A Matter of Principle?

I initially welcomed the news that David Davis had resigned in protest at Parliament’s assent to allowing pre-charge detention to be extended to 42 days. Its a travesty of a vote – anything to keep the debate alive. Most left-leaning types I spoke with were cynical about his motives, and sank into ad hominems about the man and his other policies (such as support for the death penalty), which in their view rendered anything else he did obviously suspect. However, leaning my head against the train window late last night, watching the illuminated Palace of Westminster recede, reflected in the glass, I wondered if there wasn’t too much cynicism in the world, and that for once we should take a politician at face value.
Today, however, I’m more cynical, after reading in Hansard David Davis arguing for an increase in pre-charge detention times, from 14 to 28 days:

That is why my hon. Friends made it clear in Committee that we agree with the Government that the current 14-day limit is too brief and propose its extension to 28 days. I believe that that proposal will find widespread support among Members around the House, including on the Government Benches.

(via Jennie and Matt). True, Davis goes on to suggest that the 90 day limit was too long. Regardless, his stance in 2005 was surely no less an attack on habeus corpus. It makes no sense for Davis to be lamenting the demise of the Magna Carta now.
Indeed, yesterday he said:

Because the generic security argument relied on will never go away – technology, development complexity, and so on – we’ll next see 56 days, 70 days, then 90 days.

The problem is, many people argued this precise point as a reason to oppose the extention to 28 days! The argument then was “first 28 days, then 42 days, then 56 days” ad nauseum, ad absurdum. It is precisely because of Davis earlier capitulation to 28 days, that 42 days has become feasible. The same Bill would not have passed in 2005.
We are witnessing the boiling of the frog, David, and you were complicit in turning up the heat.


Here’s David Davis on Question Time, being asked whether he supports Habeas Corpus or not. His answer is a terrible fudge:

8 Replies to “A Matter of Principle?”

  1. Hah! Maybe that’s true.
    The thing is, these liberty vs security arguments are as old as the hills (or at least, as old as the Magna Carta). Its not as if some new twist on the issue has come to light that would explain the change.
    Nor is he claiming a Damascene conversion. In fact, he’s being quite sanctimonious about it.

  2. “It seems spectacularly unfair on people who were right first time around.”
    Well that depends on the degree of sin and repentance. I think the idea is that if the sin is pretty bad, the repentance – the full realisation of what you have done – is vastly worse. That is, if it is true repentance.
    If it’s not true repentance, it doesn’t count and there’s no rejoicing. I think…
    As for Davies, that’s a good spot. I offer the following, very hesitantly, in his defence. I suspect that, at the time, the Tories were at a relatively low ebb, without the benefit of a decent lead in the polls, without the benefit of facing an entirely hollowed out PM, and without the confidence that the general public really worried about it at the bottom end. Thus, whilst they could be confident that 90 days would fail at the top end, they couldn’t be nearly so confident that they would be able to encourage the kind of serious labour rebellion at the bottom end. Thus, be pragmatic, show that you understand the gravity of problem so as to appear reasonable in order to paint the 90 days as outrageous, thereby giving cover for it to fail.
    The problem is that this leads to frog boiling. However, now that they DO have all the circumstances they lacked in 2005, they still failed to stop this in its tracks. Now is the time, then, to turn up the heat and show exactly what this government has done to us in our name.

  3. I am inclined to give David Davies the benefit of the doubt. He may well have a big ego and may have some kind of ulterior motive but all credit to him for trying to stimulate the public into really thinking what the 42 days mean. There will always have to be a balance and the number of days will to some extent be arbitrary(do you remember the argument about how many violins in the orchestra Rob?)but at some point you must draw the line and stop turning up the heat on the poor frog. The government argue that the public are for 42 days so something must be done to inform them. We need a less supine electorate who take more interest in what is being done on their behalf. I guess most people think that they will never fall foul of the 42 days but anyone who has been locked in a police sell even for a few hours knows how traumatising that can be. So 42 days? We must halt the rot and then begin to move the number of days downwards. i am puzzled that there has been no mention of the fact that with the extension of the days you remove some of the motivation and impetus on the police to get their act together as quickly as possible

  4. I just passed by Holburn Viaduct and saw one of the road restrictions that formed the old “ring of steel” to protect the City of London. That was a knee jerk response to Paddys driving into the city with bombs.
    Of course, there is no policeman standing in the little cabin now, partly because the IRA are no longer active and partly because the bobby has been replaced by large cameras.
    The relentless reaction politics isn’t likely to destroy liberty (the law is too cumbersome for that) but it just reinforces to the public that “Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.”

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