After a brush with electoral mortality last summer, Conservative MP Philip Davies is showing no sign of holding back with his outspoken views. Rob Parsons reports.
As he stood waiting to hear whether he’d been re-elected to the Shipley seat that he’d held since 2005, Philip Davies felt a genuine sense of confusion.
The Conservative arrived at the General Election count in the early hours of June 9 last year to be told the signs were good, with an expected majority of 6,000 based on an estimate of ballot papers by his team.
But then something odd happened. A message posted on Twitter by a well-known national journalist stated unambiguously: “Confirmed: Philip Davies has lost to Labour in Shipley”. The rest of the press pack quickly picked up on the story and soon the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 were reporting his ‘defeat’.
“It was something to read, particularly as they hadn’t started counting [the votes] at this point,” Mr Davies tells The Yorkshire Post. “It was quite bizarre, I was thinking ‘where has this come from?’.
“It was quite a strange feeling because it didn’t make any sense. But then you also have a part of you that thinks, ‘I know I am at the count, but these people must know something I don’t know, and what do they know that I don’t know’?
“All the Labour party were cock-a-hoop at the count, thinking they’d won, even though they were at the count as well.”
Right up until around 4am, when the returning officer duly announced that he had beaten his Labour rival Steve Clapcote with a reduced majority of 4,681, he was starting to doubt the evidence of his own eyes.
Reflecting on it ten months later at his constituency office, Mr Davies suggests the rumours may have been a result of ‘Chinese whispers’, with Labour briefing journalists based on a mix-up between the Shipley vote and the Keighley count happening at the same venue.
And before the truth emerged, Twitter was awash with opponents of his outspoken views on feminism celebrating his apparent loss. Among them was David Lammy, a Labour MP in London who wrote: “Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke! Women and (everyone who isn’t a sexist bigot) rejoice.”
I did read all the comments on Twitter, it was like reading your own obituary, and it wasn’t very pleasant.Philip Davies
“I did read all the comments on Twitter, it was like reading your own obituary, and it wasn’t very pleasant”, says Mr Davies. “There weren’t many people shedding tears at my demise.”
The saga has likely contributed to his dislike of social media, not helped by a recent incident where a comedian who had been interviewing him for a BBC TV show took to Twitter after the meeting at his London office to accused him of “physically threatening” her.
After her account was picked up by the national press, Mr Davies claimed the interview was a “stitch-up” and revealed he had complained to BBC Director-General Lord Hall, prompting a response that the interviewer’s commission had been suspended.
The MP says the way he is discussed on social media as “ridiculous”, describing it as a combination of “people who just smear you, knowing what they are saying is untrue”, and “people just not knowing what they’re talking about and just believe what some moron has put”.
“To a certain extent I do feel misunderstood because people are putting up stuff that is just not true”, he says. “I literally don’t care what people don’t think, and I certainly don’t care what these morons on Twitter think.”
As an example he cites a claim circulated on Twitter that he’d used the tactic of “filibustering”, or speaking for a long time in the Commons to stop a vote on new legislation, on a Bill to ban wild animals in circuses.
Mr Davies’ long-established record of filibustering Bills he doesn’t like meant this rumour had a kernel of truth, but he insists: “I have never ever expressed an opinion on wild animals in circuses, I have never given a speech about it, and I have certainly never given a long speech about it. People just make stuff up.”
A newspaper report from 2014 suggests he was one of three Tory back-benchers who repeatedly blocked the law. When this is put to him, he says: “I once objected to it being passed without any debate at all. Surely nobody thinks laws should be passed without any debate.”
Despite the ire he provokes with his vocal criticisms of feminism, he seems disinclined to hold back on the subject.
A controversial appointment in 2016 to the Parliamentary committee that scrutinises issues relating to women’s rights and equality, he says: “I don’t want to sound conceited, but I genuinely think it is doing better now I am on the committee than it was doing before, simply because they make more of an effort to get a greater spectrum of witnesses before the committee, so people with different opinions.
“I used to complain all the time that all our witnesses have the same opinion, what is the point of that?”
He adds: “What I don’t like is when it gets bogged down in a load of politically correct clap-trap, that is why I went on the committee. It’s no good me complaining about these committees coming out with all this PC clap-trap if I’m not prepared to get stuck in myself.”
Labelling Parliament as “well out of touch with public opinion on virtually everything”, he says what he describes as political correctness among the nation’s elected representatives “is the worst it’s ever been in my time there”.
“Just listen to the debates in Parliament and the views expressed, Parliament is massively over-represented by hard-line feminists”, he says.
“In a survey by Netmums asking how many people identified themselves as a feminist, it was about one in seven members of the public. We are way above that in Parliament and they are militant feminists in Parliament, they don’t believe in equality.”
Arguing that women are treated better by criminal courts than men, meaning they are less likely to go to prison, and that Formula One ‘grid girls’ should not be banned as they are happy doing the job, he admits he is “swimming against the vocal tide” in Parliament.
But he says: “You would be amazed by how many MPs in all parties come up to me afterwards and say ‘you are absolutely right’. Why don’t they say anything, it’s because they look at all the custard pies that are thrown at me and think I don’t fancy that.”
Warning of ‘repercussions’ on Brexit
An ardent Brexiteer, Mr Davies warns there will be “serious repercussions” from the public, not least in Yorkshire, if the UK doesn’t leave the European Union “properly” after the transition period at the end of 2020.
“People would say, not without reason, what’s the point of voting”, he said. “It would completely undermine democracy in this country if we don’t deliver fully on what we voted for.”
He said the transition agreement, which kicks in when the UK officially leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, was “pragmatic and understandable”, giving business some certainty and allowing the country to put vital computer systems in place.
“But it will, by the end of the implementation period, be four-and-a-half years since we voted to leave, and by that point some people’s patience will be wearing a bit thin.”
He added: “If someone had said to me in 2005, when I first got into Parliament and started campaigning to leave the EU, by 2020 we would be out, I would have snapped their hands off.”