Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, spoke to our Editor in Chief, Cameron Broome, about life in politics. Discussion points include how he came about becoming an MP; filibustering; his admiration for Alex Salmond; the blurred line between ‘politicians’ and ‘journalists’; his hobbies and interests (including a surprise admission to liking the Avicci song Hey Brother, as well his love of chicken jalfrezi and Midsummer Murders); why young people should care about politics and whether the voting age should be lowered.
“I’m divorced and there’s no doubt in my mind that the reason I’m divorced is because I’m an MP…. it is truly very difficult. I don’t expect any sympathy for that; we’ve all made that choice ourselves but yeah, it’s virtually impossible to be a very effective MP and also to have a very fulfilling family life; I think the two things are probably incompatible.”
Background: life in politics
Could you start off by telling us a little bit about your background? Did you go to University? What sort of jobs did you have before you become an MP, and what inspired you to get involved in politics?
Well I was born and brought up in Doncaster, and my Dad was a teacher and my Mum owned her own betting shop in Doncaster. So my Dad was involved in the Conservative Party in Doncaster; there aren’t many Conservatives in Doncaster. So as soon as I was old enough to deliver leaflets and knock on doors, my Dad had me out delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. And I used to love elections, we never used to win any obviously, but I used to love election time. And so, basically, in our household, it was compulsory to be interested in two things: politics and horse racing; they were absolutely compulsory.
So that’s how I developed my interest in politics really; I was brought up to be a Conservative and the thing that really mainly got me interested in politics was the Falklands War. I was 10 years old and I was fascinated by the Falklands War. I used to come home from school and put the news on and see what was happening, and sort of built up an admiration for Mrs Thatcher who was the Prime Minister at the time, so that was my early interest in politics.
I went to University; I went to Huddersfield University to do History and Politics. I used to come home at weekends to work in my Mum’s betting shop, every weekend. So that was my first job, working in the betting shop until my Mum sold it. I always wanted to be a journalist so after University I went on an NCTJ newspaper journalism course at Stradbroke College in Sheffield. I was working at weekends for Asda to help pay for it. And I realised that actually, I preferred working for Asda to being a journalist so I packed in journalism and went to work for Asda full time. I started off in the cash office, went on their management training programme so worked my way up from the bottom with Asda and spent 12 years there, finishing as a senior marketing manager at their Head Office in Leeds, and that’s what I was doing when I got elected to parliament in 2005.
Did you always envisage being a member of parliament or did it just develop?
I didn’t but if you speak to my friends from school, they’d all tell you that ‘oh we knew you were going to become an MP’. But I think that’s just because I was really interested in politics, really that’s what that was about. I never envisaged actually becoming an MP. And really… it was in the late 1990s, I got frustrated with politicians; nobody ever seemed to say anything that I wanted to be said and so I thought that rather than going down to the pub on a Friday night complaining about it, I should try to do something about it, so I applied to get on the approved list of Conservative candidates, in the full knowledge that they’d never want me but at least I’d have given it a go, and at least I could say to people well at least I tried to do something about it, and I just kept getting through each stage of the selection process.
It’s understood that people’s political views can change throughout their lifetime; without wanting to generalise, you would arguably expect younger people to be more socially liberal, and for views to become more socially conservative as they get older. But again, we can debate whether those labels are simplistic and we don’t want to generalise but my question for yourself is have your views changed during your time politics?
No… I think the premise of your question is a fair one. I think Churchill once said that if you’re not a socialist when you’re 18 you’ve got no heart, and if you’re not a conservative when you’re 40, you’ve got no brains, and well I think that people do go on that journey. No, not really, no I don’t think; my political philosophy absolutely has not changed. I’ve always been a free-market Thatcherite I suppose, so my views have never wavered in terms of my political philosophy. Although my opinion on certain issues change, but not my overriding philosophy; definitely not changed.
Briefly, if I was to ask you what you enjoy most about being a politician, what would you say is the number one thing for you?
Oh blimey… so there’s lots of things. First of all, it’s a tremendous privilege to be a member of parliament, represent a particular constituency in parliament and to speak up for people there; that’s a fantastic privilege. And you also get to learn about lots of things that you otherwise wouldn’t; you get to see lots of things in your local community that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see; see all the great things that people do in the local community which restores your faith in human nature. So, I think seeing things that go on in your local community that otherwise you wouldn’t, learning about different things, different businesses that you go and visit, just the amount of knowledge you build up. But also, having the privilege to have a platform to stand up and speak up for what you believe in; they’re the things I love about being a politician.
So, you have been described in the past as the “master of filibuster”, frequently filibustering during Friday’s private member’s bills. Could you briefly explain what filibustering is, and why you choose to filibuster so often?
Well, filibustering isn’t actually allowed in the UK parliament in the way that it is in the US parliament. So, in the US Senate… it’s an America thing filibustering, and it refers to people in the Senate and in Congress who want to talk to delay and block legislation. But they literally can read out the telephone directory, as long as they can just keep it going. Well, in the UK parliament, you can’t filibuster. Whenever you speak in parliament…there’s a Radio 4 programme, I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to it, called Just A Minute, and speaking in the House of Commons is like a longer version of Just A Minute: you can’t deviate; you can’t repeat; you’ve got to stick to the subject. And if you don’t, the speaker will tell you to sit down.
So filibustering is not allowed; when you speak in parliament, it has to be relevant to the debate. But obviously, you can develop your arguments at a speed or at a leisurely pace. And look, on Fridays, I don’t set the rules; the rules have been in parliament for many years. And the rules of private member’s bills are this…
Two sides have got a challenge really if you want to get a private member’s bill through. If there’s a bill that comes up that you don’t like, your challenge is you’ve got to keep the debate going until the moment of interruption until that debate finishes at 2:30. And if that debate is still going at 2:30, the bill gets put to the back of the queue which means it basically falls. Well, it doesn’t fall, it goes to the back of the queue so it will never see the light of day again. So, if you want to block a bill, that’s what you’ve got to do, that’s the mechanism that the rules say you’ve got to achieve.
If you want a bill to pass to stop somebody from blocking it, you’ve got to get 100 people there to support it. And so, if 100 people turn up to support a bill, it can’t be blocked; no matter how much people talk or whatever.
So, in effect, two people have got two tasks. If you don’t like a bill, you’ve got to keep the debate going. If you do like a bill, you’ve got to get 100 people there. And it’s actually a very sensible check and balance; it basically means that a bill can’t go through… there’s a mechanism to stop a bill going through with very limited support. And there’s also a mechanism for a bill not to be blocked by a very small number of people when it’s got widespread support. It’s actually a very sensible set of rules. But they’re the rules. And so, like any effective MP, if you think a bad piece of legislation is being brought forward, you will do whatever you can to try and stop it. Likewise, if you think a bill that comes forward is very good, you’re going to do whatever you think you can to bring it into being.
So really what people are accusing me of being is effective, and what they really ought to be saying is well why are these other people not turning up – I turn up. That’s really what it is: I turn up and participate and influence what goes on on a Friday. There’s lots of people, lots of MPs, who say ‘oh yeah I support something’ – well where are they? If they turned up, they could get it through. But they don’t turn up, so they obviously don’t care about it that much. So really, I’m being an effective MP; that’s what my constituents elect me for, to represent their interests, and I’m doing what I think is in my constituents’ best interests and that means blocking bad legislation and supporting good legislation.
Unfortunately for yourself, often when you do speak out on Friday and ‘be an effective MP’ you do get the abuse on social media, the Huffington Post article ‘Phillip Davies filibusters’ (although as you’ve just said, it’s not filibustering). As an MP do you have to be thick skinned; do you just ignore that?
Well yes, you’ve got to be very thick skinned, absolutely you’ve got to be thick skinned because you do get a huge amount of [abuse]. I mean I think I get more than most but I get huge amounts of abuse, threats, vile emails, tweets; I mean all sorts of stuff that you couldn’t really imagine, to be honest. So yeah, I suppose you need a thick skin.
But I worry more about the threats that my staff get because they don’t deserve it. if people want to hurl abuse at me; I’ve put myself in the shop window to get abused but my staff certainly don’t. But look, my view is…. you shouldn’t be embarrassed by what you believe in; if you’re embarrassed by what you believe in, you shouldn’t believe it. And if you’re not embarrassed by what you believe in well you shouldn’t fear speaking out, or what people might say about you.
What I will not be is bullied. I mean these people are really trying to bully you into not doing what they don’t want you to do and I will not be bullied. And I’m quite stubborn so the more people try and bully me, in effect, the only impact they’ll have is they’ll make me more resolute to keep doing what I’m doing. And I think if I’m upsetting some left-wing socialists, well I must be doing something right as far as I’m concerned, because if they think I’m really nauseating and irritating and annoying and I’m preventing things that they like, well I’m doing a good job; if I wasn’t effective, they wouldn’t be worried about me, so I actually take it as an encouragement.
So, although looking from the outside in parliament can seem incredibly divided, particularly at the moment with regards to Brexit, as you know from personal experience, there is lots of great cross-party work that’s done behind the scenes. So, my question for yourself is which non-Conservative MP do you admire the most and why?
Do I admire the most? Which non-Conservative do I admire the most? I don’t know if admire is the right word… there’s lots that I like, there’s lots of Labour MPs I like and get on really well with; some of my best friends in parliament have been Labour MPs. I massively admire Alex Salmond, the SNP. He is a formidable debater, one of the best debaters I’ve ever seen in parliament. And what’s he’s done to the SNP: taken them from a fringe party to dominating the political landscape in Scotland. And much of it was done through the force of his personality, his charisma, his debating abilities. I mean He is a giant in political debate, so if it was about admiring any politician on the opposition benches, the one I admire most is probably Alex Salmond.
It’s long been understood that there is a blurred line between politics and the media, and you mentioned earlier that you were interested in journalism. And recently, we seem to have had a growing number of MPs that have dual career as both journalists and politicians. So, Michael Gove interviewed Donald Trump; he has a regular Times column. Boris Johnson was Editor of the Spectator; he had his Telegraph column. And most recently, your colleague George Osborne has taken the job as Editor of the London Evening Standard. In your view, should an MP be allowed a paid job as a journalist, alongside being a member of parliament?
Yes – they shouldn’t be not allowed. I think George Osborne’s probably taking it to the limited being the Editor of a newspaper which I would consider to be a full-time job, and probably most newspaper Editors would consider to be a full-time job, so I’m sure they’re all delighted to be told that their job’s part-time.
But ultimately, I think it’s good that MPs do other things – I mean I don’t have a second job or anything but I think it’s absolutely right that MPs are allowed to. And if they didn’t… there are people in parliament who are dentists; I know a dentist in parliament who keeps practising at a weekend because he has to to keep his skillset up. If he left parliament, and he hadn’t been a dentist for 20 years, you can’t just go back in and start doing people’s teeth again; you’ve got to keep your skillset up. So, if we didn’t allow that, lots of these people would never become MPs. And I think it’s good that we have doctors in there and dentists in there and people who know wants going on, so I think that second jobs for MPs is a good thing. Ultimately, my view is it’s for people’s constituents to decide whether or not they’re happy with their member of parliament with the way that they represent them. Say with George Osborne, if the people of Tatton are not happy with how he’s representing them, well they’ve got a very good mechanism to do something about it; they can vote for someone else to represent them in parliament at the next election. So, ultimately, it shouldn’t be for other people to decide; ultimately, it should be for the electorate to decide whether they’re happy with what their member of parliament is doing and how they represent them and all the rest of it.
And the other thing I do always say to people is that Theresa May has got a second job called Prime Minister; she’s the MP for Maidenhead, she also happens to be Prime Minister. Well, it’s quite a full-on job being the Prime Minister and she also has to combine that with being the MP for Maidenhead. So, I think if you start saying well MPs can’t do a second job, well does that mean that they can’t become Prime Minister, and they can’t become Foreign Secretary and all these over things. To me, it’s best just left to the electors to decide.
With regards to George Osborne, there is sometimes this criticism that the Conservative party is only the party of the rich, they’re out for themselves, all they do is have an interest in making money. Given that as well as being Editor, he also receives £650,000 a year in some form of hedge fund management role; he’s done dinner party speeches. Do you have any anger towards George in terms of fuelling that negative image, by arguably taking the mick (by doing some many jobs)?
No, I don’t at all. I suspect that if anyone in the country was offered £650,000 a year for doing one day a month or whatever it is, I suspect virtually everyone in the country would accept it. Whatever they were doing, I think they’d accept it. So, some people might be envious of the fact that he’s been offered these highly-remunerated jobs but I don’t hold anything against him. If he can command those figures for doing very doing very little from what I can see, then good luck to him I say. The Conservative party is about opportunity and it’s not about dragging people down; it’s about lifting people up. So, no, we don’t believe in the politics of envy or anything. So, all long as his constituents are happy, then it’s a matter between him and his constituents. It’s nothing to do with me.
Given the scrutiny that politicians are under nowadays, the 24-hour rolling news, social media, we’ve seen a couple of MPs recently take jobs outside of politics. So Jamie Reed taking a job at a nuclear power plant; Tristam Hunt becoming Director of V & A. Do you still have an appetite for politics, or are you ever tempted to maybe take a step back from the spotlight, and take (arguably) more of a less stressful/comfortable job?
Yes; I have been offered a job outside of politics myself but I turned it down. It would have involved not being an MP anymore and I didn’t want to do that. But I suppose yes, it would have been more highly remunerated; it would have been less hassle and stress and fewer hours work probably.
But being an MP is a passion; it’s a privilege but it’s a passion. It’s about trying to bring about the things that you want to see in society. So, there’s not many jobs that can rival that. So yeah, of course, there’s lots of things that people consider being a downside of being an MP in terms of the workload and whatever, and you never get to see your family and all these sorts of things. But being able to affect what goes on in the country is a massive privilege. If you didn’t have a passion for it, you couldn’t do it because it takes over your life. So, the moment you either don’t like it or you’ve lost your enthusiasm, you’ve got to finish because otherwise it will be the worst job in the world. I don’t know what will come first; either the people of Shipley will tire of me or I’ll lose my enthusiasm – one of those things will happen at some point and that’s when I’ll call it a day. But until either of those things happen, I’m happy to keep going.
You said it dominates your life. How difficult is it juggle family life with politics, given that you have to both live and work in Westminster and Shipley?
It’s impossible. I’m divorced and there’s no doubt in my mind that the reason I’m divorced is because I’m an MP. Me and my wife we just grew apart, I mean I was never at home; even when I was at home, I wasn’t actually at home, I was out visiting things and meeting people and doing surgeries and whatever. So, the time you actually spend at home is negligible.
A massive treat for an MP is to have an evening where you can just sit at home and do nothing; that’s the most amazing night you can have. Lots of lots of MPs who are divorced and it is truly very difficult. I don’t expect any sympathy for that; we’ve all made that choice ourselves but yeah, it’s virtually impossible to be a very effective MP and also to have a very fulfilling family life; I think the two things are probably incompatible.
Life outside of politics
So, you touched on it a little bit already but how much free time do you have as an MP and when you do have free time what do you enjoy doing?
You hardly have any free time. I literally work every day of the year; there is not one day of the year where I don’t work. I do my e-mails every single day, even Christmas Day. If I go away on holiday, I still sit and do my e-mails every day on holiday. I’m a bit of a workaholic; I enjoy work so I wouldn’t want it any different.
But my passion outside of politics is sport. I love all sports, watching rather than playing. I’m a season ticket holder at Bradford City with my two children so we go there religiously for all the home games. But my greatest passion of all is horse racing; that’s because I was brought up with horse racing because my parents were bookmakers. But if somebody said to me, you’ve got a free day, you can do anything you want today, I’d pick a day going to the races.
What was the best book that you read during 2016?
I don’t get a chance to read many books; the only time I get a chance to read books is when I go on holiday and probably the best book I read in 2016 was Arron Banks’
Favourite TV shows?
I love old comedy, comedy programmes like Faulty Towers, Open All Hours, The Royle Family, I love sitcoms like that. But I’ve got an obsession with detective shows. So, if you ever switch onto ITV3, there’ll be a full range of old detective things like A Touch Of Frost or Midsummer Murders or Agatha Christie. I absolutely love detective shows. So often I will at night be signing letters or doing my emails while ITV3 is on with some old detective show.
And what sort of music do you enjoy?
I suppose because I’m a child of the 80s I love all 1980s music, so mid-1980s onwards. But I also, actually, strangely, quite like 1950s and 60s music because my Mum and Dad used to be listening to that all the time when I was a kid so I’ve got a strange knowledge of 1950s and 1960s pop music.
Modern music has passed me by. I’ve never heard of modern artists, I don’t know anything about them; the only one I know anything about is Avicii, because there was a particular song that my kids enjoyed that was done by Avicii called “hey brother”, which is a brilliant song. But I know nothing about modern music at all, to be honest.
What’s your favourite meal?
Curry; a curry at the Agraar in Shipley is like perfect. Again, if I could have any choice, a curry.
What’s your curry then; what do you recommend at the Aagrah?
I’d have something like a Chicken Jalfrezi; something like that. But I love the Aagrah; I love curry. I suppose if I could have three sort of indulgent meals a day I’d probably have a full English breakfast, which I absolutely love a full English breakfast, fish and chips for lunchtime and a curry at night. That would be grossly indulgent but that would be like three perfect meals for me.
When you go to places like the Aagrah, do you ever get people like looking and saying ‘oh that’s the MP for Shipley’ or do you just feel relaxed or?
No, no, I mean I do occasionally when I’m either at the Aagrah or in Webster’s Fish and Chip shop in Baildon or shopping in Asda or something like that, I do sometimes get people coming up and introducing themselves because it’s somebody who’s been e-mailing me about something or whatever, or telling me either they really agree with me about something or very much disagree with me about something, or that I’m absolutely useless and all the rest of it; you do get a bit of that which I don’t mind. Some people feel ‘oh I won’t disturb him’ but I don’t mind if people want to come and tell me what they think about something, I’m very happy for them to do so. It happens occasionally but I wouldn’t say it happens too often.
Concluding remarks: Jo Cox, politics and young people
And finally, before we get onto the last question, last year we had the really tragic murder of Jo Cox. Obviously, you’re a Yorkshire MP so you’ll have known Jo. How did that affect the mood of the house?
It was tragic; it was unbelievable. I suppose the first thing that everyone felt was just absolute shock. When I was told, I literally just couldn’t believe it; just couldn’t believe it. I mean I didn’t know her that well; she’d only been an MP for a year and so I’m not going to pretend I knew her particularly well, I didn’t know her that well. But whenever I saw her in the tearoom and things like that, she was always very cheerful and yeah just utter shock really and you know, I suppose it does highlight how vulnerable we all are to people who are just crazy. I’ve no idea what lay behind it but it was just unbelievable.
Do you think it’s important following her death we build more healthy relationships between MPs and their constituents?
Well, I mean I’d like to think MPs try to build a health relationship between them and constituents. But look, you can’t please everybody in politics; that’s just the nature of it. I mean I try and do my best for all my constituents but I can’t agree with them all. All I know is that on any issue that we debate in parliament, I’ll have some constituents who are on one side of the argument and some on the other side. I can only vote one way; I can’t please them. At the end of the day, you’ve got to make a decision; the decision you make is the one that you genuinely believe is in the best interest of your constituents but you do know that some people will be bitterly unhappy about what you decide to do. But that’s democracy and people either accept democracy or they don’t. I’m as accessible to people who religiously vote Labour as I am to people who religiously vote Conservative. So, I think we all try and build good relationships with our constituents. But I know there’ll be some people if you went and knocked on doors in the constituency, you will find some people who think I am the best MP whose ever been and you’ll find some people who think I’m the worst MP this country has ever had, and there’s not really much you can do about that.
Why should you young people care about politics and how can they get involved?
I think young people are interested in politics, I find; maybe they’re not interested in political parties but they’re interested in issues, and I go to schools and young people…. and I think actually the referendum on the EU actually made people more interested in politics. So, I think people are interested in politics. I mean they should be because obviously politics makes a massive difference to people’s lives; all the things that matter to people, whether it’s about the health service or whether it’s about schools or whether it’s about the amount of tax that you pay, all these things are determined by politics, determined by what happens in parliament so it’s no good people saying I’m interested in politics because of course they are, because everything in their lives will be impacted by it.
But I think that people are interested in politics. I think the issue is are they interested in political parties, and that’s the challenge I think that we have is that actually lots of people aren’t and I think that’s where we need to do a better job. It’s not their fault; it’s our fault, it’s our job to want to inspire people to either to support us or even to oppose us but we should be out there inspiring people to vote, inspiring people to get involved either positively or for negative reasons.
But I think people should join political parties because that’s still the best vehicle for effecting change so I would always say to a young person: choose which of the main parties most closely represents your view of the world and get involved; come to our events, go out knocking on doors, delivering leaflets – that’s how I got involved in politics just going out at election time knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, and you’ll either enjoy it and want to do more of it or you’ll hate it and think thanks but I’ll just vote in elections and I don’t really want to get involved in all that. But I think people should give it a go, and more people would enjoy it than they think. And the thing I love more than anything else is knocking on doors. And some people are petrified about doing it and think they’re going to get lots of abuse and all the rest of it but you don’t. People are really nice, people are polite, people are friendly, and it’s really fulfilling going out and knocking on doors. People should get involved because it does make a difference and actually they might enjoy it.
You mentioned the EU referendum politicised young people. Do you understand that some young people are frustrated that they weren’t allowed a vote and arguably feel like their future has been taken away from them?
Well, I appreciate some people feel frustrated; I mean I don’t share that frustration for them I mean obviously, we have an age at which people can vote. My children are 13 and 11; what happened in the referendum will affect their future. But should they have had a vote? I mean it’s going to affect people who are 5 and 6 – should they have had a vote? Course they shouldn’t. But when we all vote, we’re not just voting for what we think; I’m not just passionate about leaving the EU because that’s what I want and I think is in my best interest; I think it’s in the best interest of my two children. I don’t by this argument that nobody had any regard to young people when they were voting; when we vote for anything, we all have regard for what we think is in the interest of our children and older people what’s in the interest of their grandchildren. So yeah, some people feel frustrated that the result went the wrong way but I don’t think it’s fair to say that their interests were not considered because when people vote of course their interests are considered…
So, you’d keep the voting age at 18?
I would keep it at 18. I mean it’s a matter of judgement where it should be; there’s no right or wrong answer. I just happen to think 18 is the right age at which we trust people to make big decisions. It’s not that long ago we increased the age at which you can decide whether or not to smoke from 16 to 18. Well actually deciding whether or not to smoke is quite a simple decision I would have thought. And so, if people think a 16-year-old is not capable of making that decision then I don’t really see how anyone can then argue the same person can then argue well actually they’re capable of making a decision about who should be the government of the country. There’s no exact science; I mean there will be 18-year-olds who probably haven’t got the greatest capability to make that decision and some 16-year-olds who absolutely have but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and I personally think that 18 is probably the right age.