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David Davis: an apology

by Paul Goodman

DAVIS DAVID pointing I apologise to readers for writing off David Davis as a greying, useless, clapped-out old has-been who no-one can be bothered to listen to any more.  The error was due to typing problems which were beyond my control.  What I meant to say, of course, is that Davis is a brilliant visionary and ruthless operator, who was always likely to talk other MPs round to his view and bend the Government to his will.

As it happens, I wasn't quite that dismissive of Davis, who's an old friend of mine (or was until I wrote the sentence that begins this article).  I wrote a few weeks ago: "He also likes running backbench campaigns.  His first major one, a push during the late '80s to scrap the Dock Labour Scheme, was successful, so it would be wise not to write all his present ones off."

And so it's turned out.  When the Government slipped out its response to the ruling of the European Court of Human Right on prisoners and voting just before Christmas, Davis was one of the first Conservative MPs to float the possibility of the Commons voting on the matter.  (Dominic Raab, another one, made the same case lucidly and publicly.)

At the time, such a vote was a distant prospect.  Last November, David Cameron was insisting that although giving prisoners the vote made him "physically ill", he had no alternative but to let the ECHR have its way.  By last week, he was claiming to be "waterboarding" lawyers in order to minimise the number of prisoners who'll be allowed to vote.

Today, some Ministers are set to abstain rather than follow the logic of their own Government's policy in the lobbies, and vote against Davis's motion, which declares that the Commons is satisfied with the present ban.  Ken Clarke claimed yesterday that the Government's plans won't give rapists the vote.  The Prime Minister's being more circumspect.  Clarke's pointing one way; Cameron's looking the other.

Davis's campaign, planned with that other old lag, Jack Straw, is responsible for all this.  As Davis points out in his piece, 8,000 serious offenders would get the vote, even were it restricted to those serving sentences of one year or less.  It's not clear whether any amendments will be called.  But the Commons is poised to give the court a kicking.

This won't be the last of Davis's back bench campaigns.  The Prime Minister will be eyeing him carefully.

Because we're carrying an article by David Davis on today's vote, all views on the issue can be expressed below his article, and this one is closed to comments.

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