Is this the most cretinous of all Tory backbenchers?

Matthew Norman
Sunday 18 October 2015 17:50 BST
Philip Davies MP at the 2011 phone-hacking hearing
Philip Davies MP at the 2011 phone-hacking hearing (Rex Features)

As the son and one-time employee of a high-street bookmaker, Philip Davies will know whether it represents value when I install him as 13-8 favourite for Hyper-Cerebral Backbencher of the Year. As ever, this is a crowded field. Philip’s fellow Tory Peter Bone has earned himself a richly deserved reputation as the chump’s chump, while rentagobs John Mann and Simon Danczuk are rightly revered as the Tweetledumb and Tweedledunce of Labour’s muscular right.

Yet there is something so mesmerisingly obtuse about Philip’s attention-seeking, fake libertarian drivel that the professional Yorkshireman MP for Shipley has an edge. His latest incursion into the realm of the cretinous concerns the recently presented bill to oblige landlords to make properties safe and habitable. With one in six privately rented homes actively dangerous, and one in 12 damp enough to cause respiratory illness, you’d have thought this would appeal to anyone with the intellectual capacity to discern the time of day from an analogue clock.

Speaking in the Commons as both a landlord and tenant himself – he’s looked at rent, as the unpublished fifth verse of the Joni Mitchell classic has it, from both sides now – Philip dismissed it as needless nanny state-ism. There is, he says, "already lots of legislation that makes it perfectly clear that homes should be fit for human habitation”, which doesn’t help to explain why so many properties are evidently not. Landlords are “an easy target for the left in this country”, he posited, while as one himself he appreciates how hard it is “to keep tabs on all the things that are expected of you”. But of course it is. It’s virtually impossible to remember, for example, that damp causes chronic bronchitis.

Compared with the finest moments from Philip’s career, this qualifies as only a minor triumph. You may recall his proposal that disabled people should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage if they believed it gave them a better chance of getting a job, or his bemused enquiry as to how blacking up a face could be regarded as offensive. But whatever the issue (cigarette packaging, roulette machines in bookies, debt relief for developing nations), you can set your clock according to when the leading parliamentary minstrel of black-and-white smug certainty says something daffy on behalf of those with a financial stake in increasing the sum of human misery. Just don’t ask Philip to read it, and tell you the time.

* The following correction appeared in The Independent on Saturday 24 October in respect of the item above, which has been amended accordingly:

An item in Monday’s paper (‘Quite at home in the realm of the cretinous – that’s Philip Davies’) said Philip Davies MP had proposed that “disabled people should receive less than the minimum wage”. In fact, what he said, during a 2011 debate, was that disabled individuals should be allowed to accept less than the legal minimum “if they judge [it would]…help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder”. We’re sorry for the discrepancy and are glad to clarify the point. Mr Davies has also asked us to make clear that his opposition to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill was based on his belief that legislation already exists to deal with landlords who fail to maintain properties sufficiently and not for any other reason.

Xi Jinping isn’t the only one to receive a hero’s welcome

President Xi Jinping of China is nipping over from Beijing to discuss areas of mutual interest/have the begging bowl thrust in his face by George Osborne. With the Prime Minister too polite to threaten deals involving nuclear power plants, it will fall to Jeremy Corbyn to raise the pesky matter of human rights, and God bless him for that.

As for Xi, a highlight for him will be a visit to the Etihad stadium in Manchester, where by spooky happenstance a compatriot is being inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. I needn’t remind you that it is Sun Jihai, once of Manchester City, who will join such fellow legends as George Best, Alf Ramsey, Bobby Charlton and Thierry Henry. We wish to clarify that Sun is being inducted solely on merit, and not as part of any Government-dictated ingratiation.

Powell’s memo to Bush is the latest smoking gun on Iraq

In the US, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders is sick and tired of Hillary Clinton’s damn emails, but the Mail on Sunday is not. The paper exclusively reports a 2002 memo, as leaked from Hillary’s contentious private server, in which Colin Powell briefed George W Bush before Mr Tony Blair’s celebrated trip to Crawford, Texas.

You’ll not credit it, but Mr T was guaranteeing Britain’s military presence in Iraq in all circumstances a full year before the invasion, and actively touting his services as Dubya’s global public relations operative for the invasion. The smelling salts, Matron, without delay. And have the defibrillator paddles fully charged just in case.

For a translation of Rupert’s tweets, read ‘Rolling Stone’

Whenever Rupert Murdoch tweets something doolally, the assumption is that he gave his carer the slip. But with his tweeting that Republican insurgent Ben Carson has the makings of “a real black President”, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibi argues that there was more to it than endearing eccentricity.

He suggests that Rupert’s passion for Carson – the Philip Davies of neurosurgeons, whom Taibi calls “living proof that you don’t need to have a brain in order to operate on one” – stems from the fear that Donald Trump poses Fox News a mortal threat.

Trump is “trying to tempt away Murdoch’s lovingly nurtured stable of idiot viewers by denouncing their favourite ‘news’ network as a false conservative God”, writes Taibi, “I think Murdoch fired off those desperate tweets [about Carson] because he senses his beloved audience of idiots drifting away.” Right or wrong, Taibi’s magnificently brutal polemic cannot be recommended warmly enough.

Take a moment to digest John Lydon’s food criticism

It takes a novelty these days to revive a sated appetite for new recipes, so hats off to John Lydon (Johnny Rotten as was) for this. Telling a questionnaire that the “Rotten” came from his diseased teeth, he recalls reconstructive surgery in California. “It was very hard to eat – really difficult to know where each new titanium tooth starts and the tongue ended … The only way to mask the furious flavour of your own tongue blood is eating steak, medium rare, with plenty of salt.”

Lazy not to recommend a wine to go with tongue blood, perhaps, but that “medium rare” marks him out as a rare recipe-writing talent. Precision is everything.

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