By Jane Fae
The only surprising thing about Friday's parliamentary debate on ratifying the Istanbul Convention is the surprise expressed at the blatant attempt by Philip Davies MP to prevent Parliament from doing so.
For just over an hour and a quarter, self-important bubble Davies, supported by sycophantic squeak Chris Chope MP, talked and talked in vain hope that the proposal would run out of time and fail. Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire spoke for many, observing: "That is 78 minutes that I will never get back".
Davies' argument that men suffer violence too, and until parliament does something about violence against men it should absolutely do nothing about violence against women, is not new, and not interesting. It's unlikely that he applies the same principle to Brexit: the whole Brexit and nothing but the hard Brexit, else let's call the whole thing off.
Davies has form. Rarely out of the pages of the Express or Mail, if the cause is progressive, he is against it. And after successfully filibustering debates on rogue landlords, payday loans and support for disability care, no doubt he thought the Istanbul Convention would be easy.
Were this the only reason he made headlines last week, one could pass easily by. But this was just one half, likely the less important half, of his headline-grabbing antics. For, on Monday, he was elected, unopposed, to fill a Conservative vacancy on the Women and Equalities Committee, an independent parliamentary committee that has done much to bring the government to account for its record in this area.
Jess Phillips, also a member of the committee, dismissed his appointment, predicting that "he will have little effect". We shall see. But it was Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party, who put her finger on the real issue. Well, almost. On Tuesday, she said: "It is shocking that no other Conservative MP cared enough about equality to put themselves forward against a man who has denied that violence against women and girls is a problem in the UK." His election to the committee, she continued: "raises serious questions about just how much the party of government really cares about women's equality."
There's the nub of the matter. Is it truly imaginable that no-one in government or the whips' office had the least inkling of Davies' plans? And even if unaware, why allow this travesty to proceed? Where was the arm-twisting? Why no rival candidate?
Unless and until Labour achieves some sort of coherence, it is a peculiarity of this parliament that opposition to a government with a truly precarious majority, arises in the oddest places: powerful individual performers, such as Keir Starmer and Angela Eagle, or dynamic parliamentary committees, such as the Women's Committee, chaired by Maria Miller.
Miller is one of the most talented, high profile Tory backbenchers not brought back into government post-2015, and her Committee has regularly taken the government to task on a range of issues: Traveller communities, transgender rights, disability, and employment opportunities for Muslims. Most embarrassingly for the Brexit-means-Brexit crew, her committee is working to ensure the UK retains strong equalities after we leave the EU.
Embarrassing? Much. Thorn in side? Definitely. So scarcely surprising if the government decided that a little bit of creative disruption would not come amiss. Plot? Of course not. You'll find no whips' fingerprints here. But convenient. And if "convention" dictates that Davies must be allowed to proceed, best not to intervene.
That somebody like Davies could be involved with this committee is an insult to women everywhere. Today there is a motion in parliament to approve his membership and it's rumoured that some MPs are planning to challenge it. It's probably wishful thinking but let's hope they succeed.
Jane Fae is a feminist, journalist and campaigner on political and sexual liberty. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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