Media misjudges the mood on the Davis campaign

Guy Aitchison
17 June 2008

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): A quick scan of the blogosphere and MSM today and it’s clear the political/media class are sticking with the same line on the Davis campaign (website launched today). They continue to describe it as a “stunt" and a “farce” and a distraction from the real business of politics.

The overwhelmingly positive response from the public in the form of comments, blogs, emails and now opinion polls is dismissed as childish admiration for a politician prepared to break the rules of the Westminster village. This, essentially, is the line taken today by Steve Richards and Michael White (who has been pooh-poohing the whole thing from the start).

What’s missing from all this coverage of course are the important issues Davis set out to raise: the assault on freedom and the failures of our parliamentary democracy. That this is the real debate to be had is at once recognised by the public. A post by Peter Hoskin of the Speccie provides a nice illustration. Hoskin basically agrees with the 'Westminster Village' wing of the argument” outlined by Richards:

“Given the general public support for 42 day detention, it seems likely that many people are more approving of Davis' methods than his message. But, should he win, Davis wants to claim that the opposite is true. Frankly, I'm not sure how he'll manage to convince on that front.”

Hoskin is immediately taken to task by Coffeehousers in the excellent comments that follow. They point out that claims made regarding the public’s support for 42 days detention are based on a single questionable poll by You Gov. Davis wants to make the case that it is not simply about banging up terrorists for 42 days (as some of the public may think); it is about giving police powers to detain people who are often innocent for 42 days whilst they collect evidence. The other point they make is that this is not just a fight over the 42 days. It is also a fight over the countless other illiberal measures introduced by the Government without proper public debate and consultation.

I think the Speccie, like the rest of the MSM, has seriously misjudged the mood of its readers on this one. When Davis resigned the media immediately dismissed it as a stunt - but the public reacted differently. Today they want to say it’s the "method not the message." When will they tackle the real issues?

PS - I never thought I’d say this, but an honourable exception today is the Sun (which, along with the rest of the Murdoch clan, has distanced itself from the idea of a Mackenzie challenge). Fergus Shanahan has a decent piece explaining why “I respect Davis for defending freedom.” He explodes many of the myths the Sun helps to perpetuate.

Update: Peter Hoskin of the Spectator has been in touch by email to clarify his position. Seems I picked the wrong Speccie blogger to aim this post at! Here's a quote:

'The truth is, I don't – as you say – "basically agree with the "Westminster Village wing of the argument'" that Steve Richards puts forward.  I only said "Richards is right" in relation to one small part of his article.  I thought it would be clear from the start of my piece ("Even if you don't agree with his conclusions, Steve Richards is always worth reading. His article in today's Independent is a case in point…") that I don't agree with everything Richards says.  I do think he provides the best version of the "Westminster" argument – but that doesn't mean I'm on the same side as him!  I clarify my position in a comment to the post:

"Also to say - because I think it's relevant - I'm very much opposed to 42 day detention, and I largely approve of what Davis is up to on a wider canvas. But I still think that - if Davis is to succeed as he wants to - he needs to answer the kind of questions that Richards is putting to him."


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