Following the resignation of David Davis from Parliament over the issue of civil liberties, and his precipitation of a local constituency election, a number of commentators have pointed out that there is a significant difference in the response between those in the "Westminster village", who have largely been hostile to Davis, and the blogosphere and wider public realm, where the response has been strongly supportive.
One of the central claims of the Westminster village — that Davis's action will damage the Conservative party — already shows signs of being ill-founded. The latest opinion polls, taken after Davis's spectacular resignation, indicate an increased Conservative lead over Labour. If anything, the public seems to like politicians who act out of principle and against the interests of their own career.
In my last posting, I proposed that a key benefit of the Davis resignation and local election is that it demonstrates the fundamental divide between libertarians and authoritarians — a division which is arguably more important than that between the increasingly imprecise "right" and "left". Adding to this welcome new political theatre, the doughty maverick Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews, an anti-Iraq War protester and general thorn in the side of New Labour, has thrown his support behind Davis.
Who will stand against Davis, and champion the case that in the present international environment security should take precedence over liberty? It is a position profoundly worth arguing, and ideally it demands a polemicist of the highest order. Will one of the New Labour heavyweights step into the breach? Or perhaps a big Tory beast, like Michael Heseltine, who was one of the first to voice criticism of Davis's resignation?
We suspect not. In this respect, Davis has already demonstrated that his critics in the Westminster village may be happy to question his motives and his sanity from the sidelines, but when the opportunity arises to make their case in open and fair debate, all we have heard so far is the sound of shuffling feet.