I am truly sick of the Westminster Village sneering attitude to David Davis. Quite frankly – I don’t care if David Davis is doing this for truth, justice and liberty or because he was never going to get Home Secretary, is a loner, egomaniac or because he hates David Cameron – all doing the rounds as explanations.
What I do care about is the issue – and if his actions help secure the same outcome that I want, then good for him – and I don’t see why I should have to pretend that I don’t really agree with him – or have to pretend that him helping to achieve what I want too isn’t a good thing – just because we are in different parties or disagree about 1,001 other issues.
Why does the issue of 42 days detention without trial matter so much? Quite simply – because locking an innocent person up for a month and a half is an awful, ghastly thing to do. Imagine it happening to yourself. How it can wreck jobs, pull apart relationship and leave a deep and abiding sense of anger and hostility.
And we know that when the police and other authorities think they know that someone is guilty – they ain’t always right. That’s why people get acquitted. Even with the best will in the world, mistakes are made. And we know too – the best will often is missing. We’ve seen in the fight against Irish terrorism how some police were so convinced they knew who was guilty that evidence was forged – to frame people for crimes they didn’t commit. We know we can’t just assume that all involved in security matters follow the rules and do their job properly – look at the repeated incidents of secret documents being lost!
So locking anyone up for any protracted period of time without a trial should only be a matter of very last resort. That’s not the situation we’re in. The government has left a whole host of other approaches untouched – such as changing the rules on what can happen pre and post charge. Or indeed taking the obvious step to deal with the extra complexities of terrorism investigations these days (involving many computers and many countries and so on) – that of giving extra resources to the police and security services.
If the problem is investigations taking too long – put more resources in I say. Double win if that’s done – not only are you able to keep to the current timescales – but if you’re investigating an outrage or would-be outrage, the quicker you do it the more chance there is of stopping other outrages too through what you discover in the investigation. Let’s not forget, Labour managed to whip up some extra billions just before a by-election polling day to attempt to deal with the political fallout from their 10p tax policies. So do we really think they’ve exhausted every avenue to fund quicker investigations into terrorism?
Go back to imaging your life. If you’ve got a diary for the next month or two take a look at it. And then imagine being locked up for 42days without being told why you’re being held. And think of the impact it would have on you. And then remember how very many of the people held at the moment end up being released without charge or being acquitted in court.
That’s why this issue cuts to the very core of the point of having elections and Parliament in the first place. If MPs aren’t there to protect people from the almost inevitable demands for greater and greater powers over them from all parts of the state, what is the point of much of what we do?
That’s why I agree with David Davis on the issue, and why I have a sneaking admiration for the insight or bravery or zaniness or call it whatever you will that he showed in forcing the 42 days issue to stay at the centre of political debate by forcing a by-election.
I don’t envy Nick Clegg and others having to make the quick judgement about how to react to his resignation. I think Nick and they got it right – there really are some issues which are more important the inter-party disagreements. And events so far have shown his judgement to be much surer than that of many of the critics.
No, Davis’s resignation on the issue didn’t hand Cameron a media bonanza – just look at all the coverage of splits in the Conservatives.
No, it wasn’t a pointless resignation – just look at the way those in the Conservative Party who wanted to back down over 42 days have instead themselves been backed into a corner.
No – it wasn’t a one-day wonder – just look at the continuing attention being given to the issue.
And above all – yes, it has been possible for David Davis to keep this attention on the civil liberties grounds on which we agree with him. (Imagine if there were a Liberal Democrat candidate against him – by necessity they would be having to campaign on a whole range of other issues in order to give people a reason to vote for them rather than for Davis – and that would have taken the attention away from that very civil liberties issue).
On each of these points, Nick and other’s judgement so far has been proved right – and events are offering us the opportunity to make a major step forward in the fight for our civil liberties. Real protection for our civil liberties doesn’t just come from electing Liberal Democrats – it comes from moving the terms of debate for all political parties. Civil liberties are part of the very Liberal Democrat DNA and to me helping make that happen matters far more than the usual instinct of”must fight every election, must fight every election, must fight every election.”