I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether David Davis’ resignation is some sort of mad genius or just plain mad and I suspect this debate will rage for years to come. Over the weekend, my respect for him has increased as it became clear that part of the reason he did it was out of a fear that the Tory opposition to internment without charge was lukewarm at best and that Cameron was powerless to stop his backbenchers from rebelling as the general election loomed closer (as I’ve said so many times before, Cameron does not lead the Conservatives as much as chair their internal debates). The fact that this is a stand against his own party as much as it is one in opposition to Labour makes it a noble gesture indeed.
But there is a danger that, with even the smallest of windmills refusing to put up a fight, Davis may start to look less like a Don Quixote figure and more like Ozymandias. He’s done a terrific job as scaring off the opposition – Brown, Murdoch, Kelvin Mackenzie – but it will be a Pyrrhic victory if his only opponents are the OMLRP, a former beauty queen and John “set aboot you” Smeaton.
The question is, what should us liberal-minded folk do? We didn’t pick this fight or choose Davis to be our champion, but can we really afford to sit back and watch? I’ve lost count of the number of blog posts and facebook groups I’ve skimmed past denouncing Davis for being a hypocrite on the issue of civil liberties. That may be so, but what is more hypocritical? A hang ’em, flog ’em politician standing up for fundamental civil liberties or a smart arse who claims to care about the drip-drip erosion of our rights while sitting on the fence because the one person taking a stand doesn’t pass a “purity” test. Some of the attacks are even worse and appear to be partisan Labour attacks masquerading as crocodile tears for those very rights that Labour has been spending its time trashing. If Stonewall really have been actively briefing against Davis, they will have lost all credibility with me. If Stonewall is allowed to question Davis’ commitment to civil liberties on the basis of his commitment to gay rights, aren’t we free to question Stonewall’s commitment to civil liberties outside of the comparatively narrow interests of lesbians and gay men? I didn’t ask for this to become some kind of libertarian pissing contest, but there are plenty of people out there who want it to become precisely that. If they succeed, Brown, Murdoch and the other Forces of Darkness will have had a meaningful victory indeed, regardless of the vote in Haltemprice and Howden.
To say “only Nixon could go to China” is a cliche, but cliche’s have the irritating tendency to be true. There is a real question mark over whether there is actually a fight here to be fought, but refusing to fight it out of some sniffiness about Davis’ principles would be despicable.