So David Davis now has a majority of 15,355 votes. And to think he was a candidate for “decapitation” in the last election, writes Martin Bright.
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.
So – writes Ben Davies – in case you hadn’t heard or were wondering, yes, David Davis won in Haltemprice and Howden in the by-election he triggered over 42 day detention, and in which the Lib Dems and Labour didn’t stand.
Turnout was 34.5 per cent – contrast that with the 58 per cent in Crewe and Nantwich – and Davis won 72 per cent of the vote.
Shan Oakes of the Greens got 1,758 votes coming second and the English Democrat’s Joanne Robinson came third with 1,714 backing her in the Yorkshire constituency.
Out of 26 candidates, 23 lost their deposits after failing to attract 5 per cent of the vote.
The results are finally in, delayed by a recount for Joanne Robinson of the English Democrats. Turnout is better than the most pessimistic forecasts at 35 percent with David Davis winning 17,113 votes – 72 percent of the vote. Shan Oakes of the Greens claims second place with 1,752 and Robinson finishes third with 1,714 while the rest look to have lost their deposits. For full results see the East Riding Council website (http://www.eastriding.gov.uk).
“We have fired a shot across the bows of Gordon Brown’s arrogant, arbitrary and authoritarian government,” Davis says, vowing to fight “Big Brother Britain” tooth and nail. He tells me his freedom campaign has achieved its objectives: “Today 17,000 people came out to vote for a principle… We’ve had Labour voters coming to vote for me, Liberal voters, Tory voters and people who’ve got no previous record of voting at all. What we’ve done is we’ve galvanised cross-party, across the board, almost apolitical support and that’s wonderful.” What next for Davis? He says his short term priority is to do what he can to prevent 42 days going through and believes Friday morning’s result has sharply improved his chances of achieving that.
Despite the late hour, Shan Oakes of the Greens is also in good spirits with unofficial calculations suggesting it is the party’s best ever showing, percentage-wise, in a parliamentary election. “What we were up against in this election was the Tory vote and the Tory machine – a lot of money, a lot of people, whereas we were working on a showstring.” She says the Greens’ localism had proved popular with many voters. “They really like the Green idea of working locally, planning things locally like local food, local energy, local transport. They are sick of being imposed upon by central government.”
I also chat to Tom Darwood, an independent candidate who claims to be “the future King of the British peoples”, the “true Archbishop of Canterbury” and the “true Pope” and believes Britain and the USA need to be united under a single throne – a manifesto that earned him 25 votes. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The camaraderie and friendliness between the candidates has been wonderful. We’ve created another historic moment in British political history.” Alas, David Icke had been and gone before my arrival at the count.
The count is well under way at Haltemprice Leisure Centre where the air smells less of freedom and liberty than stale sweat and chlorine. With most of the 26 candidates nervously assembled I finally catch up with Gemma Garrett of the Miss Great Britain Party, dressed in a sparkly mini dress and flanked by an equally eye-catching entourage. While she admits the campaign has been an “absolute ball” there has been a serious issue at its heart. “I have a cousin fighting in Afghanistan and another in Iraq and I’m here because of them and for the lack of support they have, the lack of pay, the lack of equipment and I could go on and on.” She admits it has sometimes been difficult to get that message across in a short skirt but says that strategy ties in with the party’s other objective to get young people voting. “We need young people in parliament to interest other young people. We are a very, very serious political group.” I feel suitably told off.
One of the big questions in this by-election has been “What has happened to all the Labour voters?” In fact, despite (or perhaps because of) its proximity to John Prescott’s Kingston Upon Hull East fiefdom, Labour supporters are thin on the ground with the party picking up a little more than 6,000 votes at the last election. David Davis told me they were “all over the place” with some saying they were going to vote for a Tory for the first time in their life while others said they supported the issue but couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Shan Oakes claims she is picking up disenchanted Labour voters too. One of the candidates, David Pinder of the New Party, is also an ex-Labour councillor disgruntled with present politics. “I know it sounds jaded but we stand for common sense and decency but we really do think it’s time to do things differently,” he said. “We think there is a third way if you spell ‘third’ with truth, honesty, integrity, respect and duty.”
The only real Labour campaigner we’ve seen in recent days has been Bob Marshall-Andrews who claimed he had come up to support David Davis as the “authentic voice” of the Labour Party. “He told me he was going to do it and I encouraged him his sacrifice, not mine,” said Marshall-Andrews, although you get the impression that he carries his Parliamentary Labour Party membership card lightly since prematurely announcing his own political demise at the last election.
Marshall-Andrews told me there was no excuse for Labour not to be represented and admitted that the party had conceded traditional ground on civil liberties to the Tories: “I’m really, really disappointed thst we have not come up to this and picked up this challenge. It was the perfect opportunity because we were in a constituency that we could not win. The political advantage on those terms was negligible but the advantage in terms of addressing one of the most serious political issues of our age was enormous and it seems to me that it was reprehensible that the party did not take this challenge up.”
I bite the bullet and call David Icke’s publicist to ask whether the former Coventry stopper-turned conspiracy theorist is speaking to the press. Disconcertingly her mobile number contains the digits 666. She says he is due to attend tonight’s count. Icke, who says he backs David Davis’ stance against the “Orwellian state”, hasn’t been seen in the constituency since Sunday but his supporters mostly wide-eyed, muddle-headed people with eccentric hair and sandals (not so different from New Statesman readers really) have been around the fringes of most events and gatherings.
One of them even managed to slip through the cordon to ask George Osborne about the Bilderberg Group. I think I’ve learnt to spot the real conspiracy theorists though. They tend to be smartly dressed with the clipped tones and penetrating stares of men who know too much. I’m also starting to develop an alarming paranoia. After a long chat yesterday with one chap about the secret “one-world government” controlling the planet I became obsessed by a police motorcyclist who seemed to be following me for an unnecessarily long time. As our paths diverged at a roundabout a police car swung into view behind me. Perhaps there is something in this police state business after all…
The BBC meanwhile reports that the 26 candidates will be unable to share a platform at tonight’s count for fear that the stage will collapse under their combined weight. I have heard that the Raving Loonies plan to bring their own Elvis to counter the Church of the Militant Elvis Party candidate. So there will be at least two Elvises (?) in the building.
Also in Cottingham, valiantly trying to steer clear of the assorted loonies (both lower and upper case “l”) aligned against her, I bump into the Green Party’s Shan Oakes. I spent an afternoon with Oakes – who has been blogging herself for newstatesman.com – as she canvassed door-to-door earlier in the week and she is optimistic that the Green message has been getting through, even in a constituency where the party has not put up a candidate in a general election for more than two decades.
As the second most established political force among the 25 other options on the ballot paper, they are hopeful of a strong showing. “People are very despondent,” she says. “But when we talk to them about local democracy and the real things people could do to work things out you can see a little spark of hope in their eyes.”
Oakes believes David Davis’ stance on civil liberties is misguided and inconsistent with Tory (and Labour) policies, arguing that the Greens are the true defenders of British libertarian instincts. “This country used to pride itself on habeas corpus [slipping towards Magna Cartaballs territory here… ] and why have we moved away from that? There is a progressive paranoia that has been stoked by the government and the Tories have colluded with that. They are just using fear to justify this creeping police state.”
The Greens have also fallen out with the Davis campaign amid claims they have been “black-listed” and prevented from attending public meetings, as Oakes has described in her blog.
The Davis campaign says the Greens and other candidates were invited to attend Tuesday’s public village hall event in Eastrington but were barred from Wednesday’s Willerby Manor event which was limited to invited speakers, constituents and members of the fourth estate.
It’s impossible to walk down the main street in Cottingham without being ambushed by at least a couple of prospective parliamentarians. At one point I spy five of them at once. Among them is Mad Cow Girl of the Monster Raving Loonies, still vocally putting her message across with her megaphone. Worryingly, the Loony campaign vehicle is a yellow Citroen 2CV – once my parents’ transport of choice – decorated with the number 42. “People love us. We shout, we scream, we play music, we have fun. People love to see the loonies,” says Mad Cow Girl. But not everybody is convinced among the mostly pension-drawing passers-by. “I think it’s disgusting,” an elderly woman mutters as she walks by. “We’ve already got the loonies,” another man quips in a bluff Yorkshire accent.
The Loonies admit they’ve conceded some of their traditional political ground to other candidates in this by-election but Mad Cow Girl – described as the Loonies’ Ann Widdecombe – is happy to stray onto serious terrain by standing up for 42 days. “I just happen to not disagree with the government,” she says. There is optimism in the Loony camp that the party can retain its deposit for the first time ever.
Further on, I meet independent Norman Scarth. At 82, he may well be the oldest candidate in the field. He is a navy veteran of the Second World War, serving on the convoys across the Atlantic and to Russia and he proudly wears the medals to prove it including a Soviet one awarded to him for his contribution to the Great Patriotic War effort. Also armed with a megaphone, Scarth believes Britain is a judicial tyranny that has badly failed the veterans who fought for freedom. “We have the rule of lawyers, not the rule of law,” he says.
Next in line is another independent, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, a market trader calling himself the “voice of Northampton” who happily admits his recently launched political career was triggered by a midlife crisis, Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq: “I’m a one man band. I love my country but I don’t like what’s happening.” Fitzpatrick says there are loads of things he’s “pissed off” about. “I’m a market trader and my living is under threat from supermarkets. I have to work six days a week, 12 hours a day to make my market business pay. So I’m against the supermarkets, I think they are bullies. I stick up for myself, I stick up for my business and I stick up for my country.”
Still no sign of former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett. It seems I am the only person in the constituency not to have seen her.
Jill Saward raised an interesting point while we were chatting about how everybody in this by-election has been talking about “the days of Maggy Carter”. Magna Carta has of course been a Davis theme since he launched his campaign and the rallying cry was raised again on Wednesday when Shami Chakrabarti was up here to endorse him, talking about Britons’ ancient liberties and even quoting the famous Tony Hancock line: “Did Magna Carta die in vain?”
Jill is not convinced and wonders what the relevance is of a document from the 1200s for knife crime-plagued 21st century Britain. “I don’t know my history but wasn’t that the days of the feudal system?” she wonders. The historian and occasional New Statesman contributor Edward Vallance has expertly unpicked what he calls “Magna Cartaballs” on his excellent blog.
As Vallance says: “Yes, the counter-terrorism bill is a terrible piece of legislation, but it signifies less a devil-may-care attitude to our civil liberties (though that, of course, is wholly evident) and more the very limited nature of ‘British liberty’ itself.”
In Hessle I meet up with Jill Saward, the victim of the 1986 Ealing Vicarage rape who is campaigning on a “true liberty” ticket, calling for tougher measures on crime and better support for the victims of crime and of sexual assault in particular.
Saward admits that she is not a natural politician and is taking a relaxed attitude to canvassing as we sit on a bench in the sunshine. She says people are fed up with being approached by candidates and feel “pressurised” into voting. She dismisses 42 days as a non-issue to ordinary people and describes David Davis’ campaign as an exercise in self-promotion. She says people would welcome more CCTV (“People like being watched. They like to think that somebody is watching over them”) if it made them feel safer and is strongly in favour of a DNA database.
“People who are innocent have nothing to fear and people who are guilty should not be allowed to get away with it. For me that turns justice on its head,” Saward says. She concedes there are miscarriages of justice but says that DNA evidence could help catch people who otherwise would not be caught. And, she points out, a DNA database could be used to clear people as well as convict them.
Jill has used the campaign to raise awareness to the funding shortages afflicting Rape Crisis centres (as highlighted by newstatesman.com). While the Tories have vowed to increase funding if elected, Jill is disappointed by Davis’ failure to use his clout as shadow home secretary to secure more funding for local Rape Crisis services in England and Wales. She says the East Riding district hasn’t seen any of the £1m in new funding announced by the government earlier this year.
Saward vigorously denies suggestions that she was put up by the Labour Party, comparing her own modest resources to the lavish amounts she claims Davis has spent on “glossy posters and posh hotels”: “My campaign headquarters is my husband’s messy desk or a room at a Premier Travel Inn. I have had no emails from Labour MPs. I have received no funding from Labour. The only person who suggested I should run is my husband and he was joking.”
Just had an interesting chat with a couple of DD supporters over bacon sandwiches and lattes (me) and crisps and tea (them) in the cafe at Waitrose in Willerby. Andrew Brice and Duncan Boyd are up here canvassing on behalf of Christian Watch which they describe as a conservative (“with a small ‘c'”) Christian campaigning group. Their main gripe is political correctness – in particular restrictions on them conducting “open air work” – ie. handing out anti-homosexual literature on gay rights marches. To be fair DD distanced himself from that particular issue when he was asked about it by one of them at Wednesday’s meeting but it just goes to show how widely he has cast his “civil liberties” net. “Increasingly liberals are themselves illiberal because they cannot tolerate any dissent,” says Boyd. Brice says he admires Davis for making a stand on principle. And even the Christian right is opposed to 42 days by the way.
Meanwhile DD himself has voted down in Howden at the far end of the constituency. His press officer tells me that turnout has been”brisk”. Mad Cow Girl of the Monster Raving Loonies has also been spotted in Howden, driving around haranguing people through a loudhailer. It’s worth noting of course that the Loonies are representing the government on 42 days in this by-election. “I may be a Looney but I’m not mad enough to want dangerous people walking the streets,” says Mad Cow Girl.
The great battle for English liberties is under way in Haltemprice and Howden. I head to Willerby – David Davis’ base camp in this sprawling constituency in search of early voters but there have only been a handful at the Memorial Hall polling station since voting began at 7 am and the ones I speak to suggest that many locals remain sceptical about the exercise. “I don’t really like most of the people. Most of them are idiots. Most people can’t be arsed,” says first time voter Dominic. “David Davis has shot himself in the foot,” says Claire Grimwood.
Turnout is going to be key today with some in the Davis camp fearful that it could drop as low as 20 per cent. Davis is defending a majority of 5,116 – 47 per cent of the vote – which he won at the 2005 general election on a 48 percent turnout and there’s little doubt he is a popular constituency MP. There’s also of course the interesting matter of who will finish second among the other 25 candidates – and whether any of them will get their deposits back.
What are David Davis’ expectations? At his final campaign event on Wednesday at Willerby Manor Hotel he claimed he had influenced public mood already on 42 days detention without trial, claiming the public’s change of heart had been the biggest turnaround in public opinion he had seen in his entire political career.
As for his personal ambitions, don’t expect to see Davis grovelling for a place in the shadow cabinet. “We had to start with a toff so I went for Tony Benn,” he said, describing the string of political stars who have been up here in support of his cause. “Then we went a bit downmarket and had David Cameron,” prompting theatrical gasps of faux-shock from the Tory blue-rinse brigade.
It’s a beautifully sunny morning over the East Riding which should ease some concerns over turnout. I even saw a Mini soft top with its roof ambitiously rolled back.
For the record here’s a full list of today’s runners and riders:
Grace Christine Astley (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Church of the Militant Elvis Party), Ronnie Carroll (Make Politicians History), Mad Cow-Girl (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party), David Craig (Independent), Herbert Winford Crossman (Independent), Tess Culnane (National Front Britain for the British), Thomas Faithful Darwood (Independent), David Michael Davis (The Conservative Party), Tony Farnon (Independent), Eamonn Fitzy Fitzpatrick (Independent), Christopher Mark Foren (Independent), Gemma Dawn Garrett (Miss Great Britain Party), George Hargreaves (Christian Party), Hamish Howitt (Freedom 4 Choice), David Icke (Independent), John Nicholson (Independent), Shan Oakes (Green Party), David Pinder (The New Party), Joanne Robinson (English Democrats), Jill Saward (Independent), Norman Scarth (Independent), Walter Edward Sweeney (Independent), Christopher John Talbot (Socialist Equality Party), John Randle Upex (Independent), Greg Wood (Independent)