Lesley Riddoch: The next generation is keeping an eye on the Big Brother state

YOU start to wonder if there was something in the water last week. David Davis made his brave (or bonkers) decision to resign and fight a civil liberties-focused by-election campaign. Tory-supporting ex-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie decided to go where Labour fears to tread and stand against him – and left-leaning Labour man Tony Benn came out in support of the former Tory home secretary. What's going on?

Benn may think Davis is a kindred spirit –-the veteran left-winger fought a by-election when his father's death made him a peer and caused him to be temporarily barred from his beloved Commons. And MacKenzie's decision to stand may have been made under the influence in the wee small hours of a News Corporation party.

But whatever the motives, the result is the same, a suspension of normal party political behaviour as the Sun knocks a prominent Tory, and Tony Benn supports the auld class enemy.

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Funny old thing, civil liberties. One minute it's the unpopular powerhouse behind human rights legislation forcing the Scottish government to pay millions to prisoners for slopping out, the next minute it's the sacred thing that defines Britishness and unites lefties and Little Britainers against the clunking fist of "totalitarian" Gordon Brown.

A shakier bedrock upon which to fight a by-election you could not easily find. And yet, that is the bedrock on which David Davis has chosen to fight. And despite the taunts and ridicule that have been chucked his way, the man could be on to something, especially with younger voters.

A 20-something audio engineer in Dundee described how – upon hearing the news – he and his friends jumped online to watch Davis's full five minute resignation speech on YouTube. "The guy's against ID cards, 42 days and the DNA database," the engineer said. "I don't care if he's a Tory. That's amazing."

Indeed, wily old Tony Benn may have caught the youthful zeitgeist in his rationale for supporting Davis's stance.

He believes the former Tory leadership contender is restoring trust in politics and helping to prove whether the informed public does indeed back Gordon Brown's 42 days detention measure as the Prime Minister (and the opinion polls) claim. Or whether, with debate, their opinion shifts. He thinks Davis is behaving as voters believe a politician should – especially young voters.

Generation Y, we are frequently told, are not like us. Keen to find value from work and meaning from life, they will not be driven like machines or worn out like limp rags just to earn a crust. With apologies to the late Ronnie Barker, life for the current raft of 20-somethings is everything to do with the quality and nothing to do with the width.

Despite being brought up in an adult-generated climate of fear and mutual suspicion, Generation Y is not keen on ID cards, CCTV or the prospect of being locked up for no apparent reason. Perhaps being teenagers during the Asbo years has something to do with it. Perhaps being born after the everyday use of such detention powers during the years of violence in Northern Ireland is a factor.

Whatever the reason, Generation Y's response to the extension of the "Big Brother" state is worth watching. This cohort was sweating over career choices at 14, in part-time jobs at 16 and saddled with 20k of student debt at 20. Irresponsible? Hardly.

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Growing up has happened fast for Generation Y and it's possible David Davis is just their sort of politician. An unlikely cross between Spiderman ("I'll fight to keep society safe") and Peter Finch's character in the film Network ("I'm mad as hell and I don't give a damn"), Davis has acted rather than speaking, risked rather than playing it safe and seized centre-stage instead of muttering from the sidelines.

The more that "old" political rivals and hacks attack his naivety, his vanity and his bad timing, the more 20-somethings may side with the "little" guy.

Don't get me wrong. As a "middle-aged" member of Generation X, Davis's defence of civil liberties rings a very different set of bells. This is a politician who apparently still believes in the death penalty. And, of course, young people are notoriously unlikely to vote – unless the Haltemprice and Howden by-election is conducted by phone-voting straight after the Big Brother final.

But the snarling contempt of the Westminster (and to a lesser degree the Holyrood) village is not a pleasant spectacle to behold. No more pleasant, in fact, than the faceless Euro village which tried to put the frighteners on the Irish public last week in a bid to whip up a Yes vote for the Lisbon Treaty.

Taking the public for granted can be a dangerous thing these days – and all recent voting shows that where the English public have had the chance to vote, they've used it to get rid of self-satisfied looking incumbents, even if that means taking a chance on hitherto unelectable candidates like Boris Johnson.

Denied the chance to vote for Gordon Brown as premier, denied the early General Election he then hinted at, denied a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, denied a chance to say something directly about fuel prices, mortgage slumps and soaring food prices, frustrated voters may well find that David Davis looks like the Caped Crusader himself.

Here in Scotland, barely a ripple has been caused by the Crewe by-election, the Cameron bounce and the Davis storm. But politicians would do well to consider new faultlines opening up. Last week, Scottish committees of the great and the good called for cannabis, drug "shooting galleries" and sexual activity between consenting teenagers to be legalised, and the Minister for Parliament called for a voting age of 16.

All worth careful examination in the new world of fairness and bold action favoured by Generation Y.