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11 July 2008

David Davis: A Hollow Victory?

The victory for the Conservative candidate in Haltemprice and Howden raises uncomfortable questions

By Martin Bright

So David Davis now has a majority of 15,355 votes. And to think he was a candidate for “decapitation” in the last election.

With a turnout of 34 per cent, it would be tempting to agree with Home Office minister Tony McNulty that this was “a vain stunt that became and remains a farce”. Although his majority increased by over 10,000 votes, Davis still had fewer people voting for him than did in 2001.

This was not a great day for democracy. Congratulations to Shan Oakes of the Green Party for coming second with 1,758, but the Labour Party, and especially the Lib Dems, made a serious mistake by not standing. For Labour, the hope was to render Davis’s gesture meaningless. In part, they succeeded. But this did not split the Conservative Party, as they might have expected. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, could have taken the genuinely liberal argument to Davis rather than giving him a free run. They might even have won.

Weirdly, the Conservatives look by far the most sure-footed party as a result of all this. It could have been a very difficult moment for David Cameron. Instead, he has the best of both worlds – Davis is allowed to make the argument for “ancient British values” while at the same time removing himself from frontline politics where he was becoming an increasing thorn in the Tory leader’s side. David Cameron must be feeling even more smug than usual this morning.

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