Leading article: David Davis has struck a fine blow for the cause of civil liberties

Share
Related Topics

The Haltemprice and Howden by-election was not, in the end, the spectacular national debate on the state of civil liberties in Britain that David Davis wanted when he dramatically resigned his parliamentary seat last month. But the former shadow home secretary still deserves a generous portion of credit for taking a stand on this issue. The growth of casual surveillance by the state is indeed a cancer in our society. And the steady erosion of our civil liberties by the Government is every bit as dangerous as Mr Davis has been arguing. If this by-election has caused even a handful of people to reconsider the benefits of the proliferation of CCTV cameras, or the merits of ID cards, it will have been worthwhile.

And Mr Davis's campaign coincided with the devastating intervention on the issue of 42 days detention by the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, this week. In her maiden speech in the House of Lords, Lady Manningham-Buller argued that extending the detention period for terror suspects is a bad idea: dangerous in principle and flawed in practice.

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this intervention. For someone who enjoyed privileged access to all the intelligence on suspected terrorists to come out in opposition of 42 days should surely kill this daft piece of legislation stone dead. The Counter-terrorism Bill will be rejected by the Lords when they come to vote on it in October. At that point, Gordon Brown's only remaining card will be to force it through the Commons again and threaten the Lords with the prospect of bringing the Parliament Act into play. This would be the nuclear option, but, after his painfully narrow victory in the Commons last time round, the Prime Minister would most likely find himself immolated in the resulting blast.

For all these reasons, Mr Davis's victory this week will not have cheered Mr Brown. But Mr Davis's personal campaign has been uncomfortable for his own party leader too. It is no secret that David Cameron was furious over Mr Davis's decision to resign his parliamentary seat and fight a by-election. And Mr Cameron's rapid appointment of Dominic Grieve to fill Mr Davis's place in the Shadow Cabinet was the political equivalent of slamming the door shut on Mr Davis's career.

But the Conservative leader should not rule out a return to front-line politics for Mr Davis. When he resigned last month, the move was written off by many in Westminster as a fit of madness by a politician in the grip of some sort of personal crisis, perhaps even a suicidal fit of pique against the man who beat him to the leadership. But many in the country responded differently. They rather respected this politician who was apparently prepared to jeopardise his political career for something he believed in strongly, even if they did not share his views. Mr Davis managed to pull off the rare trick of being popular, without espousing populist policies. Most politicians nowadays tend to achieve the exact opposite.

But this is not the only reason to recall Mr Davis to the front bench. It is not just that he is a street fighter. Above anything else, Mr Cameron needs more people of modest origins like Mr Davis around him to counterbalance the impression that the Conservative Party is run by a clique of old Etonians. The Conservative leader did not want this particular by-election, but he has an opportunity to profit from it nonetheless.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape