Thursday, 12 June 2008

David Davis resigns from Parliament

In an unprecedented decision, Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis has announced he plans to resign as an MP, trigger a by-election in his constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, and stand in that by-election. According to his press conference just minutes ago, he's planning to campaign on the issue of 42-day detention, and give the people an opportunity to vote against the erosion of our civil liberties. The BBC suggested that the Lib Dems (in second place in the constituency) had agreed not to stand against him.

Right now, it's very hard to analyse what's going on. The announcement seems to have come as a bolt out of the blue, and Davis refused to say whether or not he'd discussed it with David Cameron. Since Davis lost out to Cameron in the Tory leadership election, he might be trying to grab a bit of attention, but this resignation seems too committed and too drastic, to me, for that to be the sole reason. Maybe, coming up to his 60th birthday, and a senior frontbencher, he feels he's reached the pinnacle of his career, and has nothing to lose by risking his job on an issue he clearly cares about a great deal. Or maybe something more sinister: a massive argument behind the scenes. It's all speculation right now, but I'm sure it'll all come out over the next few hours and days.

One slightly (no, very) anoracky point about the resignation. I'll keep it brief:

MPs technically can't resign, because of archaic rules that go back to the 17th Century. The way they get around this is by asking the Chancellor to appoint them to one of two official positions (in Davis's case, it'll be Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds) which no longer exist in anything but name, but which technically disqualify you from being an MP.

Here's the problem: Davis will be appointed to the Chiltern Hundreds. He'll be barred from sitting in Parliament, and thus deemed to have resigned. There'll be a by-election, and he'll stand in it. But as Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, he'll be barred from taking his seat if he's re-elected. Presumably the Chancellor will have to agree to appoint someone else to the role in the interim, to let Davis stand again - something he's under no obligation to do, as I understand it, and given that Davis is planning to clobber the government, Darling may be less than pleased to have to jump through hoops to help him do it. I don't think there's any precedent here. Should be interesting!


Rutland Ned said...

Why is it "unprecedented" for a MP to resign to fight a by-election?
Bruce Douglas-Mann in 1982 for example and the bloc of Ulster Unionists in '86 for example

Jonny Wright said...

Cheers for pointing those examples out - I wasn't aware of them. (Slightly before my time, not that that's an excuse!) Presumably they managed to find a way round the legal idiocy last time as well, so it should all be pretty easy.

Pioneer said...

As of 14/06/08 Tony Blair is still assigned to the Chiltern Hundreds is he not?

Jonny Wright said...

Looks like it, yes. HM Treasury hasn't yet put out a press release appointing Davis.

Check here, this is where it'll be announced.

Tudor Rickards said...

Re comments to your post.

There are some very unusual aspects to this, and with constitutional implications.