updated 6/12/2008 6:26:25 PM ET 2008-06-12T22:26:25

A senior British lawmaker quit Parliament on Thursday in a maverick political move — saying he plans to force and win a special election by exposing what he called the government's steady erosion of the country's civil liberties.

David Davis, a former leadership contender with the opposition Conservative Party, made his surprising decision to trigger the election after Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government narrowly won a vote on toughening terrorism laws.

The lawmaker, his party's spokesman on law and order issues, said his campaign for re-election will focus exclusively on what he termed the government's "slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms."

An election in his northern England district of Howden and Haltemprice is likely to take place before the end of July.

Erosion of freedoms
Davis said he was taking a stand to protest planned laws that will allow police to hold suspected terrorists for up to six weeks without filing charges against them, and to denounce an array of intrusions on personal freedoms.

"We will have shortly the most intrusive identity card system in the world. A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it," Davis said, speaking on the steps of the Houses of Parliament.

He said the government's attempts to increase from 28 to 42 days the amount of time police have to hold terrorists without charge is the "most salient example of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedom."

Davis led opposition on Wednesday to Brown's proposed new terrorism laws, which narrowly passed in the House of Commons with a nine-vote majority — after the government secured the support of nine minor party legislators from Northern Ireland.

But it was unclear what Davis' re-election would prove, since the opposition Liberal Democrats, who came in second in Davis' district in 2005, have said they will not nominate a candidate. The Labour candidate in his district won just 13 percent of the vote.

Ordinary voters, too, may not share Davis' strong feelings.

Allegations of political games
Earlier this month, an ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll said that 65 percent of respondents supported Brown's proposal to allow the detention of terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without being charged.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett urged his Labour party not to field a candidate against Davis in the election, saying the government should refuse to indulge in political games.

It would leave Davis to compete against minor parties and novelty candidates to win back his seat.

"This is childish and immature, and it is not worthy of a major political party to engage in such theater," Blunkett said. "People need a steady hand and a mature brain — in contrast to this self-aggrandizing publicity-seeking stunt."

But human rights groups claim Brown and his predecessor, Tony Blair, have eroded a long list of freedoms, often in the name of national security — imposing limits on protests near Parliament and government sites, handing police powers to civilian support staff and imposing virtual house arrests on some terrorism suspects.

Lawmakers say the Labour government also has presided over a major expansion of closed-circuit TV surveillance and the country's DNA database.

From later this year, Brown will introduce identity cards to Britain for the first time since World War II.

Davis has said a database being created to store biographical, biometric and personal records held on the cards will be a honeypot for criminals, hackers and terrorists.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas recently urged the government to hold less, rather than more, personal data on individuals.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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