Is Philip Davies MP Trolling the Equalities Watchdog with These Bizarre Letters About Racism?

FOI requests show the Conservative MP questioned the Equalities and Human Rights Commission about EastEnders, a new mothers' pampering session and the Turner Prize.

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22 January 2016, 10:00am

Philip Davies MP (Photo by Mark Hakansson)

In 2009, Conservative MP Philip Davies went to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission with a real head-scratcher of a query. He sent a Daily Mail clipping of a grinning Heidi Klum at her annual Halloween party, wearing blackface (as a raven, not a black person), along with the question, "is it offensive to black up or not, particularly if you are impersonating a black person?" He also asked Trevor Phillips, the then chair of the organisation: "why it is so offensive to black up your face, as I have never understood this?"

That year, a Freedom of Information request revealed the content of a bizarre series of letters sent from Philip Davies – who has spent much of his career fighting "the blight of political correctness" – to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) between 2008-2009. Does the women-only Orange prize for fiction discriminate against men? Is it racist for a police officer to call a BMW "black man's wheels"? Why are the Miss Black Britain and a Black Power List events allowed to exist, when a Miss White Britain or a White Power List would be considered racist?

I wanted to know if this exposure had changed his behaviour, so I sent off a Freedom of Information request asking for his correspondence with the EHRC between 2009 and 2015. It hasn't.

The FOI request returned 24 emails' worth of photocopied letters between Mr. Davies and the EHRC. While some of the letters he sent are about serious things – legal funding, allegations of negligence of a male victim of domestic violence, an Islamic girls' school's illegal job advert and a man who has lost access to his children – 17 of them are either about stuff that is outside EHRC's remit, or seem to be confused or perhaps wilfully obtuse about what racism and sexism actually are. There are also attempts to trip up the EHRC and make them look like hypocrites – asking things like how many EHRC staff have been given diversity training, which might be fair enough if it didn't fall into a pattern of behaviour that looks like consistent trolling.

In August 2010, Mr Davies sent a letter about a cosmetics range called black|Up, "the first Make-Up Artist brand dedicated to women of African descent". He asked: "if it is so offensive to black up, why a range of make up is called this?"

In September 2010, Mr. Davies writes concerning a episode of EastEnders where Billie Jackson used the word "coconut" to refer to himself. This was in a hypothetical situation of him taking up a role as a police officer – a mixed-race character suggesting that his sister thinks becoming a cop would betray his racial identity and make him white on the inside. Here's what Davies has to say about that: "I would be interested to know if you consider the term 'coconut' to be offensive to describe a black person. If you do then I would like to know what action you will take against the BBC for the racist language used, if you don't then why didn't you support the woman councillor in Bristol who was forced to resign for using the term." Seemingly, he can't tell the difference between a fictional dialogue and a real life incident of racial abuse.

In other letters, Mr. Davies gets upset about positive discrimination. On the 6th July 2010, shortly after his re-election, he wrote about the Black Manifesto. The Black Manifesto was a document, published in November 2009, designed to educate political candidates about inequalities facing the UK's black community ahead of the 2010 General Election election: "I would be interested to know your views on this and what your view would have been on a White Manifesto."

In October 2009, he complained about job advert seeking someone with experience of helping disabled people, ethnic minorities, women, young people and those on low incomes get into sport because they "suffer from increased risk through inactivity". Mr. Davies complains that this: "seems to promote racist and other stereotypes with no evidence to support claims".

Mr. Davies facetiously found some racism there, but decides, in March 2010, to ask the EHRC if an advert for tombola.co.uk featuring a Man Friday gormlessly echoing a white man's words via a calypso tune is really "likely to cause serious offence". The answer had already been decided by the Advertising Standards Agency – yes – and it isn't the EHRC's remit anyway.

In April 2012, he's annoyed about a scheme looking to stop female offenders re-offending or breaking parole, because: "given that women are far less likely than men to be sent to prison do you consider this to be sexual discrimination as it only affects female offenders?" In response, the EHRC provides Ministry of Justice data to show that it's not true that women are less likely to go to prison than men for committing comparable offences.

Sometimes he relays the concerns of constituents. One is particularly annoyed about the existence of a Bradford's Got Asian Talent competition, and this is detailed in an attachment to the letter, dated 2010: "I find this highly offensive and extremely annoying" as "if there wasn't such a segregated culture of many ethnics then I don't that White British would be at all racist. [sic]"

Another constituent's 2010 email to the organisers of the Asian Woman of Achievement Awards (CCing Mr. Davies) reads: "Can you explain to me why you don't believe the Asian Women in Achievement Awards are NOT racists and create division, rather than harmony. In creating a segregated awards competion, you divide the population into race groups... How about a competion for the white women only, and see what a response you get from the press. [sic]" Mr. Davies prints this then attaches it to a letter to the EHRC, writing: "Please find enclosed a copy of an email I received recently, the contents of which are self-explanatory."

He's consistently outraged at instances of perceived unfairness, but is blinkered as to the bigger picture. In one 2010 missive, he attaches a Daily Mail article about "The £18,000 council job you can't apply for if you're white ", and wonders: "what impact do you think this has on race relations in the local community". The graduate scheme, running for two years, was for BME candidates because Bristol City Council only had 7 percent BME staff, which didn't quite match the 12 percent of BME people under its jurisdiction at the time. A spokesman for Bristol City said: "The normal recruitment process was not rectifying this unacceptably low trend, so there was a strong case for this small positive recruitment traineeship for two BME graduates a year."

Some of the correspondence comes across as petty. In 2010 alone he whines about: a South Asian new mothers' feel-good pampering session; the Muslim Women's Sport Foundation; and a job advert for an Islamic Ethos Development Officer at an all-girls' school, asking "I would be interested to know on what basis this can only be open to women?" (meanwhile in Parliament in 2015, he called moves for compulsory sex education a "tyranny"). In 2011, he gets cross about Bath City Football Club giving a discount to Polish people and wonders if the EHRC believes "the Turner Prize is discriminatory" on the basis that it is only awarded to a British artist under 50. In a 2015 letter, he wonders if it is legal for a publishing house to announce it will only accept women's manuscripts for a year.

Perhaps saddest of all, only one of Mr Davies' letters to the EHRC from 2009 to 2015 touches on societal problems that are particular to white males – a father unable to gain access to his own children. Other issues, such as suicide rates – 19 out of every 2000 men will take their own lives – or white boys' poor performance in schools – get no mention, despite EHRC's research into these areas. It seems as if, by seeking to undo the legitimacy of services provided for the marginalised, Mr. Davies has fallen into a trap of essentially ignoring the issues which most affect those he is concerned about.

Mr. Davies and his office did not reply to my numerous attempts at contact, and nor did the Conservative Party.

@sophwilkinson

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