Philip Davies has something he wants to tell you: He’s a feminist.
Wait. What? We’re talking about the same Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, the one who filibustered for 78 minutes last Friday in a bid to derail a bill to help female victims of domestic violence? The Philip Davies who campaigned for Parliament to formally recognise International Men’s Day? The chap who spoke at a conference organised by the Justice 4 Boys and Men party and branded feminists “zealots who want women to have their cake and eat it”? That Philip Davies?
Yes. Well, sort of. “It depends what people describe as being a feminist,” he qualifies in his constituency office in Shipley, a market town near Bradford, where he’s slotted me in for a chat between appointments on his last day of business before Christmas. “If someone says am I a feminist because I believe in true equality between the genders, then yes, absolutely, I would describe myself as a feminist. That’s what I believe in, that gender is irrelevant, that we should treat everybody the same. But I’m beginning to realise, especially after the last few weeks, that for many people feminism isn’t about equality between the genders. For some people it’s just about constantly improving the lot for women, even if that’s at the expense of men.”
So, not really a feminist, then. In fact, many people would go as far as to put Philip Davies, 44, at the other end of the spectrum. Isn’t it the case, I ask him, that he actually hates women?
“That's ludicrous,” he says. “I am genuinely perplexed and nonplussed by that when people say it. If anyone can point to anything that I’ve ever said, and I’ve been an MP for 11 years, so I’ve said plenty, where I’ve said that a woman should be treated less favourably than a man I’d love to hear it because I would never say anything like that.”
Davies is of the firm belief that equality simply means being “gender-blind”. Anything else is positive discrimination, which he says he hates. He considers himself a champion of equal rights for men and women, and feels by saying so he regularly falls victim to what he calls “playing the man rather than the ball” – in other words, people aren’t going in for a tackle to wrest the football from him, but rather to attack him personally.
“If you ever try to take down any politically correct shibboleths the Left will go for you. Ruthlessly. Viciously,” he says. “They do it partly to discredit you, so no-one listens to what you say, and to stop you doing it again, but also it means that no-one else will speak up because they’ve seen what happens when the Left goes for you.”
The Left went for Davies – who has in the past opposed LGBT rights, and voted against the equal marriage bill – in a big way when last week he was appointed to the parliamentary women and equalities committee. One day later he announced he wanted “women” removed from the title o the board. Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, called it a “victory for misogyny.” He put himself forward for a place on it. Why?
This is the point Davies returns to repeatedly. He is for equality. An absolute level playing field for men and women. So why talk for 78 minutes during the debate to ratify the Istanbul Treaty, a cross-Europe plan to crack down on violence against women
“I speak out a lot on these issues so I thought rather than carping from the sidelines the best thing to do is get stuck in and be part of the inquires,” he says. I tell him that on change.org there’s a petition to have him removed from the committee that’s topped 7,300 signatures. He raises his hands in the air… the only move of resignation he’s planning to make. “Clearly, that just means there are 7,300 very intolerant people in the country. Why should I resign? Have I committed some heinous crime? No. I’ve expressed an opinion with which they disagree.”
Would Davies consider himself a Men’s Rights Activist? “No. I keep being accused of being one,” he says. “I think it’s meant to be an insult. But I’m not asking for men to be given more rights than women. I campaign for equality.”
This is the point Davies returns to repeatedly. He is for equality. An absolute level playing field for men and women. So why talk for 78 minutes during the debate to ratify the Istanbul Treaty, a cross-Europe plan to crack down on violence against women. Isn’t that just treating women with contempt with no discernible benefit to men?
“Is that what it was, 78 minutes?” he says. “I wasn’t counting. Someone obviously was. I wasn’t being sneaky. I made it clear that I do not agree with the bill. Of course I was trying to derail it. I couldn’t possibly support a bill that only deals with violence against women because that is completely sexist. We should be equally appalled at violence against anybody.”
But that’s just ridiculous. The majority of violence, especially domestic violence, is aimed at women, isn’t it?
“That’s not true. The biggest number of victims of violent crime are men. Twice as many as women.”
Talking to Davies is a little like I imagine trying to drag a bull out of a field when it doesn’t want to go. You can’t deny that the bull doesn’t want to follow you, in the same way that Davies’ repeated assertion that everyone should be equal is a difficult one to argue back at. It’s just that it’s the wrong answer to the questions and accusations being put to him. Why does he think that improving the lot of women is necessarily going to be detrimental to men, for example in the pay-gap?
“There are areas where women are disadvantaged,” he concedes. “I’m all for trying to remove that disadvantage. I can’t imagine how anybody can justify paying someone different based on their gender.”
Still, I don’t believe for a minute that Philip Davies seriously considers himself a feminist. But given the season, I wonder what might happen if he’s visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. Might he undergo a Scrooge-like transformation?
“I’m too old to change,” he says. “I am what I am. I speak my mind and I say what I think and if people don’t like that, well, I’m sorry, I don’t really see the point of being in Parliament if you can’t speak up for what you believe in.”
Which would be..? “Equality,” he says. “For everybody, regardless of gender.”
And that’s roughly where we came in.