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« A bouncer speaks | Main | Basher for Liberty news 5 »

The realignment

One of the questions which has occupied my idle moments in recent days has been whether l'affaire Davis might herald a fundamental realignment in British politics.

The fall of the eastern bloc at the end of the last century robbed the old Labour movement of much of its raison d'etre, a fact tacitly acknowledged by the scrapping of the old Clause 4 of the Labour party's constitution. With both Conservative and Labour agreeing that the ownership of the means of production should remain  with the private sector, the fundamental difference between the two was gone. Of course, most on the right would argue that New Labour has sought to control the means of production by dint of regulation and legislation, but, for the purposes of this posting, we can treat this as a lesser difference. It's surely true to say that the Tories and Labour both agree that business should be regulated but that Labour think it should be regulated more the Conservatives do. The more perspicacious would also note that their opinions on the matter are largely irrelevant anyway, because most business regulation comes from Brussels rather than Whitehall.

With David Davis's leap into the unknown, a number of commenters have wondered if we are about to see something more fundamental than a by-election, or a debate on civil liberties. Davis's actions have confused many, not least the political classes - both the MPs and their acolytes in the mainstream media. For any politician to take the step Davis did defies all their rational expectations. And to this observer, deeply cynical of both politician and journalist alike, it made little sense either. Many frustrated members of the public have made their support of Davis' actions known in defending DD from his many media critics. Their ferocity seems to have taken everyone aback. Where the media saw a stunt, the public saw a stand on principle.

I now wonder if, in some way, they are both right. 

Whether through frustration with his failure to win the Tory leadership or because of a profound belief in civil liberties, or because of Cameron's political direction or lukewarm support for civil liberties, Davis has made a stand. To my mind, it doesn't matter particularly what his motives are. At the end of the day he is doing the right thing and deserves support for that.

But what is his plan? As many have noted, it makes little sense for an undoubtedly ambitious politician to throw away a lifetime's chance of high office unless he has something pretty important in mind. Now, vital as Davis's chosen civil liberties issues are, it seems to me to be implausible in the extreme for Davis to resign over them. To misquote Adam Smith, it is not from the benevolence of politicians to which we must look for our civil liberties but to their own self-interest. Davis cannot hope, from a position of opposition, to reverse the mountain of legislation that has cut a swathe through British freedoms. And, as he does not expect to be reappointed to the Conservative front bench after his presumed return to Westminster, and also given that Cameron and much of the Tory party seems actively hostile to civil liberties, it is unlikely that Davis would be changing anything once a Cameron government was in place, either.

To me, the most plausible explanation is that this is a stunt, but a stunt with a noble end - to fundamentally realign British politics. Davis may well have concluded, like so many others, that left and right make no sense in a world where everyone (a few dinosaurs apart) understands that free trade and free markets are the only plausible way to run an economy. The Davis vision may well be of a world divided between authoritarian and libertarian and it's one that is shared by commentators from across the political spectrum.

In a way that's a good vision, a "noble cause", if you like.  Whether it's practical or not is another question altogether - readers might care to consider what kind of political platform could attract sufficient support from the three big parties to make it viable. Would the Liberal LibDems (there are some) be willing to make common cause with a hanger and flogger like Basher Davis? Would independently minded Labourites like Frank Field and Kate Hoey leave the Labour fold? Who would jump from the Tories? Where would such a party stand on the economy or the EU? These are big questions, and worthy of a posting in their own right. Whatever the platform though, it's a necessary step for Britain. Labour and Conservative appear to most thinking people to be irredeemably corrupt and inbred, and, what is worse, ready to bid away civil liberties in a despicable bid to win the approval of the tabloids. If a realignment is coming, it can't come a moment too soon.

(In passing, I should note that William Hill is now offering odds on Davis starting a new party before the next election (see the last post) - so perhaps this posting is not entirely idle speculation)

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Reader Comments (5)

My impression is that David Davis is in many ways a fairly traditional limited state conservative - believing in free trade, limited immigration, national independence, strong army and law enforcement but with powerful limits and checks on the abuse of state power hence the importance of not undermining due process. My own guess is that Davis saw that much of what he wants to achieve in politics won't happen under a Cameron Government and he didn't much fancy being a token politician in the mould of Prescott.

Regarding your musings on politicians who might be tempted to break ranks to join a new party - self declared 'unrepentant right winger' Frank Field is a very good suggestion, ditto Kate Hoey, from the tory back bench I'd also suggest Peter Lilley. Conservative commentator Peter Hitchens has an interesting theory that might be relevant here that any chance of real political change needs the Tories (or Labour) to split.
Jun 22, 2008 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
I can't see that Labour splitting is going to help. There are only a tiny handful within their ranks who might be inclined to join a proper liberal party. I think a Tory split is the sine qua non, and a LibDem split would probably be important too.
Jun 22, 2008 at 9:22 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
Agreed. And to be fair to Hitchens he clearly sees the Tory split as the most important too (also his point isn't what will encourage a proper liberal party, but what will break the left of centre conformism of all three main parties).

Only thing I disagree with you on is the importance of a LibDem split. I think this would have a negligable impact on voters, it needs to be the Tories.
Jun 22, 2008 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
A thoughtful post despite you being as head-shakingly confused as me (and everyone else) as to exactly what motivated Davis's action. I think Andrew makes a shrewd comment in suggesting that Davis did not fancy becoming a Tory Prescott, a sort of token Right-winger, hanging like a fig-leaf to cover the Cameroons' secret weapon!

To reverse the old adage, the political is often personal, and I *suspect* that when the history books are written some (much?) of his motivation might have come from his pugnacious, 'who dares wins' temperament - or should that be 'intemperament'? Many have fallen from an excess of hubris but some have prospered mightily. I think of Churchill, a man who described himself accurately as having "ratted" not once, but twice!
Jun 22, 2008 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Duff
The comparison to Churchill is an interesting one. I did also wonder if Davis could end up crossing the floor to sit with the LibDems at one point, but I don't suppose many of their activists would find him acceptable company.
Jun 22, 2008 at 1:07 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

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