would have really shown David Davies that we are the real alternative and not the conservatives with thier publicity stunts.