Saturday, 14 June 2008

Haltemprice the home of liberty?

David Davis's bizarre decision to provoke a by-election has set the cat among the pigeons and suddenly made politics more interesting, momentarily at least.

Nobody seems to know quite what to make of it. Liberal Conspiracy is already full of conflicting views about whether liberals should support him or not.

Tories of course are seething with rage, which is always amusing but doesn't, of itself, get us very far.

Helena Kennedy has a thoughtful piece in today's Indie called "Why I support this passionate politician". She argues that we need a debate on "the steady erosion of the freedoms we had taken for granted" and hopes this by-election campaign will provide it.

I am not so sure that it will work out like that. East Yorkshire is a pretty illiberal backwater (I know because I grew up there). People there vote for Davis and his ilk because they are mostly reactionary and conservative. It seems an unlikely setting for the lively and passionate public meetings about civil liberties that metropolitan intellectuals like Helena Kennedy might hope for.

In one respect, Davis could be said to have succeeded already: the Labour Party, by refusing to put up a candidate, can be portrayed as being frightened of having the debate.

So far, his only significant potential opponent is the odious Poujadist yob Kelvin MacKenzie. This could be helpful to the left in exposing the divisions on the right, but it doesn't promise a very edifying level of debate.

I am not at all certain that Nick Clegg was right to decide so quickly to give Davis a free run and not put up a candidate for the Lib Dems (who are normally the only remotely viable alternative to the Tories in that part of the world). I don't see how it can be guaranteed that the election will be exclusively "about" detention without charge. Elections are "about" whatever the voters are most interested in.

The trouble with David Davis as would-be poster-boy for liberty is that his record is actually pretty illiberal: anti-gay rights, pro-capital punishment, the list goes on. If I were a voter in Haltemprice, I think I should feel rather pissed off at having no Lib Dem to vote for, and being forced to vote for an essentially quite reactionary Tory just in order to keep out the vulgar crypto-fascist thug MacKenzie.

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