Friday, 13 June 2008

David Davis - Hero?

Yesterday, I announced my intention to resign from the House of Commons, which I have served as an MP for 21 years, and also as shadow home secretary, a position I have held for almost five years, in order to fight a by-election in my constituency of Haltemprice and Howden. Why?

On Wednesday, we witnessed a severe blow to liberal democracy in this country. On the one hand, Gordon Brown extended the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 42 days, sacrificing one of the most fundamental freedoms of every British citizen - the right not to be held in prolonged police detention without being told the charges against you. He sacrificed a fundamental liberty without a shred of evidence that it was necessary. And he did so against the advice of many security experts who warned that it may fuel the very extremism we are trying to defeat.

On the other hand, in pawning off one of the crown jewels of our democracy, the Prime Minister stooped to the lowest level, with widespread reports that he threatened and bought off just enough voices of dissent within his own party to sneak this measure through. Despite the frenetic excitement around Westminster, this was a sad day for the mother of parliaments.

We already had the longest period of detention without charge in the free world. Now it has been further increased - by half - just as we approach the anniversary of the Magna Carta, which has guaranteed the freedom of the individual from arbitrary detention for nearly 800 years. David Cameron will continue to lead our steadfast opposition to 42 days - which will now continue in the Lords - and I look forward to campaigning with him in Haltemprice and Howden. But this week we crossed a line. And I feel duty bound to take a personal stand to resist this sustained assault on the fundamental freedoms that millions in this country died defending.

For one thing, having secured 42 days based on the most generic of security arguments - technology, complexity, unpredictability - this Government will be tempted by the politics of terror to keep coming back for 56, then 70, then 90 days. That is why I believe we must draw a line now.

The truth is that, while 42 days marks a watershed, it is only the latest in the steady, insidious and relentless erosion of our freedoms over the past decade.
We will soon have the most intrusive ID card system in the world. There is a CCTV camera for every 14 citizens - despite growing evidence of their ineffectiveness as deployed. We have the largest DNA database in the world, larger than any dictatorship, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it.
The Government has attacked the jury system, that historic bulwark against unfair law and the arbitrary abuse of state power. Shortcuts with our legal system have left British justice less firm and less fair. The Government hoards masses of personal data on insecure databases, opening up our private lives to the prying eyes of official snoopers, but also exposing personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers.
The state has security powers that clamp down on peaceful protest, and so-called hate laws that stifle legitimate debate - while those inciting violence get off scot-free. A 15-year-old boy was recently charged on the spot for holding a banner describing scientology as a "dangerous cult", but extremists such as Abu Hamza are left free for years to incite violence and vitriol against this country.
There are now 266 state powers allowing officials to force their way into the home. Six hundred public bodies have the authority to bug phones and emails and intercept the post. Forget the security services: councils and quangos conduct 1,000 surveillance operations every month, using powers that ought to be the preserve of law enforcement agencies. Officials in Poole spied for weeks on a family taking their children to school, to check that they lived inside the catchment area. Even our rubbish can now be examined by neighbourhood spooks.

None of this has made us any safer. Violent crime has doubled in 10 years, and the Government continually briefs blood-curdling assessments of the terrorist threat. It is a myth to believe that we can defend our security by sacrificing our fundamental freedoms - one I intend to puncture over the next few weeks.

I am fighting this by-election as the Conservative candidate, but on vital national issues that transcend party politics. I hope to attract support from across the political spectrum, and the country at large. I look forward to taking on those who say the British public do not care about liberty - this campaign will be about leading a national debate, not pandering to polls. At stake is my own career as a Member of Parliament, but more fundamentally a long overdue debate on the preservation of liberty in this great country.
There will be those that cast aspersions on this endeavour, and those who try to suggest divisions within the Conservative Party. Yesterday, Westminster was foaming with speculation about a rift between me and David Cameron. It is nonsense. We have been united from start to finish on 42 days and wider security policy. We agreed that a Conservative government would immediately repeal 42 days, in the absence of the most compelling new evidence. And I am fully committed to David Cameron's fine leadership of the Conservative Party, including the excellent appointment of Dominic Grieve, one of my closest friends, as shadow home secretary.

So, as I return to Haltemprice and Howden, I lay down this challenge to Gordon Brown and his Government. Labour must put up a candidate to debate and defend their draconian track record. Anything else would demonstrate supreme political cowardice and contempt for public opinion.

I challenge the Prime Minister and any other member of his Cabinet with the courage of their convictions. I will debate with any one of them - any time, anywhere - what Gordon Brown euphemistically referred to as the "next chapter of British liberty".

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