Here’s a good journalistic rule: whenever you find a consensus, look out for rodent smells. When David Davis stunned the Westminster village with his resignation on Thursday, I watched and listened to most of the mainstream broadcast coverage that evening. It was scarily uniform, which didn’t square at all with my own hunch that Davis’s move is a game-changer. Which is very welcome, because it’s clear that the great British public is sleepwalking into an authoritarian nightmare and something very dramatic is needed to provide a wake-up call. My hope is that the hoo-hah which will surround the by-election might provide such a call.
It’ reassuring to find that my Observer colleague, Henry Porter, sees it the same way, not least because he was been a forceful critic of Labour’s creeping authoritarianism from the beginning. In a terrific column this morning he observes that
The political classes don’t like this sort of thing. There’s too much raw emotion involved. Like nervous prefects, they dismissed Davis as vain, egotistical, narcissistic and irresponsible. He was, said one commentator of my acquaintance, suffering from a mid-life crisis and probably knew he didn’t have the brains to be Home Secretary, which is why he had bailed out.
That very much captures what is wrong with the Westminster village, which is so consumed with the talk of power, the jockeying for power, the acquisition and loss of it, that there is very little space left in the minds of journalists and politicians for principles and ideas. Yet that was what so much of last week in the House of Commons was about. Let us not forget that the Prime Minister won 42 days pre-charge detention by buying votes from nine hard-faced men from Northern Ireland, while 36 members of his own party stood up for the fundamental freedoms of our country. This was a moral defeat, not for Labour, but for Gordon Brown.
Then the unthinkable occurred. Davis appeared like Cyrano de Bergerac with his sword drawn at St Stephen’s entrance to the House of Commons – a venue occasioned by Speaker Martin’s undemocratic refusal to allow him to address the chamber – and challenged anyone and everyone…
Like Henry, I am sending Davis a cheque and a letter of support.