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

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

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes care named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Countries that have relaxed sex-worker laws have seen a fall in Aids infections but no increase in street-based prostitution  

As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London