LAST week these two men - Gordon Brown and David Davis - clashed on principle over the length of time that suspected terrorists could be held in prison without having any charge made against them. Mr Brown believed that the existing limit of 28 days was too short and proposed to extend it to 42 days; his only conceivable reason for doing this against formidable opposition, some of it in his own party, was his conviction that British citizens needed better protection against terrorists than the 28-day period provided. In what he believed to be the public interest and with single-minded determination he pushed the necessary legislation through the House of Commons last week. That is what prime ministers are for.

Mr Davis, as Shadow Home Secretary, attacked Mr Brown for presiding over Britain's rapid decline into a surveillance society where the centuries-old principles of the Magna Carta no longer applied. When Mr Brown won the vote in the Commons Mr Davis announced that he was resigning as an MP in order to fight a by-election on the principles he believed were being betrayed by the prime minister.

Which man should we admire most? The one who takes a tough and unpopular decision and remains to fight for it in coming months. Or the one who deserts his post to hold a publicity-attracting but essentially meaningless by-election which will embarrass his party without affecting the issues at stake in any substantial way?


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