Dear Members of Shipley Conservatives,
I’ve just had a leaflet pushed through my door, asking for my vote in the upcoming General Election. I assume this was delivered by one of you. Whoever it was didn’t knock on my door so I didn’t get the chance to ask what you think of the way Philip Davies communicates with some of his constituents. It occurred to me that I may not get the chance to ask you this in person during the campaign, so I’m writing you this open letter.
In the interests of transparency, let me say that Philip Davies won’t be getting my vote on 8th June. This will come as no surprise to him, I’m sure. My politics is very different to his, as we have both discovered during email communications over the years.
But I don’t want to ask you about party politics or Conservative values. I’m a strong believer in democracy and would staunchly defend your right to stand, campaign and win any parliamentary seat, however much I may disagree with your policies.
As I understand it, it is the job of an MP, once they have won their seat, to represent all of their constituents, regardless of political affiliation. If I care about an issue, one of the main democratic channels open to me is to write to my MP about it. My MP, of course, has every right to disagree with me on any issue and to tell me so in any reply. And to give Mr Davies his due, he is fairly assiduous at passing concerns on to the relevant ministers and forwarding their replies. On this front, I make no criticism.
As an MP, he also, of course, has the right to reply to constituents in any way he chooses. I wonder, though, whether you, as local party members, are happy to endorse the tone he often uses when writing to constituents who disagree with him?
You see, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect an MP, as an elected representative in a position of power relative to their constituents, to adopt a tone which is polite, respectful and courteous when communicating with those they are paid to represent, even in disagreement. Yet my own experience, and that reported by many others, is that replies we receive from Mr Davies are increasingly rude, inflammatory and designed to provoke.
Let me give you some examples. Do you think it is ok for an MP to dismiss constituents visiting him to discuss global hunger and overseas aid as “people with extreme political views”? Or to reply to a constituent emailing about the Syrian refugee crisis as wanting to ignore practicalities “on the altar of looking compassionate”?
How about replying to a constituent seeking clarification of Philip’s willingness to endorse Donald Trump following Trump’s comments on sexual assault? Is this an appropriate way to correspond with a constituent?
– “Amazing how the so-called feminists were so quiet about the Clintons. As I say, it is not their feminist views that motivates these people, it is their socialist views. It’s a shame they can’t be honest about that.”
– “If I had said I supported Hillary Clinton, would you have emailed me to ask why I supported a woman who helped to cover up her husband’s sexual assaults? No, of course you wouldn’t have done so – I can only speculate as to why.”
– “I know for a fact you wouldn’t have emailed me if I had said I supported Hillary. Whether you wish to admit that is a matter for you, but you know it and I know it.”
How about this frankly odd reply when I asked him why he was so disparaging about UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality which seeks to eliminate violence against women and girls? (See article here in which he claims “nobody actually cares about all this rubbish”)
– “Some (particularly socialists) like signing documents, talking, writing, waffling, protesting etc. I prefer to see action and things getting done.”
Bear in mind that he doesn’t know me or my circumstances, that 1 in 5 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16, and that 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. It is entirely possible (even probable) that I was motivated to write to him to clarify his views because someone close to me has suffered from sexual assault or domestic violence. Do you feel that his replies contain an appropriate level of sensitivity?
How about accusing constituents of ‘indoctrinating’ the children in their care, a politically loaded word against the sensitive backdrop of the Prevent agenda and spotting early signs of extremism? Is that acceptable? (An accusation made because my 10 year old, taking an unexpected interest in the Parliament Channel, asked a question on whether there were rules on how long people could speak for and expressed an opinion that there should be.)
– “Of course I encourage your niece but I am sure she is getting all the encouragement (and indoctrination) she needs from her uncle.”
– “I would be astonished if your daughter was not being brought up to share your Socialist values.” (This despite the fact that I’ve told him multiple times that I’m not a socialist.)
– “You are clearly easily offended.”
Just for the record, I’m not easily offended. Although why I should have to justify that to my MP is beyond me.
As I say, it’s not the views expressed in these emails that I want to ask you about. Mr Davies and I disagree on foreign aid, refugees, endorsing candidates in international elections who have bragged about sexual assault, indoctrinating children and filibustering. Fair enough.
My question is about tone. Do you, as local party members, think it is acceptable for an MP to write to constituents in a rude, dismissive and inflammatory manner? Or do you agree that MPs should treat their constituents with respect, regardless of their political opinion? It is possible to disagree firmly, politely and with respect.
I am aware that Philip has been challenged on the way he writes to constituents before – in the transcript of his meeting with the Shipley Feminist Zealots on 25th February (a meeting which I was not at), one constituent asked him directly about his email exchange with me regarding his support for Donald Trump. Referencing a quote from Philip to me, she asked, “Do you think that’s an appropriate way to reply to somebody who is trying to explain to her two young daughters about Trump’s comments about groping women and why we march about that?”
He defended his comments by saying, “I remember the exchange, and you pick out one bit of the exchange, you don’t have the whole exchange, and I ask you to, when you look at these things, to look at the whole exchange of emails”, implying that I had done something to warrant his rude reply. The questioner actually had seen the whole email exchange – it’s here. I don’t believe I wrote anything that justifies his responses. Do you? I would ask Philip Davies to quote one thing that I have ever said or written to him that justifies his rude replies.
I realise that Mr Davies has a significant majority here and that that can lead to complacency – why bother to be polite to constituents who are never going to vote for him? Why bother, other than basic human decency, professionalism, and an understanding that communicating with constituents is not the same as engaging in the strange, outdated adversarial exchanges that occur in the House of Commons.
When our political channels leave ordinary people in the position of being dealt with so rudely by those who represent them, it’s not really a win for democracy, is it?
I look forward to your reply.
As members of the Shipley Conservative Party ask us to vote for their candidate in the upcoming General Election, it is only right that we should know whether they endorse and support the way he communicates with some of us as constituents.
If you are a fellow Shipley Constituent and believe the local Conservative Party Association should reply to this letter, which was sent to them by email on 10th May 2017, please use the comments box below to add your name and sign this open letter.