by Stephen Tall on July 2, 2008
Today David Cameron joined David Davis on the campaign trail in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election in support of Mr Davis’s candidature. Perhaps he did so through slightly gritted teeth – the former Tory shadow home secretary’s resignation put in the spotlight Tory divisions on 42 days just at the point when pressure was piling on Gordon Brown following his ‘non-deal’ with the DUP to secure a wafer-thin Commons victory. But, whatever his private feelings, Mr Cameron did it.
Doubtless he joined him for many reasons – to avoid repeated stories of Tory splits, and because he recognised how popular Mr Davis’s move was with a significant part of the population. But there’s no doubt that uppermost in Tory strategists’ minds right now – especially in the wake of the Henley by-election – is that Mr Davis is the ultimate Lib Dem ‘lovebomb’. A maverick, yes, but a Tory maverick; a principled guy prepared to stand up to this bossy, interfering, liberty-loathing Government, and to stand up for individual rights. Why would Mr Cameron not wish to embrace him?
Which brings us to the bigger question for Lib Dems: how should we respond? I’ve no wish to re-hash the arguments that raged here on Lib Dem Voice and around the blogs about whether Nick Clegg was right to agree not to stand a Lib Dem candidate against Mr Davis. On balance, I think he made the right call. But, whatever your view, that’s a done deal.
What I’m more interested in now is how the party will make the best of its decision? How do we associate the Lib Dem cause with Mr Davis’s thinking on civil liberties, while emphasising that Mr Davis is by no means representative of Conservative views in the shadow cabinet? When will Nick be sharing a platform with David Davis? When will the party launch its Lib Dems for DD website? (I’m only half in jest). Why haven’t we tried to adopt him as one of our own – on civil liberties, I mean – the better to show up how disunited and un-libertarian the real Conservative party is?
The decision Nick took to give Mr Davis a free run was a brave one: he knew it would be controversial, knew it would be unpopular with some members. But he took what he felt to be the right decision. That is, after all, why we elect leaders. However, the strategy seems to have stopped there. There appears to have been no thought given – or at least not which has resulted in a public plan – to what should happen during Mr Davis’s campaign itself. And that seems to me to be a real wasted opportunity.
There’s just a week now ‘til polling day. Isn’t it about time the Lib Dems made up our minds what we’re doing?