I have to doff my cap to him. This is a high risk strategy, but it could be a political masterstroke.
David Davis has consistently been a strong front bench performer for them as shadow home secretary and has landed some punches when it matters. In a single bound, he's used the pull of the legislation to slingshot his proposal to repeal the Act (if the Tories gain power and the bill passes into law) into official Conservative policy. Initially, spokespeople were rather mealy-mouthed and only promised continued opposition to the bill, but Dominic Grieve has now promised repeal in an interview on Five Live. Cameron has been thoroughly out-manoeuvred over this and there may be further repercussions, but he's made the right move politically by throwing the party behind him. He's paying the price for sidelining Davis over the past couple of years.
Now Davis will have the focus of a campaign on his attempt to win back his seat - he's not realistically at any significant risk of losing, because he had a 5,000 majority over the Lib Dems and a whopping 16,000 over Labour. Regardless of him saying that it is about civil liberties, people won't vote solely on that issue. As I've said elsewhere, politicians can't guarantee control of the criteria that voters use to decide where to put their cross. Some Tory voters will probably vote Labour because of the 42 day legislation and some Labour voters will vote the other way, but most voters will probably vote as they always have done. It will be interesting to see how the Liberal Democrat vote divides and also to see how many electors can be bothered to turn out - both potential banana skins for Davis, but neither truly likely to slip him up. I'm not sure that voters will really see the point of a by-election just to return the same candidate to office.
If it works, then DD will come back with a significant boost to his political standing in the party and ready to step in should Cameron fall under a bus or find himself otherwise indisposed with a knife in his back (not that I'm saying that this is a likely scenario, but you never know). If the campaign strikes a chord with the public - 70% of whom currently support the 42 day legislation - then it could take the lead on liberty away from the LibDems and keep the government on the back foot. I don't think that the Liberal Democrats sitting this by election out will damage their chances here in 2010 - the odds on them taking it were slim at best. Besides, there was little else they could do - Davis is fighting this on a single issue where the LDs have common ground. Standing against him would have been pointless in the light of the campaign he's going to fight. It would also draw fire away from Henley, where they might have better hopes of a decent performance.
But it might not work. He MIGHT lose - not that I'm holding out much hope - if the Labour party can drop a candidate with security credentials into the seat - or he might find that the public fail to understand why he's caused an unnecessary and costly by-election. This isn't about principle - he's done nothing to cause him to resign. His party has promised to repeal the Act if they win power at the next election - there's nothing more they can do as an opposition. This is really about political machinations, jostling for internal authority and a desire to give the Labour government a bloody nose.
Overnight, it looks like Labour aren't going to stand a candidate - a wise decision. I don't see the point in throwing money, resources and credibility into an election that we are, frankly, going to lose, one that is unnecessary and that has been called for the sole purpose of having a fight with Labour. If our gang doesn't show up, Davis will be reduced to the level of a drunk fighting with his own reflection.
Even so, it looks like he might face a candidate more terrifying than anyone that Labour could dream up - Kelvin Mackenzie, the former editor of the Sun from the Thatcherite days. The press this morning have given him a hard time and if this continues, the 'brave stand' could well end up as a suicide mission. It looks increasingly as though it will hurt the Tories more than the government.