Tag Archives: david-davis

Does the right really value freedom? The acid test.

I’m trying to sum up how I feel having watched the video on the Guardian website of Ian Tomlinson being bit by a policeman with a baton while he had his hands in his pockets and was walking away from them. I’d say anger, but I think the honest answer is: panic.

I watched it about 20 minutes ago and my heart is still racing. More than anything, it frightens me. That could have been me, minding my own business. If I had been tripped over in that way by a mob of coppers, however angry I might have been I would have been shitting myself. I think my heart could have taken it, but I don’t know. I have absolutely no interest of putting it to the test – and absolutely no way of preventing it from happening if I ever get unlucky. This is what it feels like to be afraid of the state.

I never did believe the initial police account, but it just seems to get worse and worse. What is clear from the video is the level of contempt at least some of the police regarded the demonstrators (and in this case, even innocent bystanders). And when it blows up in their faces? They invoke the law of the playground: however much you might be in the wrong, never snitch. Even worse, they use their considerable PR machine to spread lies about the conduct of the protestors. This has happened again and again in the past; we know what they’re like. And yet, with the honourable exception of the Guardian, the silence from most of the media has been deafening.

But parts of the blogosphere has been notably silent as well. I’ve just scanned the rightwing/libertarian blogs I could think of off the top of my head: Iain Dale, Guido, Coffee House, Comment Central, Dizzy Thinks, Conservative Home, Libertarian Party UK, Is there more to life than shoes, Telegraph Blogs, the Adam Smith Institue blog, Douglas Carswell, Nadine Dorries…* The top story on the Freedom Association blog at the moment is about the police handling of the G20 protests, complaining at the ignomious treatment of… the Adam Smith Institute Director who was questioned by police (numerous other of the aforementioned blogs have singled this incident out too – this is the martyr of 1/4 as far as they are concerned).

I’m not for a second suggesting that if you don’t blog about this you don’t care, but taken as a whole this is quite striking. These blogs obsessively complain about every possible infringement of the liberties of the affluent and articulate middle classes, yet when a blameless man in a dirty t-shirt dies not a single one of them has asked a question. Four hours since the Guardian released that video, not a single one has mentioned it. Daniel Finklestein, who chose to single out the Lib Dem MPs who were acting as monitors atthe protests, has been keeping mum.

When they’ve shouted about Damien Green or David Davis, I have tended to their side, and not been afraid to argue with lefties who can be eye-wateringly tribalist. Damien Green’s treatment was unacceptable. David Davis’ stance was honourable. But it is clearer than ever now that I could never expect an ounce of solidarity in return. Over the last few days, I’ve been given a salient demonstration of quite what the right really thinks about freedom in this country.

* In the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that LabourList has been resolutely silent on this topic as well, but it is very much not representative of the left in that respect (indeed in any respects – can it even legitimately be defined as leftwing?).

The Davies Agenda (sic)

David Davies MP has called for “abusive protests against serving military personnel” to be outlawed.

Davies has modelled himself as a staunch opponent of political correctness, but the truth is that he – like most people obsessed with the horrors of PC – is all for it really. He just has different political priorities.

It must be uncomfortable for David Davis MP to be constantly confused with a reactionary such as Davies. Given Davis’ own reactionary tendencies (before he managed to reinvent himself as a civil libertarian and self-appointed torchbearer for the modestly named “Davis Agenda“), that’s saying something. Sadly, I suspect that Davies is rather more representative of his party than Davis, as the fairly lamentable Tory showing at the Convention on Modern Liberty a fortnight ago made plain. Any party which has a Shadow Home Secretary who can utter the phrase “fewer rights and more wrongs” without cracking up can be fairly described as being “confused” (if one were feeling so generous).

This raises a serious question about how the Tories are treated by civil libertarians. One approach is to “hug them close” – i.e. applaud Conservative politicians whenever they make the right noises and emphasise how such behaviour is a clear sign of the party finally modernising and moving out of the Victorian era. The danger of that approach is that its own exponents end up being wary of criticising Tories when they say the wrong things and end up fooling themselves that a few speeches here and there will amounts to a shift in direction. If the use of the carrot approach is limited though, the stick approach is not without its problems either. Specifically, treating the Tories as The Enemy is unlikely to achieve anything much in the short term. At best, it will embolden the civil libertarians within Labour (they do still exist, even if they can be deplorably craven at times) and help to ensure Labour makes the right noises when it returns to the opposition benches.

Ultimately, stroking politicians in Westminster will only have a limited effect. If you want a lasting reversal of Labour’s authoritarian agenda, you have to change minds across the country.

UPDATE: Heh. Great minds think alike.

Why didn’t Clegg visit H&H?

Please disregard the football-related metaphor in the heading (not my choice of words), but here is my CiF piece on the Haltemprice and Howden by-election.

It would appear that my analysis is pretty much the same as Stephen Tall’s – i.e. Clegg was right to back Davis but failed to press his advantage home:

However unjustified, the sad fact of the matter is that by not ensuring a platform alongside Davis’s other supporters, including Tony Benn and Bob Marshall-Andrews, Clegg has left the party vulnerable to this line of attack. He put principle before party, but we should be mindful of the fact that giving the Conservatives an open goal to reposition themselves as the party of civil liberties will ultimately be wholly counter-productive.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this self-destructive impulse within the Lib Dems to be leery of sharing a platform on the basis that it might dillute our (non-existent) brand as the One True Voice on a given issue. It goes back to the very heart of “community politics“, i.e. we need to be building a movement rather than concentrating on the party. Clegg needs to do what his predeccessors have consistently failed to do and get into the movement business. And fast.

Two Ds, Two faces?

I spotted this quote from David Davis this morning but LDV beat me to it:

“I’m sorry that Labour and the Liberal Democrats funked it, but we’re still having a good argument and getting the issue raised.”

Both personally and professionally I’ve spent quite a lot of time defending Davis’ actions, at least up to a point. I’m still not convinced this was necessarily the best strategy but on the basis that the real problem is locking the Tory party into opposing the extension of pre-charge detention and that I can see how this by-election might have achieved that, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Many of the objections to Nick Clegg’s decision not to contest the by-election – including David Mortons’ here – are very valid, but only from the party’s POV. From the POV of national interest, I’m prepared to accept that the party had to take one for the team.

But the quid pro quo to all that is that Davis himself doesn’t then act in bad faith and seek to present our decision not to contest this by-election as anything other than what it was – a show of unity in exceptional circumstances. It is frankly outrageous for him to stab us in the back in this way. If he had been misquoted, then surely a correction would already have been issued on his website?

Any Tories out there willing to join us in condemning him for this blatant act of treachery? If he can’t be trusted on this, what can he be trusted on?

UPDATE (11 July): As Iain Dale mentions below, Davis has got the Guardian to issue a correction on this. That is much appreciated, but it seems the damage has been done. As Justin notes below, other Tories have been adopting this line and now Rosemary Bechler on Our Kingdom is having a pop. Clearly we can’t win either way in this debate.

To be David Davis’ Sancho Panza?

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.

David Davis – the view from Strasbourg (well, Kehl actually)

What funny games appear to be going on in Westminster at the moment. First, Labour and the DUP redefine porkbarreling for the UK context (deny everything, smirk, smirk), then David Davis resigns – with Clegg’s backing.

In terms of the latter, I’m just confused by the whole business. It is a little moot about whether Clegg should have agreed to not field a candidate against the Tories or not on the basis that it is hard to see how Davis would have resigned if he hadn’t. I don’t think it makes the Lib Dems look particularly bad; by contrast it is the Tories who appear to be in danger of haemorrhaging over this.

But if I were Gordon Brown I wouldn’t even consider fielding a candidate. Davis is gaming the system – attempting to magic a mandate against 42 days out of a by-election. The only grounds on which he will be able to claim such a mandate is if Brown is foolish enough to fall for the trick. And of course Brown isn’t that stupid is he?

Is he?

It may simply be that Davis has calculated that Brown has now so completely lost it that he would fall for something like this. For myself, I’m not so confident.

With the BNP refusing to field a candidate and UKIP indicating they might not either, this could be the OMRLP’s defining moment. In such a situation, I have to admit I would be sorely tempted to make the trip up to Howden. It would be sweet revenge on the Tories getting Howling Laud Hope elected in exchange for Boris Johnson. LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAT!!! LOL!!!!

Banning things

Madsen Pirie wrote the following on the Adam Smith Blog last week:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has a real problem. Last week one of his MPs tabled a bill in Parliament to force pubs and bars to sell wine in small measures only, while one of his party’s MEPs called for a ban on patio heaters.

The result is that poor Nick Clegg has seen his party made to look stupid yet again. He needs to take a lesson from Peter Mandelson, who introduced tight controls over what initiatives individual Labour politicians might launch or pontificate about. It made him unpopular, but it made his party able to control its image. Nick Clegg will have to do something similar or risk seeing idiots and charlatans make his party a laughing stock week after week.

This being the ASI, I’m sure they don’t see the irony in calling for Clegg to ban something in the interest of not wanting to look as if he’s in favour of banning things, but actually they have a point. I’m not clear that the world will be much improved by either Hall’s or Mulholland’s proposals. The growth in patio heater demand was particularly predictable given we saw precisely this happen as soon as Ireland introduced their own smoking bans a few years ago. The law of unintended consequences is not quite the same thing as a law of unpredictable consequences. It’s horses for courses.

I happen to agree that Lib Dem MPs ought to be very, very cautious about banning things or imposing greater regulation, and to always look towards a non-statutory solution first. But with that said, I’m not convinced we’re any worse at it as a party than any other.

Take the Tories for instance. Jonathan Calder has already taken David Davis to task for his call to lock up every underage drinker he can get his mitts on. Meanwhile, at the end of this month Tory MP Julian Brazier will be seeking to get the British Board of Film Classification (Accountability to Parliament and Appeals) Bill through its second reading. BBFC, for all its faults, is an example of relatively successful self-regulation, until the Thatcher government made it a semi-QUANGO during the video nasty scare. Brazier however wants to go even further:

A Bill to make provision for parliamentary scrutiny of senior appointments to the British Board of Film Classification and of guildlines produced by it; to establish a body with powers to hear appeals against the release of videos and DVDs and the classification of works in prescribed circumstances; to make provision about penalties for the distribution of illegal works; and for connect purposes

In other words, Brazier is seeking Parliamentary powers to exert political pressure on the BBFC and effectively make it its puppet. A vice-like grip of state control over popular culture in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s. Roy Jenkins must be spinning in his grave.

I’m not sure that anything any Lib Dem politician has proposed comes close to this, yet I don’t hear the ASI lecturing Cameron.

The other recent call to ban something has come from some teenagers in Corby, who have enlisted the Childrens Commissioner and Liberty in their mission to get the Mosquito banned. This is a much more difficult issue, since these devices are explicitly discriminatory against young people, yet at the same time totally indiscriminate in that they don’t distinguish between thugs and the vast majority of innocent teenagers. I’ve got enormous sympathy for the kids.

And yet… despite the fact that for any public body to use such a device would be a clear breach of the HRA in my view, I’m not sure anything much would be gained by banning it altogether. I’m not convinced we should treat this as a zero-sum game between youths and shopkeepers. I can understand why shopkeepers in some places may be at their wits’ end and resort to such measures. I can’t help but feel this is endemic of a wider social problem. Just as the Mosquitoes don’t solve anti-social behaviour as much as move it on, banning them wouldn’t tackle the underlying issue either.

It seems to me we need to take a more constructive approach, and that the solution is best left to people locally to sort out for themselves. Broadly then, much as it pains me to say it, I think the government line is the right one.

Just in case you thought I was being too nice to the government though, let’s focus on its plans to block prostitute’s telephone lines. How wrong is this? Let me count the ways:

1. Assuming it could be made to work, it would force prostitutes out onto the street and in a more dangerous environment.
2. It costs £10 £1.99 to buy a new phone number these days in the form of a sim card. Assuming these are not summary police powers the government is proposing, they would go through costly legal procedures to ban a number, only to find the same prostitute working with a new number within a matter of hours.
3. Even if the government did give the police summary powers here and all the civil liberty implications that would entail, the prostitutes could simply switch over to email accounts.

This sounds less like a crackdown on prostitution and more like an elaborate and expensive game of cat-and-mouse.

The impulse to ban things is rooted in our desire for symbolism but even in the case of unambiguously bad things it is rarely a simple, cut and dried matter. We should always be wary of doing so – and that applies to all parties.

UPDATE: Some great background on the BBFC on Edis Bevan’s blog.

David Davis gets off the fence

It has to be said, David Davis’ article today opposing detention without trial is good, liberal stuff. Just a few things:

  • Is this the same David Davis who was on the radio last week claiming that the government should build a limitless number of new prisons (obviously, it isn’t the same David Davies who said much the same thing on the radio yesterday)?
  • Why has he taken so long to make up his mind?
  • If you were to write an article defending civil liberties, would you write admiringly a swivel eyed loon like the Archbishop of York, who has dedicated himself to fighting the very secular liberal democracy on which they are founded?

The problem with this article is not what it says, but the fact that it does match up with the person apparently saying it. As with the Tories’ newfound posturing on ID cards, David Davis has never opposed this before in principle, merely on detail. It doesn’t convince, and having read some of the liberal-sounding pronouncements of Messrs Blair & co before 1997, people would do well to subject Cameron’s little gang with a bit more scepticism.