Open (speculation) thread: What do you think will happen in Haltemprice and Howden?

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2008

It’s the day of the most bizarre by-election of the year. Exactly one month after David Davis shocked the political world by quitting the Tory front bench and Parliament in protest at Labour’s attempts to push through 42 days detention without trial, the voters of Haltemprice and Howden today deliver their verdict.

Will they judge Mr Davis’s move a brave, principled stance by turning out in force and giving him a whopping mandate? Or will they judge it all a vanity-exercise, a waste of taxpayers’ time and money, and simply stay away or register a protest vote with a fringe candidate?

With neither the Lib Dems – the main challengers to Mr Davis in Haltemprice and Howden – nor Labour standing this time, it’s clear Mr Davis will win. The question is how well will he win? The result will likely be judged by the following three criteria:

The turnout

Mr Davis will be hoping that at least half the electorate will go to the polls. In Crewe and Nantwich, in May, 58% of voters showed up; in Henley the figure was 50%. Given the lack of credible opposition to Mr Davis, he can probably argue that anything over 40% is respectable. The further it falls below that threshold, the less plausible that will seem.

His margin of victory

Here’s what happened in the 2005 general election:

David Davis, Conservative – 22,792, 47.5%
Jon Neal, Liberal Democrat – 17,676, 36.8%
Edward Hart, Labour – 6,104, 12.7%
Jonathan Mainprize, British National Party – 798, 1.7%
Philip Lane, UK Independence Party – 659, 1.4%

Mr Davis is the only candidate from that line-up still standing, so he will hope and expect to get at least 70% of the vote at this by-election. Anything below that will be embarrassing; the further it rises above that threshold the more convincing will be his mandate.

The runner-up

With the BNP and UKIP both sitting out this by-election, the contest has been left to the Greens as the only nationally recognised party to stand against Mr Davis. Though they have no track record in the constituency, it will nonetheless be a significant embarrassment if the Greens find themselves in anything other than the runner-up spot. However, as they are seeking to outflank Mr Davis on the liberal-left, they do face some stiff competition from two independents fighting on traditional right-wing, lock ‘em up tickets: Jill Saward, self-proclaimed champion of victims of crime; and former Tory MP Walter Sweeney.

What do you think will happen in the by-election? Feel free to post your predictions in the comments thread.

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The candidates won’t be allowed on stage for fears it may collapse!

by Hywel Morgan on July 10, 2008 at 2:37 pm. Reply #

What will happen is that David Davis will win by a wide margin, everybody will yawn, life will continue as usual, and there’ll be surprisingly little fuss about one man’s ego trip costing the country a small fortune that might have been better invested elsewhere. The man in question being pro-capital punishment and anti Human Rights Act.

I think you are being more than a tad harsh on Jill Saward, dismissing her as a “right-wing, lock ’em up” candidate. It’s possible that the bright young things who run the Lib Dems these days won’t remember what brought Jill into the limelight but let me jog your memory. Jill was the victim of a particularly nasty rape, perpetrated in the course of a burglary in which her father and boyfriend were assaulted and seriously injured. She was one of the lucky ones in one sense – her rapists were convicted. But in the process the (male, natch) judge gave the game away by imposing a more severe sentence for the burglary than for the rape.

Call me right-wing if you like, but this Lib Dem woman is entirely in favour, not only of locking up rapists for the protection of all women, but of rederessing the imbalance in the law that makes rape convictions so rare and rape trials so traumatising for the raped woman. But then, I’m over fifty and didn’t go to a public school so who cares what I think?

by Anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 2:47 pm. Reply #

Sorry, that last comment was me.

by Enitharmon on July 10, 2008 at 2:48 pm. Reply #

“… he can probably argue that anything over 40% [turnout] is respectable … he will hope and expect to get at least 70% of the vote at this by-election …”

By my reckoning that would place his vote around 20,000 – a little smaller than his vote in 2005. Scarcely a ringing endorsement, but I’ve always found it hard to work out exactly what he was hoping to achieve.

by Anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 2:59 pm. Reply #


I agree with some of what you are saying, but it is about balance in my view.

Having seen Jill on TV, I found much of what she was saying very compelling, but difficult to square with some elements of liberalism.

I think our job as LDs is to square, liberal values with rebalancing criminal justice in a more victim-centred way. There are many things that can be done for wider crime, but rape is a special case which will be far more difficult. Have we got a policy on it? If not, you should write a motion.

And by the way, although I am not over fifty, I didn’t go to public school either and I’m definately interested in what you have to say.

On a more lighthearted note, I would like to see David Icke come second.

by anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 3:00 pm. Reply #

I well remember the Ealing rape case, and how our judiciary failed Jill Saward.

Justice is about protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. 42 days has nothing to do with justice. Jill Saward’s past does nothing to alter that.

And not that it could matter less where my parents sent me, but it wasn’t to public school. (Though I ‘fess up to being under 50).

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm. Reply #

Maybe it’s just as well we didn’t stand a candidate against Davis, because if we had done, our opponents could have pointed to the holes in our libertarian credentials.

We are against the Orwellian state, yet our working group on transport is advocating satellite surveillance of motor vehicles.

We believe in freedom of movement, yet Goldsworthy is promoting marshal law for under 16s.

It’s time we got our act together.

Any chance of David Icke coming first?

by Sesenco on July 10, 2008 at 3:41 pm. Reply #

Goodness knows what will happen. I hope the people of H&H will show some good judgment and watch the telly instead of voting for Davis. I would have thought that all the 25 candidates aside from Davis will get tiddler votes and Davis will get a disappointing vote for him – but way ahead of everyone else.

Of all the exercises of “democracy” in this country in the last forty years this is the one which brings me nearest to nauseation. It is a completely pointless exercise and Davis should be invoiced for this publicity exercise, which will no doubt boost the deal he gets for his memoirs. If Davis had been against 28 days and 14 days it might be different, but the fact that he was in favour of 28 days but draws a huge line at 42 days is ridiculous.

Here’s one little mathematics exercise for the wee small hours. The Telegraph reports:

According to one estimate, the by-election process has cost taxpayers more than £200,000.

“Free mailing provided to each of the candidates will cost Royal Mail a total of £112,600. And East Riding Council which will administer the election and the counting of ballots tomorrow, is expected to spend at least £95,000. ”

So, when the result is announced, divide £200,000 by the number of votes cast for Davis and then ask: Was the exercise worth it that much taxpayers money for each vote?

My estimate is that he will get about 9,000 votes so each vote cast for him will have cost the taxpayer £22. A very expensive form of democracy.

by Paul Walter on July 10, 2008 at 3:45 pm. Reply #

Although I agree it’s a pointless exercise the by-election won’t cost anything like that much. Most of the candidates won’t be able to afford to print literature for the freepost and almost all of them wouldn’t be able to manage the logistics of it even if they did have the dosh.

The most pointless exercise in democracy is the parish polls on whether to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty requisitioned by UKIP in some areas. Whatever ones views on the treaty it doesn’t fall within the competence of Parish Councils, and calling a parish poll on it was an abuse of process.

by Nigel Ashton on July 10, 2008 at 3:58 pm. Reply #

I don’t think the Lib Dems will get many votes.

by Jonathan Calder on July 10, 2008 at 4:00 pm. Reply #


I’m sure I can’t possibly make any valid arguments here, since I must confess to the crimes of being 1) in possession of male genitalia, 2) 21 years old, 3) public school educated, 4) Oxbridge educated and 5) not having been raped. Whilst it’s sad that you aren’t likely to listen to me, I’m not too bothered since I’ve got a delegation of party high-ups round for coffee. They just arrived at my door, told me how desperate they were to hear my views, and are now sat on the edge of the sofa with little notepads looking slightly nervous.

So unfortunately I can only spare the time to make the following points: I don’t think any Lib Dems are against locking up rapists, or against trying to increase the rate of rape convictions, and there is indeed policy on that very matter. Jill Saward’s case brought to light the prevalent imbalance in sentencing which you mention, and her campaigning on the matter is valuable. She has already brought about several changes in the law, many of which might be welcomed.

However, she has stood in the Haltemprice and Howden byelection on a slightly different platform. It is not simply one of “locking up rapists”, but specifically to argue against what David Davis has been saying about the DNA database. This is the issue she has chosen to raise in every media appearance I have seen her make in the last couple of weeks.

Typical quote:

“Those opposed to the DNA database argue that these records, together with the records of those convicted of non-sexual or non-violent crimes, should be removed from the system. It sounds a reasonable argument. Until you consider that there are rapists and murderers in prison today who have been convicted specifically because they were on the database.”

Since this is directly in contradiction of not only David Davis’s position, but that of the Liberal Democrats too, I don’t think you can act too surprised when Lib Dems express distaste for her position.

by Andy Hinton on July 10, 2008 at 4:14 pm. Reply #

Oops, sorry, the above quote from Jill Saward makes little sense without the following, which was supposed to precede it:

“In 2001 the law changed to allow the database to retain records of people who, having been arrested merely on suspicion of committing an offence, had subsequently either not been charged or had been acquitted.”

And while I’m here, her campaign website is worth a look:

it contains the following Daily Mail-style tilting at windmills:

Too often we hear politicians and criminal justice experts talk about the rights of the accused, the rights of prisoners, and the rights of ex-offenders – even the rights of suspected terrorists not to be deported for trial overseas.

And while it is important that everybody has a fair trial, and that all prisoners are treated fairly; nobody is speaking out for victims.”

Sounds like a traditional right-wing “lock-em-up” platform to me…

by Andy Hinton on July 10, 2008 at 4:22 pm. Reply #

This is an interesting thread. For those who oppose Enitharmon’s views, how do you intend to “square, liberal values with rebalancing criminal justice in a more victim-centred way”?

The problem with the issue of rape (like knife crime) is that people say “something must be done” but the only solutions put forward tend to fall into the category of “police state”.

So, what are your alternatives?

by bishop Hill on July 10, 2008 at 5:35 pm. Reply #

Turnout around 30%; David Davis on 80% of that; a surprise second place (the Greens seem to have made no impression); and 11,500 pounds in the public coffers (from 23 lost deposits) to offset election costs.

by Diversity on July 10, 2008 at 6:09 pm. Reply #

“The problem with the issue of rape (like knife crime) is that people say “something must be done””

One of the problems with rape contrasted with knife crime is that with a stabbing there is clear prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed (ie a stab wound). It’s often less clear that a rape has been committed as the evidence will often be one person’s word against the others.

Jill Saward AIUI is campaigning for a universal DNA database. That would have uses in clearing up historic cases and cases of “stranger” rape. However it wouldn’t do much in cases where the rapist is known to the victim unless intercourse is denied (which AIUI is rare).

Tackling the issue of rape conviction rates isn’t something that there are any easy solutions to.

The most radical solutions – lowering the standard of proof with regard to certain aspects or doing away with juries might have an effect on convictions. You could also do away completely with the idea of an adversarial trial. However that But they would be a huge and historic change to the way we do criminal justice.

The effect on victims could be mitigated by allowing examination in chief and cross-exam to be video-taped prior to trial (the power for which exists in statute but hasn’t been brought into effect). However I’m not convinced that would do much to improve conviction rates.

Ultimately if you have a jury trial the jury will have to decide not just do they believe the victim rather than the accused – but do they do so beyond reasonable doubt. If you take two people’s stories of a series of events it will be pretty difficult to satisfy that standard.

Whether rape sentences are harsh enough is open to debate. Personally I think so. The starting point for a first time offender pleading not guilty (ie after trial requiring the victim to give evidence) is 5 years and that would be subject to reduction of up to a third if there was an early guilty plea.

What I think has been staggerinly missing in any recent debates is the issue of support for rape victims. Rape crisis centres have been shut and face serious funding cuts.

Whilst the government has introduced Sexual Assault Referral Centres, AIUI they only operate where someone has made a complaint to the police – and Rape Crisis say that 10% of the cases they deal with are referred to the police.

Lynne’s EDM on Rape Crisis has 79 signatures. The EDM calling for Nick Robinson’s expenses to be published has 80 – so I’m not convinced that MPs are covering themselves with glory on that issue!

Apparently the government anounced £1 million for closure threatened rape crisis centres in March. As of a few days ago it appears that none of that had made it to the centres.

by Hywel Morgan on July 10, 2008 at 6:54 pm. Reply #

As a follow on to the above – I was told by a judge that the conviction rate for child sex offences is substantially higher than adult ones which suggests that any problems are at least partly to do with the particular offence rather than problems with the system.

by Hywel Morgan on July 10, 2008 at 7:03 pm. Reply #

For those asking what the party’s ideas to increase the rate of convictions are, policy motion F26, “Rape Convictions”, from 2006 conference, would be a good place to start. “Would be” because it seems to have disappeared from the party’s website. I can therefore tell you that it was passed on Monday 18 September 2006, but not what was in it.

From memory, I think one of the ideas included anonymity of the accused until proven guilty, to reduce timewasting rape claims brought before courts in an attempt to ruin the reputation of the accused, which would in turn increase the time available to put together prosecutions for genuine cases. It may well have contained other proposals, I am going on what I remember from having BBC Parliament on in the background on the day in question.

Chris Huhne also recently (yesterday, in fact) endorsed the ACPO proposals for each police force to have a specialist squad to investigate rape allegations, to which he added “Better police work would be well complemented by specialised prosecutors concentrated on building effective cases from an early stage.”

by Andy Hinton on July 10, 2008 at 8:15 pm. Reply #

Turnout 30%
Davis 50% of that
Greens 20%
Saward 15%
National Front 5%
Rest 10% between them.

Davis to claim overwhelming endorsement, while being ridiculed by Labour backbencher for bringing out only 15% of the electorate to vote for him.

by By-election crusader on July 10, 2008 at 9:22 pm. Reply #

The Hull Daily Mail website is reporting a turnout of around 35%.

by Anonymous on July 10, 2008 at 11:35 pm. Reply #

if the crusader is right will this be the best result for the Greens?… i think so…… Lib Dems should have been there.

by Phil Hutty on July 10, 2008 at 11:38 pm. Reply #

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