42 days and a resignation
June 13, 2008 4:41 AM   Subscribe

42 days and a resignation. The day after the British Labour government narrowly won a parliamentary vote to extend the time that the police can hold people for questioning without charge from 28 days to 42 days, Tory frontbench MP David Davis has resigned his seat. David Davis is a senior member of the main parliamentary opposition party - who strongly opposed the 42 day bill - and has stepped down to fight a by-election for his own constituency to start a debate over "the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government".

This move is virtually unprecedented in British politics; the last time this happened was a mass resignation of Northern Irish MPs over the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1986, and before that the resignation of George Lansbury in 1912 over women's suffrage (who was subsequently jailed and went on hunger strike over the issue).

Some have called David Davis' action a rare brave and principled act* against 42 days detention without charge and other measures such as CCTV, the DNA database and the coming ID cards by a senior politician. Others have called it a stunt and a farce that will split the Tory party. Most of the other parties will not contest the by-election, so now an ex-editor of the Sun tabloid newspaper will likely stand, backed by the weight of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, specifically in support of 42 days detention.

*Having trouble adding the direct link; click 'readers recommended' for the highest rated comments in support of Davis.
posted by ArkhanJG (39 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
As if I don't have reason to hate the Sun enough as it is...

The "strangulation of fundamental British freedoms" is the number one reason that about 90% of the Brits I work with here in Spain never, ever want to go back. It's a fucking shame that the British government is taking all their security-policies from V for Vendetta and Children of Men.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:53 AM on June 13, 2008

I'm no conservative (Scot Nat, here) but I have to applaud what he's doing. Sure, he's independently well off, so he doesn't have to worry about his money, and he's more than likely to win, so he doesn't really have to worry too much about his seat, but at least he did something.

If it takes an empty gesture to make people think about the authoritarian nightmare they're sleep-walking into then all well and good. DD gets to stroke his ego and make a point, and the papers will be talking about this from now until the by-election.

The House of Lords will tear this to shreds anyway... Man alive, I never thought I'd be relieved that there was a HoL.
posted by bouncebounce at 4:55 AM on June 13, 2008

With LibDem not standing and (I hope) Labour not standing, I hope that everyone against the 42 days votes Tory regardless of their political affiliation. I'd love this by-election to have a greater turn out than the pathetic one we get in a normal election.

Not a Tory voter, but I'd vote for him if I was in his constituency.

Hell, if we had electronic voting over here...
posted by twine42 at 5:04 AM on June 13, 2008

posted by DU at 5:05 AM on June 13, 2008

What are Labour doing anyway, have they decided yet?

The seat is Tory with LibDem in 2nd. LibDem have said they won't stand as they agree with Davis, effectively telling their supporters to vote Tory. Labour shouldn't have a chance - unless the people really do want 42 day detention.

So do Labour refuse to play, and look like they're cowards, or stand and be made to look like idiots?
posted by twine42 at 5:08 AM on June 13, 2008

I'm not sure I can applaud him because I'm highly dubious that this empty gesture will actually make people think about the authoritarian nightmare they're sleep-walking into. You'd think that being shadow Home Secretary (the post he resigned from) was the ideal platform from which to oppose 42 days. This is obviously some sort of byzantine internal Tory power struggle.

So small yay for the fact the Tory Party still can't get its house in order but massive unyays for the whole repellant and depressing farce that is everything to do with this legislation.
posted by ninebelow at 5:10 AM on June 13, 2008

It seems that the fuckwit from the supa-soaraway Sun has made a bit of a faux pas.
posted by bouncebounce at 5:14 AM on June 13, 2008

unless the people really do want 42 day detention.

It is quite possible they do. Opinion polls have shown them to be in favour of it and although you can argue about the questions used in such polls and whether people really understand the issue you are never going to have an informed electorate. It is one of those issues like capital punishment that people are instinctively in favour because after all it only effects bad people, doesn't it?

And that's even supposing that this is going to be a mini-referendum rather than just a normal by-election we're people will just vote on party lines as always.
posted by ninebelow at 5:17 AM on June 13, 2008

I heard an interesting analysis on the radio that if Labour and LibDems stood aside then UKIP would be the main competitor (I think it was before the Sun's intervention). Now, as UKIP agree with Davis that 42 days is wrong the main point of contention would be Europe, effectively derailing the debate he wants to have and shifting the ground massively - the timing couldn't be worse for him given that Ireland is about to reject the Lisbon treaty.
posted by patricio at 5:22 AM on June 13, 2008

Difficult to take David Davis' stance on liberty seriously when he's on record as backing the death penalty. The miserable compromises Brown had to vote humiliated Brown, he got a kicking, it'll get spat back by the House of Lords and he'll have to do it all over again.

I found Diane Abbott's speech bang on the button.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:23 AM on June 13, 2008

Now, as UKIP agree with Davis that 42 days is wrong

Although their one MP actually voted with the Government against the party line! Can you even consider UKIP a proper party and not just a disparate group of moaning old bastards?
posted by ninebelow at 5:28 AM on June 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's a rare day indeed when I can see anything admirable at all in anything that members of the political classes do. It's even rarer when I find myself in agreement with David Davis and Diane Abbott on the same day.
posted by Jofus at 5:52 AM on June 13, 2008

"one of those issues like capital punishment that people are instinctively in favour because after all it only effects bad people"

Actually, poll results on capital punishment are not as in favour as they were a couple of decades ago: attitudes do change. But as you say, voters don't really get the chance to think about the issues in opinion polling.

I'm glad civil liberties are being championed, though I think the threat from this Bill has been massively overblown. I would rather that their champion didn't want to repeal the Human Rights Act, and outlaw gay marriage and adoption.
posted by athenian at 6:14 AM on June 13, 2008

I could be wrong, but I thought polls were showing about 65% of Brits in favour of the 42 day detention rule. If that holds true in Davies' constituency, then fighting a by-election purely on that issue could be a bit of a mistake.
posted by MrMustard at 6:19 AM on June 13, 2008

The "strangulation of fundamental British freedoms" is the number one reason that about 90% of the Brits I work with here in Spain never, ever want to go back.

Well there's that sunshine and warm weather thing too.
posted by three blind mice at 6:24 AM on June 13, 2008

I smell a fish!

David Davis (DD) and David Cameron (DC) do not see eye to eye, and it is generally accepted that DD is the strongest candidate for Tory leader... after DC. But DC is here to stay - the blue rinse brigade love him, and that leaves DD doing all the backroom work while DC takes all the credit.

I think DD's resignation is the first step on the road to a Tory leadership challenge, neatly wrapped up in a principled standpoint (he could have resigned on ANY number of civl rights issued in the last 10 years - this is a strange point to resign on, IMHO). It is no coincidence that, at this time, Labour is very week and the Tories are strong - now IS the time for DD to make a break.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 6:37 AM on June 13, 2008

Can you even consider UKIP a proper party and not just a disparate group of moaning old bastards?

Name one other British political party that has a truck!
posted by vbfg at 6:50 AM on June 13, 2008

I've read rumours a genuine civil liberties candidate will stand. Could be a good chance to hijack this for a bit of political theatre.
posted by Abiezer at 6:52 AM on June 13, 2008

His speech was highly inspiring. A massively impressive and sorely needed gesture.
posted by fire&wings at 6:57 AM on June 13, 2008

I don't know the politics behind this, but there's one interesting thing to note: it's actually (technically) illegal for an MP to resign from Parliament. They have to go through an interesting process, whereby they become appointed to an 'office of profit under the Crown', which is incompatible with being an MP.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:06 AM on June 13, 2008

I've always wanted to see a theatre show in the West End, but I just can't afford to go across the pond. This political theatre will do nicely, though.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:27 AM on June 13, 2008

I wanted to work that in dirtynumbangelboy, but figured it was long enough already. As you say, since 1632 the only allowable reasons for vacating a seat in the Commons have been death, disqualification, elevation to the Peerage, dissolution of parliament or expulsion.

Instead, they're appointed one of two jobs which excludes them from membership of the Commons. These are the Crown Steward, and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead and the Chiltern Hundreds. Mr Davis is expected to take the Chiltern Hundreds, as Boris Johnson (the new London Mayor) is currently the Crown Steward, since he resigned as MP of Henley. Also, Tony Blair is the current Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, despite no longer being an MP as the post is generally held until needed for the next incumbant. British politics really is fabulously complicated sometimes - just see the Judical Committee of the Privy Council as one of the two highest courts of appeal.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:35 AM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with Davis on the 42 Days issue, but his resignation/election race will achieve precisely bugger-all apart from give the Sun some publicity when they lead the campaign against him.

Brown must be chuckling his head off as well - no more talk of exactly what winning that vote cost him in terms of political capital and the whole "lost documents" thing is now rapidly disappearing below the front-page fold.

But i guess what's a man to do? I mean unless you're the Shadow Home Secretary in the party who will almost certainly form the next government then you're completely powerless to do anything about legislation like this. So Davis could never have...


RANDOM FACT: George Lansbury was Angela Lansbury's Grandad.

Think about that for a second - without his un-erring support of women's rights both at home and abroad, and without his bloodline, who would solve crime in Cabot Cove?
posted by garius at 7:43 AM on June 13, 2008

No offense, and I am pretty ignorant here, but why the hell is 42 days so much more than 28? It's 6 weeks vs. 4 weeks. I find the 28 days offensive, but why is 42 so much worse? Or is it just a final straw?
posted by mrgrimm at 7:53 AM on June 13, 2008

Part of the frustration is that it was already raised from 14 to 28 days in this parliament (since the last general election). The government under Tony Blair then tried to raise it to 90 days, and lost. Now it's come back, as 42 days, with much the same arguments as the 90 day bill. In and of itself, this bill is fairly harmless, not least due to the convoluted concessions required to invoke the powers, that were handed out by Gordon Brown in order to get enough votes for it, along with some other possible bribes for MPs to back him. Also because the House of Lords will definitely kick it into the long grass for a while. The likelyhood is it won't pass into law until after the next general election anyway.

The problem is considered to be ever growing powers of the state to lock people up without charge and invade their privacy on limited grounds, often without even needing to go to court. It's part of the bigger conflict of human rights/civil liberties vs security theatre/prevention of terrorism - which the libertarians have generally been losing. I highly recommend Diane Abbot's speech linked by YouRebelScum for further background - I hadn't seen that myself yet, and it's very good.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2008

Kudos to him from an American. I've been watching the UK for awhile now in dread, as everything that you guys test run seems to end up here, give or take a few years.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:16 AM on June 13, 2008

Ah, slight error on timescale; the 90 days extension came first, failed, then a compromise extension of 28 days was passed on the basis that that would be the end of it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:20 AM on June 13, 2008

I interviewed Nigel Farage, Leader of UKIP and the Independence and Democracy group this morning and he talked about Davis and other matters - Self link to audio of the interview.
posted by quarsan at 12:31 PM on June 13, 2008

What's depressed me about the whole Davis thing is realising how the blogs and comments on British media sites are starting to sound like Free Republic or Fox News. If I hear the words fascism, ZaNuLabour or Stalin again, I will scream. British political debate is being taken over by this angry self-righteous hate-filled tone and, as someone who believes in democracy, it's just killing me.

Britain today is nothing like a fascist state, nothing like Zimbabwe and nothing like Stalinism. People are comparing the Government to real historical regimes that really killed millions of real people, and what are they talking about? Speed cameras! European treaties! Income tax rates! Petrol Prices! Get over yourselves, for God's sake. If you don't agree, vote Tory at the next election, don't pretend you're some sort of heroic fighter for freedom and democracy.

I completely respect people who don't agree with 42 days, or speed cameras, or whatever. I stop respecting those people when they turn into tantruming six year olds and scream "I can do what I want! You're the worst Government ever and I hate you! Nazi!"
posted by athenian at 1:31 PM on June 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can honestly say I've never seen the word ZuNuLabour before now.

You are obviously - trivially - right that neither Blair nor Brown are Stalin but you are conflating an awful lot of issues here. The idea that "if you don't agree, vote Tory at the next election" is a solution for most people who are excised about this issue betrays a startling lack of awareness of the political landscape.
posted by ninebelow at 3:26 PM on June 13, 2008

ninebelow: I appreciate that the libertarian left are not going to vote Tory at the next election in protest at 42 days, but my point was a more general one about hyperbole in debate - 42 days is a slightly unusual case. And please don't make assumptions about my awareness of the political landscape.
posted by athenian at 3:46 PM on June 13, 2008

I admire Diane Abbott's speech a great deal. I can't get behind Davis though - and I have tried, even though he's a Tory - because I just cannot see the point if he is in earnest about the issue itself. If he wins the bye-election, what then? Given that he had a majority of more than 5000 at the last election, and the Lib Dems - second placed in 2005 - won't be standing this time it seems to me that he will win, notwithstanding McKenzie's mischief-making. Will that give him a mandate against the 42 day proposal? It seems to me it doesn't give an unambiguous mandate given that he will be standing as a Conservative, and the seat is already Conservative. Who knows what will stir the hearts of the voters of Haltemprice & Howden - and unless he stands as the candidate for the I Love Habeas Corpus Party I don't see that a clear and direct message will have been sent.

And even if an unambiguous message is sent, what can Davis do with it in the Commons? Arse-all, it seems to me. So he can stir up a bit of noise around the issue, embarrass the leadership of both Labour and the Tories - with the greater part of the damage going to the Tories - but he will not practically change anything. And that being the case, this seems to be purest vanity - he could make the case against wider erosion of our civil liberties better from the front bench.
posted by calico at 3:12 AM on June 14, 2008

David Davis' principled stand on civil liberties grounds would be a little more principled if he hadn't already voted for the extension to 28 days detention without charge. That's a bit like fucking someone and then refusing to give them a hand job a couple of days later because of your profound and heartfelt commitment to celibacy.
posted by reynir at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2008

That's a bit like fucking someone and then refusing to give them a hand job a couple of days later because of your profound and heartfelt commitment to celibacy.

Wouldn't it be the other way around? It's more like he first gave the hand job (28 days) but then later he refused to go all the way (42 days).
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2008

Meanwhile, in the US: Philly cops raids activists who circulated anti-CCTV petititon.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 PM on June 18, 2008

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