by Stephen Tall on June 12, 2008
By popular demand… following David Davis’s shock decision today to quit both as Tory shadow home secretary and MP for Haltemprice & Howden – and force a by-election over Labour’s 42 days detention without trial policy – Nick Clegg has announced the Lib Dems will not stand against Mr Davis at the subsequent by-election.
Nick’s decision gained the personal backing both of the party president Simon Hughes, and the party’s chief executive and by-election supreme Chris Rennard. All three have made it very clear the Lib Dems will re-contest the seat at the next general election. They have apparently discussed it with the local and regional party, as well as the region’s MEP and the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate.
But Nick, Simon and Chris maintain that this by-election is different: it’s a single-issue contest about 42 days, an issue on which the Lib Dems and Mr Davis are united. There is recent precedent: most famously in Tatton, when the party bowed out for Martin Bell, and also in Kidderminster, where the party backed Health Concern’s Richard Taylor.
But the decision is undoubtedly controversial. In 2001, the Lib Dems came within 1,903 votes of defeating the Conservatives: though the party slipped back in 2005, it would take only a 6% swing to defeat the Tories.
More important is the principle: should not the party always give voters the chance to put their cross against a candidate who espouses Liberal Democrat principles and policies? However much we might admire David Davis’s stance on civil liberties, here is a Tory politician who voted for the invasion of Iraq, and is generally associated with the right-wing of his party. If you lived in Haltemprice & Howden, could you bring yourself to vote for him?
It’s a difficult, nuanced decision… but you still only get a Yes or No option in our poll asking:
Did the Lib Dem leadership make the right decision not to stand a candidate against David Davis in Haltemprice & Howden?
> Yes, it was the right decision – 42 days is an issue which unites Lib Dems and Mr Davis;
> No, it was the wrong decision – we should always offer voters the opportunity to vote for a Liberal Democrat.
(Oh, okay there’s a ‘Don’t Know’ option for those who find themselves just too conflicted).