Look. Come on, guys. The result of the Haltemprice & Howden by-election was effectively announced at the moment when David Davis resigned today. Once he had pulled that stunt, he was made for the by-election. It doesn’t even matter if the majority of his constituents are pro-42 days. He’s the “guy who resigned on principle”. Some narratives are irresistable.
I’ve read a lot of tirades this evening about what a cynical stunt this is and how it’s appalling we are letting this character stand for British liberties and how these two things mean we must stand against him. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Yes, it is a cynical stunt, and yes his civil liberties record is far from perfect, but this does not make one whit of difference to the positioning he has created for himself. It’s a done deal.
At best, we could have stood wimpily. Yes, we agree with him on the one issue he is campaigning on. And yes, well, admittedly we have far less chance of being in the governing party than he does come the election. But, look, we have all these other nice things as well! Green taxes and… where are you going! Come back!
At worst, we could have stood aggressively, negatively, petulantly. Ner, well, you don’t want to believe anything Tories say. Our civil liberties are the real civil liberties.
What these twin poles translate into is at best a worthy-but-dull second, and at worst being the meanie, jealous nasty kid who pulled the popular girl’s hair. If we wanted to be in the position Davis is now in, we should have thought of it first (easier said than done mind, given that we don’t have MPs in quantities to give away free with breakfast cereal, and our own Shadow Home Secy is balancing on a knife-edge of a majority in Eastleigh).
Please, rather than self-harming, let’s try and look at this from the outside. Go onto any news website tonight, from the Hate Mail to the Groan, and I guarantee you’ll find dozens of self-proclaimed normal people wetting themselves with admiration at David Davis – and not a few of them will be extending their generous incontinence to Nick Clegg for giving him a free run. I actually saw someone suggest on CiF earlier today that the incident proved that Clegg “has backbone after all” which just goes to show how unbelievably convoluted most people’s brains are. Further, go onto ConHome, where the fall-out from this is as complex and multi-faceted as ours – it’s a disaster! It’s a triumph!
Believe it or not, the electorate as a whole is neither as concerned with Liberal Democrat triangulation as we are, nor as concerned with the “Cameron project” (as I learn it is disturbingly called) as the Tories are. They just love a good story with a nice, neat tied up ending. Please let’s, all of us, keep a little perspective, and concentrate. Nick Robinson’s personal weathervane happens to be point in our direction at the moment and we must use the momentum, as I hope Clegg is doing.
Splits in the Tory party are of course hotly cooly denied by all one of the sides. Rumours abound to the contrary, many of them started by me, but one alternative dimensional scenario doing the rounds is giving me genuine pause for thought. If DD had stayed in post, ground his teeth, bided his time and waited to get into the home office in 2010, he could repeal the 42 days legislation before he’d got his feet under the table.
So, er, why didn’t he?
Why stand down, not just from his seat as a somewhat clumsy and melodramatic way of “taking the issue to the country”, but from the one post in which he could actually get his heart’s desire? I don’t really buy all this toss about him being an unprincipled weathercock out for glory and seeking to embarrass his party leader. He has had ample opportunities to move against Cameron since the leadership election and hasn’t taken them – why pursue his cunning plan now that the Tories are looking stronger? He has never come across as much of a showman either.
And there’s another important strand to this - Tory HQ will not be funding his campaign. Why the hell not? He’s still a Tory (rumours of his independent status and invitations from the Libertarian Party notwithstanding). He looks like becoming a very popular Tory very quickly. All Cameron has to do to ride the surf here is back him delightedly, fund him amply and promise him his portfolio back on the achievement of said glorious victory. I see a number of people on both Lib Dem Voice and Liberal Conspiracy are convincing themselves that the whole thing must be some preternaturally devious evil Tory plot but they don’t appear to consider this. If it is a Cameroon plot, it’s backfiring on them bigtime.
The only alternative explanation for DD giving up his front bench post is because he has learned, or it has become clear to him, that some of his more neocon fellow front-benchers (neocon sounds daft in a British context, somehow, and particularly a Tory context; neodweeb would be nearer the mark) hold beliefs about civil liberties that are inimical to him. If he stayed where he was, come 2010 he would be a lone wolf home secretary in his own government. We’ll see how things look in the light of morning, but currently my feeling is that this is way too ridiculous and overcomplicated to be a plot. There are far easier ways for the Tories to win the next GE, not the least of which would have been “Carry on as you are”. I don’t for one moment believe they would go to this trouble and raise all these questions. This is a split, pure and simple.
As a sidelight on the whole business, I must say that Iain Dale’s Diary has been nothing if not helpful and it has not been helpful. Sweetie though he is, I don’t read the dear man much. He’s a news conduit rather than a writer to turn to for interest and enlightenment, so I tend to enter the blue and white portal only when some pressing event is occurring. And what do I find? A soapy tribute to the great man so soft you could wash babies’ bottoms with it. If he knows the back story (and given his links with DD, he should) he ain’t telling.
Meanwhile one of his commenters is gravely concerned for the Dalester’s integrity:
The MSM have a narrow view of the world that is adrift from the reality faced by the people.
That is why blogging, at its best, is important. It derives its vitality from a direct connection with that reality.
It is also, at its best, immediate. Guido had the news before the BBC and well before Reuters and comments flowed, unmoderated, from the moment he posted.
Your appearances on TV showed you think BBC and Sky News are more important than the two most important blogs in the UK: this one and Guido’s.
They are not. Far from it when you hear Nick Robinson yet again telling us all what we think and getting it horribly wrong.
You had an opportunity today to show what blogging can do.
But instead of thinking “today is the day my blog goes bigtime” you headed for the TV studios.
Bad decision. Very bad.
We in the People’s Republic assure Mr “Johnny Frontpage” that we would sooner be hiding under a blanket with a cup of tea and a slightly tea-stained keyboard than go and be all urbane and knowing and wear exciting ties on Sky News any day.