"Cameron Pleaded with Me": David Davis, Who Resigned from the Shadow Cabinet to Fight a By-Election over Civil Liberties, Regrets Nothing, He Tells James Macintyre

New Statesman (1996), November 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

"Cameron Pleaded with Me": David Davis, Who Resigned from the Shadow Cabinet to Fight a By-Election over Civil Liberties, Regrets Nothing, He Tells James Macintyre


For a man who this summer was denounced as "mad" by supporters and enemies alike, having resigned his position as shadow home secretary to fight a one-man crusade on civil liberties in a by-election at his constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, David Davis is in remarkably good spirits. I've known him for more than a decade -we've often discussed the sovereignty of parliament, his lifelong passion-and when we met in his Commons office recently, he seemed relaxed; liberated, as he put it, from the shackles of "machine politics" and endless meetings. "It's been a moderately busy year," he said, with a smile. "The irony of all of this is that on the one hand the interest in me has not gone down, but the workload has become manageable."

He is concentrating on the issues that matter to him, notably ID cards and 42-day detention, both of which appear to be on their way off the government's agenda. But he is determined not to become a "single-issue" politician, and was advised against being so by Bob Geldof on the train back from Hull after his by-election victory. Instead, he has been looking beyond the parochial limits of Westminster politics, and-having spent the summer reading 25 books and hundreds of reports on Afghanistan-visited the war-ravaged country last month. Sitting under a map of the region, he said: "The point about in this place is you change history. If you don/t do that, you shouldn't be here."

But questions remain over the tensions at the heart of the shadow cabinet that led to his surprise resignation. Publicly, Davis was fighting the government. but less is known about the battles within his own party, especially those he was having with neoconservatives such as Michael Gove and George Osborne, both of whom were, privately, sceptical of any attempt by the Tories to oppose the government on its handling of the terrorist threat. Davis said: "There was only a single debate over tactics. And that debate took place between David George Osborne and me early on. And we went through in some detail-45 minutes, half an hour, which is a long time-in a private meeting ..." Osborne was worried about "whether we could be outflanked to the right". Perhaps, surprisingly, Davis says he had "no idea" about where most of the shadow cabinet stood on the issue. He denies that there was too much tension, describing it as an "entirely proper debate on where the tactical position should be". But he is remarkably frank about Cameron's reaction to his subsequent fait-accompli resignation.

"Well, he was a bit surprised, to say the least. He said:'Why? His first question was why. And I went thorough it, and he said: 'Well, I don't ...' [Davis hesitate] '... it's very risky.' And I said: 'Yeah, but the risk is all mine, David.' And he said there is a risk to our lead [in the polls]. I said, no, I don't think there is. [I said] I think actually you'll find that the public will respond well to this, and he wasn't at all sure about that, so there was a difference of view."

Did Cameron try to dissuade him from resigning? "Yes, of course he did." How strenuously? " Well, several times during the course of the evening. …

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