LONDON — Conservative MP Philip Davies hit the headlines this week after a failed attempt to block new legislation from being passed to help victims of domestic violence.
Davies spoke for well over an hour in the House of Commons in an attempt to “talk out” the legislation.
As he spoke, victims of domestic abuse sitting in the House of Commons gallery turned their backs on him. He quickly became a trending topic on social media as members of the public lined up to label him everything from a sexist to a domestic violence apologist.
Charges of sexism have long dogged Davies. He rejects them out of hand.
“Of course I don’t have a problem with women,” he tells Business Insider.
“If anyone can find just one example, and I’ve been here eleven years, of where I’ve said a woman should be treated less favourably than a man on anything, I’d love them to find it. Not only have I not, nor would I ever. So how can I be misogynist when I am saying that people should be treated equally?”
‘Justice for Men and Boys’
This week has not been the first time that Davies has been accused of sexism, however.
Earlier this year Davies spoke at the conference of the Justice for Men and Boys conference. The J4MBP are an anti-feminist party for ‘men’s rights’ activists. The party has issued awards for “lying feminist of the month”, “toxic feminist of the month” and “whiny feminist of the month”. Articles featured on their website include ’10 reasons false rape allegations are common’ and ’13 reasons women lie about being raped’. The party are fans of Davies and regularly feature his speeches and interviews on their site.
Philip Davies spoke at the “Justice for Men and Boys Party” conference this year. Here’s the first three posts featured on their website. pic.twitter.com/YDRrnDWiTM
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) November 17, 2016
His appearance at J4MB conference led to calls by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for him to be thrown out of the Conservative party for his “utter contempt for women.”
Davies appears angered at Corbyn’s comments.
“Jeremy Corbyn is an idiot,” he says.
“And everybody knows he’s an idiot apart from the lunatics who keep on voting for him to be leader of the Labour party. But why does he associate with a party that is seen as anti-women?
“Of course I don’t have a problem with women.”
“I haven’t got an association with them. I spoke at a conference. They invited me to speak about the justice gender gap which I know a lot about and want others to know about, so I accepted. I speak at the BBC but you wouldn’t accuse me of having an association with the BBC.”
But speaking at the BBC isn’t quite the same as speaking at the conference of an anti-feminist party. Surely he can see the difference?
“Am I a member of that political party? No. So why am I associated with them? If the Labour party invited me to speak at their conference I would be absolutely delighted to.”
Philip Davies finally brings his speech to an end. Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire: “Well that is 78 minutes I am never going to get back.”
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) December 16, 2016
The Women and Equalities Committee
The ongoing sexism row came to a head this week when he put himself forward to be a new member of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee. His appointment has been labelled a “victory for misogyny” after Davies previously called the very existence of the committee “one of the most embarrassing things to happen” to Parliament. So why has he decided to join something he doesn’t even think should exist?
“It’s there whether I like it or not. It’s not going to go away. So just like UKIP joined the European Parliament, not because they agree with it, but because it’s there and while it’s there you have got to try and do the best with it.”
But Ukip joined the European parliament to undermine it from within. Is that why he’s joined the equalities committee?
“I’ve not made any secret that I would rather it wasn’t called the women and equalities committee. I would rather it was called the equalities committee,” he says.
He says that he plans to use his membership on the committee to focus on issues that others have ignored.
“It’s not about just campaigning on one particular group of people. It’s about recognising where different people face disadvantage. So one thing I’m keen to look at is Sharia councils and women are discriminated against in Sharia councils and I would like to look at that.”
This question of being “gender neutral” is one he returns to again and again in our discussion. Davies insists that his opposition to the domestic violence bill last week was based purely on the fact that it was attempting to ratify a convention titled the “convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”.
Had it not included the word “women” in the title he would not have opposed it, he claims.
However, this explanation doesn’t entirely ring true. In fact he later admits that he was against the whole premise of the bill.
“I’m not entirely sure it’s going to help domestic violence victims anyway,” he says.
“The best way to help domestic violence victims is to properly punish the perpetrators and send them to prison and not let them out early and all those sort of things which do genuinely help domestic violence victims.
“I’m not yet aware of anybody who is just about to beat up their partner, who is going to stop mid-flow and say ‘actually I’m not going to do this because we’ve just ratified the Istanbul convention’. I mean it’s a Westminster bubble thing. It’s gesture politics.
“So I don’t actually accept that it’s going to benefit anybody apart from make a few people in here feel good about themselves.”
Even if that were true, and it is a claim which proponents of the bill reject, surely passing a bill against domestic violence wouldn’t actually do any harm?
“Yes it would,” he insists. “Because we’re told that it’s about sending a message.
“Well the message it would send is that we don’t care about violence against men. If you’re a father and you’ve got a daughter and a son and both come back beaten up, are you really saying to me that you would tell your son ‘well actually the fact that you have been beaten up is not as serious as your sister being beaten up’?
King of the filibuster
He also defends his decision to filibuster the bill. He has faced heavy criticism in the past for using this practice to act as a one-man veto on bills brought forward by other backbenchers.
Davies has previously ‘talked out’ a whole string of private members bills, from an attempt to give carers free hospital parking, to a bill designed to protect tenants from being unfairly evicted.
Davies claims he is only doing his job.”That’s the method we have in the rules.
“I don’t set the rules but if you believe that a piece of legislation is bad and you want to block it then you’ve got to use the method that the rules allow to block it.”
He claims that his critics have a double standard on the issue.
“When a Labour MP, Andrew Dismore, spent three and a quarter hours talking out a bill giving homeowners more protection when they were tackling burglars, I didn’t have all the Labour party supporters complaining about that.
“When some heroic MPs talked out a bill that would have exempted MPs from the freedom of information act which would have kept all of our expenses secret, were they castigated for doing that? They were heroes. I thought they were heroes.”
Davies claims his practice of filibustering bills is purely based on standing up for his constituents, but not everybody is convinced. Tory MPs claim that he visits the whips office and asks then which backbench bills the government would like him to talk out. It’s a claim which doesn’t tally with his image as a backbench rebel.
In the past, he has been judged the most rebellious of all Tory MPs. However, he tells me that he now feels much closer to the current government and prime minister.
“I don’t seek to vote against my party at all and I’ve done a lot less of it since we came out of the coalition, where in effect I wasn’t voting against a Conservative government I was voting against a coalition government.”
He says he’s been impressed with May so far.
“I’m sure there are elements within the government who are working to try and con the public to think they have got Brexit when they haven’t.”
“I didn’t vote for her to be leader of the party, I voted for Andrea Leadsom, but she’s made a really good start as prime minister. A terrific start.”
However, he remains suspicious that May’s government will end up “betraying” the Brexit vote.
“I’ve been heartened by everything Theresa May has said and done so far but I’m sure there are elements within the government who are working to try and con the public to think they have got Brexit when they haven’t.”
He put this point to May, when she delivered her statement this week on the EU summit. Asked by Davies whether the UK would continue to pay into the EU after leaving, the prime minister replied that the government would decide where it spent its money after Brexit.
“It was a very clever answer,” he says.
“She is very good. It sounded good but if you break it down it didn’t really give a firm commitment on anything.”
May’s cautious approach to politics has been a defining trait of her premiership so far. From the evidence of the past week, it is not an approach that Davies himself is likely to ever sign up to.
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