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Davis officially triggers by-election

Wednesday 18 June 2008 11:56 BST

Tory MP David Davis officially resigned his seat today, triggering a by-election in Haltemprice and Howden on 10 July.

Speaking on the steps of the Treasury where he submitted his resignation letter, the former shadow home secretary insisted he had no regrets and challenged Gordon Brown to put up a Labour candidate for the forthcoming contest.

He added: "If he doesn't do so, the British people will see him as gutless."

But the Labour Party confirmed today that it will not fight the election.

Mr Davis, who announced his decision after the Government's narrow victory in the Commons over the 42-day detention of terror suspects, now looks set to fight a by-election with little meaningful opposition.

Despite his repeated attempts to goad the Prime Minister into contesting the election, the Labour Party immediately announced it would not be taking part in what it dubbed a "stunt".

Dianne Hayter, chairman of Labour's National Executive Committee, said: "We do not believe a parliamentary by-election should be held at taxpayers' expense to resolve tensions at the top of the Conservative Party.

"This is a phoney by-election that is completely unnecessary and the Labour Party will not be taking part in what is a political stunt."

She claimed that Mr Davis had done a deal with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who said last week that his party would not contest the by-election, and never intended to put his seat at risk.

"The Labour Party is happy to spend every day until the next election debating with the Tory Party on 42 days and whether it is right to use CCTV and DNA evidence against criminals," she went on.

"But a phoney by-election is not the forum for these debates."

After submitting his application to Chancellor Alistair Darling for the stewardship of the Three Chiltern Hundreds - the necessary formality for resigning a Commons seat - Mr Davis threw down the gauntlet to Mr Brown.

"The majority of the British public want to see an election, want to see a candidate put up, twice as many as don't, so this is a debate that has to happen," he told reporters.

Mr Davis said the initial controversy over his decision to seek re-election appeared to be abating and the majority of his constituents understood he was making a principled stand in defence of civil liberties.

He insisted that he had been mindful of the risk that he could lose his seat if Labour put up a strong candidate, but added: "There was no doubt in my mind this was the right thing to do - I have rarely been so sure of a principle in my life."

He acknowledged that Labour's refusal to put up a candidate would diminish the significance of the by-election vote.

"If he doesn't put someone up, what he does is he reduces the importance of the actual vote, but he will increase the importance of the debate.

"Because I'm afraid the public at large care about the erosion of freedom, care about the database stuff, they care about the surveillance state, they care about the idea that innocent people might spend six weeks in prison without being charged.

"All of those are important matters to the British public and they want a debate.

"And we will have a debate, even if Gordon Brown, who is our real opponent in this, stays in Downing Street afraid to come out."

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