Home > Labour Party News, Law, Terrible Tories > “It’s time for brown people to switch to Tory”

“It’s time for brown people to switch to Tory”

Shami ChakrabartiDetention without charge, a principled libertarian stand by an arch-reactionary, the slurs flung at Shami Chakrabarti by Culture Minister Andy Burnham; understandably the blogosphere has been utterly up in arms over the 42 days issue. Only in isolated spots on Labour Home or Members Net are people coming out in defence of detention without charge. It probably won’t change anything but it’s nice to know the sentiment is there.

Some of the Drink Soaked Trots and their allies have been repeating ad nauseam (rather hilariously I have to confess) at the end of virtually every comment or blog post they make, Sunny Hundal’s point of view that it makes more sense for black or brown people to begin voting Conservative for the sake of their liberty. They’ve shortened it to the above title in order to be that little bit more satirical.

Sunny’s comments are more reasonably presented here, with extensive quotation.

The point, as I see it, is not lost on me. Civil liberties aside, a Conservative government is going to be a lot less cuddly than Labour on many subjects close to the hearts of ethnic minorities in this country. Without reducing my point of view to “Labour good, Tories bad,” we should remember people like shadow minister for ‘community cohesion’ Sayeeda Warsi and her anti-gay message peddled to Muslims in her district, but anti-immigration message peddled to white people.

A Conservative government will have little trouble exploiting the divisions in our society for their own gain. Their ideology, if not always their Party, has the media in its back pocket. Yet victory in a general election is less important than a successful defence of our civil liberties against the powers of the state – not just on this 42 days issue but starting with the increased powers of policing at Westminster Square protests and working up. This doesn’t mean I support David Davis however.

Andrew Regan of B4L fame said the following:

It seems a bit rich *not* to back Davis’s campaign (assuming it sticks to the subject of 42-days) when one supports what he’s saying, and when one is glad for the opportunity the by-election provides to try to make the anti-42 case to the wider electorate. Sure, he’s a Tory, probably a hypocrite, and he patently has some unsavoury views on many other topics, but given that he’s now 100% sure to be re-elected, there’s nothing anyone can do about all that stuff.

While he happens to be campaigning on a topic liberals and socialists ought to be supporting, the task should be clear.

I’ve quoted this because I think it displays very clearly all the reasons we shouldn’t support Davis, though inadvertently. Davis is running for election and elections are rarely single issue campaigns; they are never single issue campaigns when a political party is involved. Davis is running on a Conservative slate and if re-elected and given the chance to vote for any number of reactionary measures, he’ll take it. Rightly so because people will have elected him to do just that.

Or at least so the democratic theory goes.

David DavisToo many sections of the liberal blogosphere have become enamoured of this notion of Davis and his principled, libertarian run. It’s not a campaign on civil liberties however. It’s not a campaign full stop. After Davis is elected and nothing changes, then what? Is he going to resign again? If we’re serious about a campaign to restore civil liberties, then I very much doubt it’s going to be delivered by parliament.

Labour can’t appear divided or weak on terrorism. The Conservatives mostly support a lot of the legislation passed, which is precisely why they often simply don’t show up, to let Labour do the dirty work while they appear impeccably credentialed as libertarians. Cameron is not going to pledge to reverse the legislation that his Party claims to find so odious. A parliamentary vote is not going to be the answer.

Some of the other solutions have bordered on the utterly fantastic. The creation of an SDP-like breakaway is one I’ve seen mooted. Despite all this, it doesn’t change the fact that Davis is essentially the class enemy. He will go back to the days when one literally had to hobble and bleed in order to collect incapacity benefit. They will marketise the NHS at a frightening pace. Even our foreign policy might take a turn for the worse, if that’s possible.

Single issue campaigns are well and good for encouraging popular engagement and a united front, but there’s no unity to be had between socialists and conservatives. I think a lot of the softer sentiments in favour of Davis comes from the absence of fear of Tory policies. Labour on immigration and national security pretty much toes the same line. No few social liberals and Labour libertarians are in favour of the absolute marketisation of the economy.

That is a much more crucial issue than whether or not Davis gets re-elected – which is certain to happen, as Andrew mentioned, so why does he personally need our support? Someone should have run against him and made a proper socialist, libertarian argument. No doubt local media would have covered the dispute endlessly and that is just the right time to have our arguments advanced against his.

Where so many fail in their analysis isn’t as regards parliamentary analysis or splicing principles to see if David Davis name is inside but in assessing where power currently lies and where it should lie. If power resides with the State, controlled as it is not by ‘the people’ but by an elite, and if one thinks that is justified, then of course there is no possible recourse to the legitimate decision of a legitimate government, apart from harshly worded letters to the editor perhaps or voting come election time.

That no one has thought of actually building a proper movement to overturn the offending laws using extra-parliamentary means shows precisely how superficial the concern of so many London politicos actually is. Approach the trade unions, consider civil disobedience to disrupt their use, have Liberty and Amnesty et al campaign and fund-raise for anyone arrested either for civil disobedience or under the 42 days law. If we’re actually against this, let’s be against it.

Our opposition to 42 days is much more dramatic than it has been portrayed. If we carry it through to its logical conclusion, what we’re actually saying is, come 28 days (or whatever limit one personally sets) we want all suspects released, whether or not they are actually guilty, unless the state can present its case. This is a valid proposition and one I support, but if we’re going to go through with this, we better know that we’ve already lost any battle if the field chosen is the media.

Brown faces being led away and the picture of people lying dead in the street will see to that.

For that reason any campaign must be a campaign of solid activists in every town, organised by community or workplace or whatever. It must build funds for its own newsletter to counteract the nonsense that the mainstream media will print. At the end of the day, ask yourself if the Conservatives or even David Davis would participate in such a campaign. When you answer that question, you ultimately answer the question as to whether or not we should re-elect Davis, never mind support his campaign.

  1. June 21, 2008 at 12:00 pm


    see also this post which raises a few other relevant points.

  2. June 22, 2008 at 9:47 am

    I take a lot of your points (and agree with them) BUT

    (Takes deep breath)

    This sort of is a campaign. The one thing it isn’t is a by-election. If it were a by-election, Davis’ campaign would be funded by Tory HQ, and Labour and the Liberals would contest it (because they’re credo is to contest all seats).

    So it isn’t a by-election.

    Neither is it a referendum – this is a safe Tory seat, not representative of English or British opinion as a whole, and one where nobody’s fighting the other side.

    So it isn’t a referendum.

    What you’re left with, in the end, is a campaign. And it’s an extra-parliamentary campaign – that was presumably the whole point of Davis resigning his seat, rather than using his role as Shadow Home Secretary to fight his campaign.

    So in the end what you have is precisely what you asked for – an extra-parliamentary campaign. The only problem is that it was started by an objectionable, right-wing Tory.

    Okay – that’s a fairly big, solitary problem! But at the current point in time, using this platform to get some of the points over (including points Davis would never make) seems an acceptable action. There already seems to have been a shift in public opinion on the issue.

    We’ve all been involved in campaigns where we’ve fought alongside people of very different politics. I remember Tory MPs joining in the campaigns against the pit closures. Should we have turned them away and said, ‘sorry no Tories’? I don’t think we should have. (I seem to remember one or two very similar arguments at the time because one of the Tories in question was an outspoken supporter of the birch!)

    So it is an imperfect campaign and one we don’t have control of. But at the moment it is the big, public campaign that people will take some notice of on this issue.

    It’s a really tricky one, and I wouldn’t vote for him myself.

  3. June 22, 2008 at 10:40 am

    It’s a difficult question, but I stand by having no Tories involved in any united front, period. Our operating principles and those of David Davis – and indeed the Tories during the miner’s strike – are entirely different. This is why I differentiate between Davis’ publicity stunt and any broader campaign.

    Davis doesn’t have a solution.

    His resignation was a publicity stunt to bring media attention to his issue and therein the vast divergence between what he sees as a solution and the actual solution becomes clear. He wants press releases, a healthy majority and a return to parliament in splendour. Five minutes after he’s sworn the oath of allegiance again, no one is going to care. He’s a lame duck.

    We want things that would scare the pants off Conservatives. I don’t doubt that during the Miner’s strikes the flying pickets and the more obvious signs of class war were shunned by the Tory MP ‘supporters’ despite the clear indication that the state was being used to break these people’s livelihoods and lives. Similarly today what we’re enmeshed in isn’t a straight up political fight.

    There’s no such thing. Everything has repercussions far beyond the surface issues – which is one of the reasons this is so important, and that Cameron didn’t promise to repeal all the anti-terror legislation when he’s elected in 2010. The repercussions for a campaign such as I’ve outlined is pretty simple.

    On one level it would mean no detention without charge. On another level it sets a precedent for political activism and if it is successful, it creates the politically free space for such protests independent of the inevitable calumniation by the media and our political elite.

    An activist disobedience campaign on 42 days detention could potentially become merely the first issue in a string of battles that would begin to restore a working class movement to this country. Every Tory is to the core opposed to that and no few Liberal and Labour MPs are too. So, it really is a case of their principles and ours.

  4. June 22, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I don’t disagree (although I suppose I DO disagree about never sharing a platform with a Tory; if Ken Clarke had asked to speak at Hyde Park at the main anti-war rally, should the STWC have turned him away, or have made use of his ‘defection’?) Partly this is about tactics. Davis’ campaign is not our campaign, and it won’t have the effects we want to see. And it won’t be broadened out to consider other civil liberties issues. But what it already is doing is extending the debate about 42 days beyond the short parliamentary one, and it does appear to be having a positive impact on public opinion (and media opinion often follows changes in public opinion, and seems to be doing so here too). So while this platform is here, is it wrong to stand on it and get our points across? I’m not sure it is wrong, though I share your disquiet. That isn’t to say we don’t need your campaign as well. But it might be to say that we could more easily build your campaign on the back of this one, rather than to build it from nothing.

    (On a purely political point, rather than the principled one, the – however brief – transformation of Davis into almost being above politics can only weaken Cameron in the long run).

  5. June 22, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    If it genuinely was a defection, i.e. he repudiated his links to and membership of the Conservative Party, that’s one thing. Flouting the whips, once, when the majority of your party is the only reason the government can pass its mandate for the Iraq War, is not a defection. It’s just one more opportunistic position.

    As I’ve outlined, given the right events Davis media popularity would collapse into dust. All it needs is a raid by the police on a ‘suspected ricin factory’ and every tabloid in the country will connect the dots to call him a terrorist supporter or something more poetically jingoistic. He has nothing to offer a genuine movement of the people against state encroachment of our civil liberties.

    Sure, for as long as the press are sympathetic any campaign attempting to build itself into a credible option might to well, but I worry that links with politicians like Davis dilutes any such movement and secondly will unnerve many otherwise solid socialists and Labourites because they know that with a spokesman like Davis, civil liberties is just one issue we temporarily agree on (and even then not really, if you read Davis’ speech).

    On your political point, the idea of being ‘above politics’ is an ideological concept fashioned by establishment opposition to the entrenched class politics of previous generations. Everything is political and nothing is above politics: talk of the ‘national interest’ obscures the fact that many parts of the nation have different and conflicting interests. Whether or not it weakens Cameron is irrelevant: it is a rhetoric that is entirely born of Davis’ conservatism and it could easily enough serve his party in the future to devastating effect.

  6. June 22, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    So you would have refused to have Clark on the platform at the Stop the War rallies? Because I really don’t think that makes a lot of sense. Should we have booed Charles Kennedy? After all, it would have only taken a bit more successful bribing and bullying at the UN and he’d have been all for it, apparently?

    I think you have to make these temporary alliances from time to time. All politics is a compromise; after all I’m a member of the Labour Party and will campaign vociferously for the re-election of Gordon Brown, despite him being a true believer in neo-liberal economics, wanting to lock people up for six weeks, funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and keeping the troops there, etc, etc. We could say: no we can’t have any sort of co-operation with these people, we should just build our own movement with people who agree with us about everything. Lots of people do argue that, but I think they’re wrong.

    Obviously finding some common cause with a Tory is a more extreme proposition. And I’m a tribal labourist and find it quite difficult to share common air with Tories, let alone share a platform with one.

    But I’m being pragmatic – at this point in time, if you wanted to get some points across about 42 day detention there are a few things you could do: you could write a blog (read by quite a few, no doubt), you could even write something for Comment is Free and be read by some more. Or you could take advantage of the public platform Davis has created and speak from that.

    Of course, you could also build a much bigger, broader campaign on the issue that doesn’t include Tories. I’d like such a campaign to exist.

    (The political point was not one which spoke approvingly of the concept of being ‘above politics’ – a slight strengthening of Davis is equal to a slight weakening of Cameron; it’s not the point, but a bit of disharmony in the heart of the Conservative Party is always welcome).

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