Davis 1st, Greens 2nd, Authoritarianism defeated

Rupert Read
11 July 2008

Rupert Read (Norwich, The Green Party): The Green Party stood in Haltemprice and Howden on a clear platform of being 'to the left' of David Davis on freedom in general and on civil liberties in particular. David Davis did all he could to marginalise and exclude us. The media didn't help, painting the by-election as a freak show, because neither the LibDems nor Labour were standing while a huge field of also-rans were standing.

And yet we have come through well. While virtually everyone else lost their deposits, the Green Party last night scored our highest-ever percentage in a byelection (beating our previous high, back in our best-ever-yet year of 1989), and claimed an unprecedented second place (see the full result and a pertinent comment from our candidate, here).

What does this mean in terms of the Green Party's electoral prospects? It is a strong sign of momentum. It suggests that we should be on track to win in our target seats, places where we are now very strong, such as Brighton Pavillion and Norwich South.

We had hardly any members or local Party in Haltemprice, and hadn't stood in the constituency for a generation; and yet, from this standing start, we came through to prove that there were plenty of voters who were identifying with our message of a serious challenge to David Davis's message, not from the direction of greater authoritarianism, but from the direction of greater freedom.

And that helps answer the question in turn of what this means for the debate that Davis helped to energise: We asked, in this byelection, why 28 days (Davis's preferred number) was so infinitely better than 42, and suggested (as Liberty believe) that it cannot possibly be just in a civilised society to keep someone for more than a week without charge – that habeas corpus is incompatible with 28 days, let alone 42 days.

And this is what is so gratifying about the election result: that, while Davis was supported by a long list of celebs and of politicians from the old Parties – by Bob Geldof, Anthony Barnett, Martin Bell, Bob Marshall-Andrews etc. --, and naturally (with new- and old-media complicity) he romped home, the second place didn't fall to someone (such as Jill Saward, an Independent who attracted a good deal of press coverage and tacit Labour support – but who lost her deposit badly) to Davis's authoritarian 'right' on this issue, but to us, who took the risk of arguing that Davis wasn't going nearly far enough.

 This vote is a vote for the Green Party, and it is also a highly-encouraging vote so far as the debate on civil liberties and freedom now stands: because it suggests that, as that debate goes on after the byelection, Davis's position is not (as many in the media have supposed) an extreme radical alternative to New Labour orthodoxy on this matter, marking the limit of how far a pro-freedom stance might go, but is rather merely a place to start the debate, and that the real interest of the debate is in how much further (in the direction of Green Party policy) we need to go, if we are to be taken seriously as a civilised country that is not happy lightly discarding its historic freedoms.

 As I have argued in my previous posts on this byelection, Davis ought to be thanked for providing this opportunity to change the terms and the momentum of the debate around civil liberties in this country. He and those who supported his stance ought to thank us too: for taking that debate in a more radical direction, and making clear that there is an appetite in this country not just for New Labour authoritarianism, but for true liberty and freedom, as in Green Party policy.

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