Tories urge Davis to change his mind as contest threatens to descend into farce

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Indy Politics

Tory grandees have piled pressure on David Davis to change his mind before formally resigning, because of the damage it will do to David Cameron and the Conservative Party.

Lord Tebbit, the former party chairman, joined Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, in expressing bafflement at Mr Davis's decision to force the by-election scheduled for 10 July. Lord Heseltine described Mr Davis's move as "incomprehensible".

Lord Tebbit, a friend of Mr Davis, said: "I find it difficult to understand the logic of it. He won the argument in the Shadow Cabinet and he won the argument in the debate in the Commons and then he calls a by-election. It seems to me over the top. It's beyond my comprehension."

Lord Tebbit has announced he intends to vote with the Government in the Lords on the extension of pre-charge detention to 42 days for terrorist suspects.

Mr Davis has 48 hours to reconsider before applying next week for the Chiltern Hundreds, a procedural manoeuvre, to trigger the by-election in his East Yorkshire seat of Haltemprice and Howden where he will be defending a majority of 5,116.

Labour has dismissed it as a "meaningless stunt" and is refusing to field a candidate. Mr Davis accused Gordon Brown of "cowardice" by not fighting the by-election.

Yesterday, the BBC said large numbers of viewers had expressed support for Mr Davis's stand against the trampling of civil liberties and the growth of security culture in Britain.

But the contest now threatens to descend into farce. The Liberal Democrats are backing Mr Davis's stand and will not take part, leaving the field to a handful of maverick candidates.

Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun, said he was "90 per cent certain" to put his name forward on a platform in favour of 42-day detention. He said he had the backing of the paper's proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, after discussing it with him at a party. Mr MacKenzie said: "I have been associated with The Sun for 30 years. The Sun is very, very hostile to David Davis because of his 28-day stance and The Sun has always been very up for 42 days and perhaps even 420 days."

The newly-formed Miss Great Britain Party, which is campaigning to have more beautiful women in Parliament, and the Monster Raving Loony Party, are also expected to field candidates for the seat.