Saturday, June 14, 2008

Might the Westminster village have the politics of 42 days detention wrong?

Most of SW1 thinks David Davis' resignation over the issue of 42 days detention was a huge political mistake. The Government's position is popular with the public and Davis has shifted the debate to one of the few areas where Brown is in tune with ordinary people. The Conservatives won't be allowed near government if they aren't seen to take the nation's security seriously.

On the other hand, Tim, and many others, have made the point that at every opportunity the public seem to be noisily expressing their support for the former Shadow Home Secretary. If there is a silent majority it is keeping very quiet indeed.

What polling evidence we have suggests that SW1 is right. A YouGov poll suggests that 69% of the public support the proposal. That's a mountain of opinion, I can't see anything much wrong with the poll and YouGov are by far the most reliable UK pollster.

However, that might not be the end of the story. After all, when the question is asked by YouGov it is rightly and necessarily removed from its political context. I doubt people have a particularly strong opinion on 42 days in particular - they just, quite understandably, want to see the Government strengthen policy to combat terrorism. They would give a positive answer to a broad range of tough security policies.

The issue is that the debate hasn't, and won't, remain that abstract. The choice voters are actually presented with is a debate between a Government they loathe and utterly distrust and a Conservative Party that is not just popular right now but is generally better trusted on security issues. Just as the Conservative brand used to taint a broad range of policies the public now distrust a Government they long to be rid of. While other narratives will be presented, when voters see a Conservative ex-SAS man resigning on a point of principle in order to defend "Ancient" "British" "liberties" squaring off against a grubby government their earlier opinion on 42 days might quickly go out of the window. They'll see the Government, rather than the Conservatives, as the ones not taking security "seriously".

Whether or not this is actually happening or SW1 is right and a silent majority resent Davis' opposition to 42 says will be difficult to ascertain. Headling voting intention poll numbers won't necessarily tell us anything while the Tory lead is so huge; Labour are down to their loyalists now. Movements of a few percentage points in the Government's favour could be the result of some traditional Labour voters returning to the fold as the furore over the 10p rate dies down, ready to abandon ship again when the V.E.D. changes kick in, rather than the 42 days debate.

I think that the only thing that we can say with much certainty about the politics of 42 days is that the Conservatives will have to establish that their opposition is to this measure in particular, and that they have robust plans of their own to defend Britain against our enemies.

Cross-posted from CentreRight.Com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 69% agreed only in "exceptional circumstances". Will the 42 day detention law be used to intern people during the 2012 Olympics? Will the public see that acceptable?

Previous terror laws are being used way beyond what the public find acceptable.

"Defend Britain against our enemies." Currently the government is our greatest enemy.