WILLERBY (Reuters) - Voters in a small Yorkshire constituency went to the polls on Thursday, urged by Conservative politician David Davis to take a stand against what he calls the steady erosion of Britons’ fundamental freedoms.
Davis wants residents of Haltemprice and Howden to use the vote to send a message to the government that its plan to be able to detain terrorism suspects without charge for up to 42 days is an affront to civil liberties.
Polling began at 7 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m, with political analysts expecting Davis to emerge a comfortable winner.
But many observers and voters believe the seriousness of his message has been diluted by having to stand against one of the biggest and most eccentric collections of candidates ever assembled at a by-election.
They include “Mad Cow-Girl” of the Monster Raving Loony Party, Lord Biro of the Church of Militant Elvis Party and former Miss Great Britain, Gemma Dawn Garrett, who wants more beautiful women to be elected to parliament.
Also there is former footballer and TV presenter David Icke who believes a reptilian bloodline rules the world.
“I think really it’s just seen as a bit of a circus and no one is taking it very seriously,” said Tim Strickland, 59, an electrical goods salesman.
Davis, 59, is the only runner from the three main parties after Labour and the Liberal Democrats declined to put up a candidate. Labour has called the by-election an expensive farce.
Davis, former Conservative home affairs spokesman, stood down last month in protest at the 42-day detention plan, which scraped through the House of Commons by just nine votes.
He campaigned for re-election in his constituency solely on a platform of defence of civil liberties, including opposition to the extended use of CCTV cameras, a DNA database and plans for national identity cards that he argues are intrusive and strip Britons’ of their civil rights.
Another local who declined to give his name said Davis’s campaign was an ego-trip.
“It’s a complete and utter waste of time,” he said. “Just because the vote went against what he believes in. What’s he going to do next time (that happens)?”
Davis won the seat with a majority of 5,116 in 2005.
In a poll of 1,000 people by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust on Wednesday, a third supported a maximum period of six weeks detention. A YouGov poll last month showed 69 percent in favour of 42-day detention in exceptional circumstances.
But Davis believes the public has not been given a chance to understand the issues or express their view.
Senior members of the House of Lords, which will have to approve the law change, have spoken out against the extended limit, including the former head of the domestic intelligence service, who said it would do little to beat terrorism.
Brown argues CCTV cameras and DNA databases help cut crime and that a possible 42-day pre-charge detention is needed to protect Britons against thousands of terrorist suspects.
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Editing by Steve Addison
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