Philip Davies has an extraordinary gift for annoying what he calls “the PC brigade”. In recent days, the Conservative MP for Shipley has attracted adverse comment for trying to talk out a Bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women.
In this interview, Davies reiterates his stubborn commitment to “gender equality”, dismisses the convention as “gesture politics”, and challenges his critics to produce one scrap of evidence that he is a “woman-hater”.
He also calls for longer sentences for violent crime and says “the place where bullying happens most is in the House of Commons”, with the result that very few Conservative MPs are prepared to say what they actually think. Instead, most of them “always want to be kowtowing to this Labour agenda” and are “ashamed of being Conservative”.
He adds that the media “are far more powerful in this than they ever imagine”, and suggests that if journalists want MPs who are courageous enough to speak out, they should praise them for doing so instead of condemning them.
Shortly before this conversation, Davies was interviewed by Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour, and he began by remarking that it had been a waste of time.
ConHome: “Why was it a waste of time? There was no meeting of minds?”
Davies: “Well, I don’t mind not having a meeting of minds. There wasn’t even any interest in what my mind was really.
“I did actually ask Jane Garvey at one point whether she would have preferred to interview herself. It seemed she was asking the questions and then wanted to give the answers herself as well. I was superfluous to requirements, I think.”
ConHome: “I suppose millions of people will have listened to it. Do you think some of them may have picked up that you’re not a monster in human form?”
Davies: “People pick up what they want to pick up.”
ConHome: “So what they already thought?”
Davies: “I suspect largely people think what they want to think, on the whole.”
ConHome: “You’re a tough character, you’re in public life, but do you get hurt by this sometimes? I said to someone, ‘I’m going to go and interview Philip Davies,’ and she said, ‘Oh you mean the woman-hater’. Does that hurt you? I see you smile.”
Davies: “No it doesn’t hurt me, because it’s a complete and utter nonsense. I always say to people, if people can point to one thing that I’ve ever said where I’ve asked for a woman to be treated less favourably than a man, I would love them to produce the quotation.
“Because not only have I never, I never would, because I don’t believe that. All I’ve ever asked for is for men and women to be treated exactly the same.
“And so how on earth that constitutes being a woman-hater is very difficult for me to understand. I’m absolutely nonplussed by it, if I’m perfectly honest.”
ConHome: “These liberals, do you think that they’ve leapt from a very old-fashioned idea of chivalry? Traditionally, it would be considered far, far worse to hit a woman than to hit a man.
“So there wasn’t originally an equality about it. It was worse to hit a woman, and I would still feel more ashamed if I hit a woman.”
Davies: “Yes I understand that. But if you believe in gender equality…”
ConHome: “Which you do.”
Davies: “Which I do…”
ConHome: “That’s rather modern of you, isn’t it?”
Davies: “”Well it probably is. That’s probably my crime. Maybe I’m ahead of my time. It’s probably my biggest fault. I’ve never thought of it like that before.
“My point is that if you believe in gender equality, you believe in gender equality. You can’t have a pick ‘n’ mix of gender equality.
“You can’t say we’ll have all of these bits which we think are to our advantage, but we still want special protections here, there and wherever. You either believe in it or you don’t believe in it, is my opinion.”
ConHome: “You pointed out that the last Labour government put through the mandatory release of people from prison half-way through their sentences. I haven’t studied the collected speeches of Philip Davies…”
Davies: “Nor will anybody else for that matter.”
ConHome: “…but I did read the Hansard of your recent seventy-something minute performance, and the implication of what you say is that we need more prisons.”
Davies: “Yes, this is the great irony. All of these people who are beating their chests about domestic violence are exactly the same people who don’t want anybody convicted of violent offences to go to prison, or as few as possible, or to serve as little of their sentences as possible.
“I’m a hardliner. I think these people should be in prison for a long time. I think actually that is a much more effective way of tackling domestic violence than signing up to the Istanbul Convention.
“I can’t imagine any person who’s about to embark on some domestic violence stops themselves mid-punch and says, ‘No, I don’t think I’ll do that because I actually believe we’re about to ratify the Istanbul Convention.’ It’s just a complete piece of gesture politics.”
ConHome: “Who supports you? I saw that Erin Pizzey does.”
Davies: “Yes she very much does support me. I met her.”
ConHome: “Is there anyone else? Perhaps the wider public?”
Davies: “I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. I don’t seek popular support.”
ConHome: “Although you did make the point that the House of Commons is in some respects very out of tune with public opinion, and the EU referendum was a demonstration of that.”
Davies: “Yes, it absolutely is. The Labour Party is completely out of touch with working-class people. I don’t think most Labour MPs today would recognise a member of the working classes if they tripped over one.
“I’m astonished that those people who claim to be about gender equality can hurl so much abuse at me for arguing for gender equality.
“I think what you’ll find is there are lots of people who agree with me but they wouldn’t ever dare say they agree with me.”
ConHome: “So what does this say about your colleagues?”
Davies: “It probably says that they’re far more sensible than I am.”
ConHome: “It might mean they’re much more cowardly.”
Davies: “Well they probably want a quieter life. And they probably want to get promoted.”
ConHome. “Yes. And you said in your maiden speech you didn’t ever want ministerial office.”
Davies: “It’s the one thing that me and Theresa May will always agree on, is that I should never be promoted.”
ConHome: “I’m sure you could find a few other things as well.”
Davies: “I sure we could find other things as well, but we’ll always agree on that. To be honest, the place where bullying happens most, that I’ve ever experienced, is in the House of Commons.
“If you articulate an opinion that doesn’t meet with the politically correct consensus, you are remorselessly bullied. You really are. It’s a terrible place for bullying, it really is.”
ConHome: “So who does the bullying?”
Davies: “The Labour Party have won, really. All of the political orthodoxy is all of the politically correct, left-wing kind of stuff, really.
“And so many Conservatives are ashamed of what they believe in. They’re ashamed of being Conservatives. They always want to be kowtowing to this Labour agenda.
“They’re terrible bullies. I hate bullies, and I’m not prepared to be bullied. The more people tell me ‘You’re not allowed to say these things’, which is what they’re really saying, then I’m afraid I’m more likely to say them.
“The PC brigade to be honest have been doing this for years. They’re very good at it. What they do is if you say something that hits on one of their shibboleths, they will go after you, and they will hurl abuse and play the man rather than the ball.
“They go for you as a person. They don’t engage in the argument. They do it for two reasons. One is to discredit you. Or to make you think ‘I’m not going to do that again’.
“But also to make everyone else think, ‘Blimey, I’m not going to do that either.’ So they do it deliberately to close down the debate, so that these things are never discussed again.
“It used to happen with the EU. In 2005 I was the only MP who would stand up and say we should leave the EU.”
ConHome: “That’s astonishing, actually, that you were the only one. There was lots of Euroscepticism around.”
Davies: “They’d say ‘We need to rebalance our relationship with the EU’ or ‘We need to bring powers back’, but they wouldn’t actually say the words, ‘We need to leave the European Union.’
“And when I set up the Better Off Out group in Parliament in 2006, the same things were thrown at me: ‘ridiculous’ and ‘extremist’ and all the rest of it. So you’ve just got to press on and hope that one day your views become more mainstream.”
ConHome: “Which on the EU has happened in ten years. Were you surprised?”
Davies: “I was astonished it happened so quickly. I always thought we’d leave one day, but I didn’t know what would precipitate it. Not down to me, by the way.”
ConHome: “What were your motives for coming in to Parliament? Who are your heroes, either dead or alive?”
Davies: “My three political heroes are Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit and Eric Forth. Eric Forth was my mentor when I first came into Parliament. I asked him if he would be my mentor, to which he readily agreed.
“Unfortunately, he died only a year after I entered Parliament. I still miss him today. I miss him massively. He was my political hero. He knew the parliamentary procedures inside out.”
ConHome: “So what did he teach you in particular?”
Davies: “Well he taught me that most Private Members’ Bills were ‘regulatory bollocks’. All these people come with an on the surface worthy sentiment, but you can’t pass legislation based on a worthy sentiment.
“You’re actually passing laws that affect people’s lives. The Bill often bore no resemblance to the title. You should be prepared to challenge consensus. Where it exists it’s generally a bad thing.”
ConHome: “So you must feel the Conservative Party isn’t recruiting quite enough people of the Forth outlook. Or Parliament. They don’t have to be Conservatives, but they have to be willing to stand up to the consensus.”
Davies: “Yes, I don’t have the highest regard for lots of MPs. There are some people in this House who I would trust with my life. But they’re a minority.
“Most people lack courage. They lack the courage to stand up and say what they really think. Look at your local paper. An MP sends in a press release to say something nobody could possibly disagree with.
“That’s what we’re becoming in this place – 650 people who largely want to say something that nobody could take any offence by. When a politician goes on Question Time, what’s deemed a success is when nobody can remember anything they’ve said during the whole programme.
“It means you won’t get any abuse on Twitter and you won’t get any abuse on Facebook or any online petitions against you. I think people are fed up with these politicians who speak and they’ve never actually said anything.”
ConHome: “Blair got round this by attacking the Labour Party, which convinced middle England that Blair must be all right.”
Davies: “And Cameron did the same with the Conservative Party.”
ConHome: “There is a bit of a paradox here. You’re defending parliamentary sovereignty, but you say that a lot of MPs have no courage. Perhaps they’ll have more courage when they have more responsibility, do you think?”
ConHome: “Oh! So what can be done to remoralise MPs?”
Davies: “There’s only one group of people that can change the culture really, and that’s the media.”
Davies: “The media are far more powerful in this than they ever imagine, I think. If somebody says something moderately controversial, does the media say, ‘Thank goodness, we’ve got somebody here who’s said something moderately controversial’? They basically wipe the floor with them.”
ConHome: “Who stands up for you?”
Davies: “I’m not aware of anyone who stands up for me.”
ConHome: “Not even the Daily Mail?”
Davies: “Very rarely the Daily Mail. I don’t think anybody stands up for me. I’m not asking them to. This is not a plea. I’m saying that if the media want people to speak their mind more, they should at least celebrate people when they do.”
ConHome: “I think John Stuart Mill foresaw this was going to be a problem in the democratic age – that you’d just be declared mad if you had certain opinions. You wouldn’t be locked up, but you’d be ruled out of having any serious role.”
Davies: “If you don’t fit the PC brigade’s view of the world, they’re very vindictive, very nasty. They do it deliberately. It’s very effective, I’ll give them that.”
ConHome: “Well, they haven’t actually silenced you. And this must have been part of Hillary Clinton’s problem, that she represented political correctness in America.”
Davies: “Can anybody actually remember anything Hillary Clinton said about anything? She’d go out onto the stump, she’d make a speech which was basically designed to say nothing, and would have certain key words in it to try to appeal to certain identity groups.
“That is what I hate more than anything about politics. The Left in politics are the most intolerant people, of anybody who holds a different opinion to them. They think you should be sacked, resigned, deselected, just because you hold a different opinion to them.
“Not because you’ve been found guilty of some heinous crime. Literally because you’ve said something with which they disagree.”