Friday, 13 June 2008

How not to have a national debate

Let's assume, for the moment, that David Davis is completely sincere: his only interest is in provoking a national debate, because the 68% of people who disagree with him need to have their eyes opened to the truth. Does he have a point?

The national (as opposed to parliamentary) debate on 42 days hasn't exactly showcased our collective grasp of complex issues. Media cheerleaders on either side haven't had to present much more than slogans: "Terrorists will eat your baby!" vs "Our liberties are sacred!" The specific proposals have barely got a mention - the role judges will play, Parliament's position as final arbiter, the evidence threshold required. This may be a reflection merely of my own woeful ignorance, but I don't recall seeing these thrashed out on Newsnight.

Instead, the focus has been on the tangential: What will this mean for Brown? Is he merely seeking to push the Tories onto weak ground for the general election? Do Labour MPs feel safe enough to rebel? Could this have been the end of the Brown government? Some of this is quite interesting in itself - insofar as it draws attention to the compromises inherent in a parliamentary system - but it's hardly the main issue. We haven't had a focus on the question of whether 42 days, as proposed by the government, is right or wrong.

So I can see that Davis feels cheated of his debate. I even agree that it's important to have one. But when he's running against Kelvin Mackenzie, who's quite happy to play to the peanut gallery ("The Sun has always been very up for 42 days and perhaps even 420 days.") I think he's going to be a little disappointed.

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