Philip Davies: 'One thing David and I agree on is that I should not be promoted.'
Taking pride of place on the wall of Philip Davies’ parliamentary office is a large black and white portrait of Winston Churchill.
Slightly less conspicuous is the sheet of orange A4 with block capitals setting out the Shipley MP’s “mission and purpose” for his time in the House of Commons.
It states: “To give my constituents the best service of any MP and vigorously hold the government to account no matter which party is in power.”
As David Cameron gets to grips with the smallest government majority since October 1974, Tory whips will be working overtime to prevent independent-minded backbenchers from holding the prime minister to ransom. But it’s a fair bet that they have already given up on trying to keep Davies on the straight and narrow.
Since entering the Commons in 2005, Davies has established himself as a leading member of the Tory backbench awkward squad who is not afraid to speak his mind.
“The one thing that David Cameron and I agree about is that I shouldn’t be promoted,” he says, cheerily.
Anyone who has seen Davies’ voting record will know he’s almost certainly not joking. The Shipley MP voted against his party on 194 occasions in the last parliament. Among other things, he objected to gay marriage, high speed rail, regulating lobbyists, banning smoking in cars with children and letting MPs tweet in the House of Commons. But he may have changed his mind on the last one.
“It’s true I voted with all the Luddites”, he says with a chuckle. “To be fair since I lost the vote I’ve been as guilty as the next person of using electronic devices in the Chamber.”
Davies has shown no sign of letting up on the rebellions in this parliament. He was at the front of the queue to defy the party line on the rules for the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Alongside this, he has repeatedly made it clear that he has no interest in the reformed EU that Cameron wants to achieve.
A former Asda marketing manager, Davies is clearly not the ideal customer for a prime minister with a wafer-thin majority. So just how frosty is his relationship with Cameron?
“I have a fantastic relationship with the prime minister, even though I disagree with him on a number of things,” says the backbencher. “We get on really, really, well.”
Davies suggests two reasons for this slightly unlikely bonhomie. “I think it’s because first of all I give him an absolutely honest opinion, so I’m not telling him what he wants to hear and he knows that I’m telling it as it is. And I think he appreciates that, genuinely.
“And the second thing is he knows that I’m not doing anything for any personal agenda, I haven’t got any ulterior motive. I don’t want to take his job, I don’t want to trample over somebody’s head to get to a particular position. He knows that when I have a disagreement with him it’s not because I want to do him down or because I’ve got a personal ulterior motive. It’s because I just genuinely disagree.”
Similarly, Davies insists that he gets on famously with his fellow Tory MPs.
“I have a great relationship with my colleagues. They know that I’m not trying to pursue some ulterior motive. They all know that I’m not trying to trample over their heads to get a job that they want, which is always a good basis for a relationship with your colleagues,” he says.
“And I’d like to think that I retain a cheery disposition and a good sense of humour, even if I’m disagreeing with colleagues. I don’t fall out with anybody. If they have a different opinion, I perfectly respect that. I also respect those MPs who want to become ministers. If everyone was like me, we’d have anarchy.”
Davies joined the Conservatives in 1988, having been schooled in Tory politics while growing up in Doncaster. He stresses the role played by his father in shaping his politics – and makes it clear that being a Labour supporter was never really an option.
“As soon as I was old enough, my dad had me out knocking on doors and delivering leaflets,” he recalls. “I can’t remember ever thinking there was a choice as to which party I supported. I was a Conservative and that was that.”
After graduating from the University of Huddersfield, he spent over a decade in managerial positions at Asda, before entering the Commons in 2005. Meanwhile his father quit the Conservative party, joined Ukip and went on to be elected mayor of Doncaster in 2009. Peter Davies, a former RE teacher, had stood on an English Democrats ticket with a threat to cut funding to the town's Gay Pride event as part of his pledge to fight political correctness.
"I am incredibly proud of him and what he has achieved,” said his son after the result. “It's remarkable, to win an election like that from nowhere is really an astonishing achievement."
Unlike his father, Davies has resisted defecting to Ukip – but not because he has little in common with Nigel Farage’s party.
“I agree with Nigel Farage on lots of things. I probably agree with Nigel Farage on more issues than I agree with David Cameron, to be perfectly honest,” he states.
So why doesn’t he join Ukip? Davies says he has no interest in shouting from the sidelines when he can make his case on the Tory benches.
“As we saw in the election, Ukip had one MP elected. Well, with the best will in the world, Ukip were not going to bring around an EU referendum with one MP. The only party who was in a position to deliver an EU referendum that I’ve wanted to see all my political life was the Conservative party. You’ve got to be where you’re going to get stuff done.
“If you look at the things that I’ve argued for in parliament, if you look at my voting record in parliament, I’ve been able to do all those things from within the Conservative party.
“No-one has ever told me in the Conservative party I can’t hold those views, that I’m not allowed to say what I say, vote how I vote. We’re a broad church in the Conservative party, all of those views can be held in the Conservative party. I don’t really see the point of Ukip.”
Davies is generally well-liked by many of his Tory colleagues, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye with him. “He has been a rebel but not just for the sake of it. He can be annoying, but he doesn’t duck and weave,” says one seasoned parliamentarian. “He’s a regular attender in the Chamber and he speaks up for a particular point of view. He doesn’t hold grudges."
But some other MPs are irked by the Tory MP’s enthusiasm for derailing private members bills that he does not agree with. They point to his propensity for long, meandering speeches to kill off pieces of nascent legislation, such as attempts by backbenchers to regulate payday lenders and to stop rogue landlords evicting tenants asking for basic repairs.
Davies makes no apologies when asked about his filibustering tendencies.
“That’s probably a slightly jaundiced view of it,” he says. “It’s about making sure that bills get proper scrutiny, for sure. I’m also a fan of using whatever parliamentary procedures are in place in order to pursue my beliefs and what I think is the best thing.
“And if by keeping a debate going for a period of time you can stop a bill that you think will be damaging for the country and your constituents, then it seems to me that any good parliamentarian would keep a debate going for as long as possible in order to stop that from happening.”
Having separated from his wife in 2011, Davies spent much of the last parliament sharing a flat in London with Ether McVey, the former employment minister who lost her seat in the general election. But not for much longer, it seems.
“She’s moving out of the flat because she’s not in parliament any more,” he says. “All I hope is that she gets back into the House of Commons, because she’s got a massive amount to offer the Conservative party, to be perfectly frank. We need her back.”
Another person that Davies is keen to see playing a leading role in the party is Sajid Javid. Asked who should take over from Cameron as leader of the party in 2020, Davies stresses that it’s early days. But he is not afraid to put in a good word for the business secretary.
“The person I have a massive amount of respect for is Sajid Javid… I think he’s going to have massive future in the Conservative party, I really do. Whatever that’s as leader or not who knows, but he’s going to have a massive role to play for the party in the run-up to the next election.”
Looking across to the Labour party and its various leadership contenders, Davies says that Liz Kendall is the best of the bunch.
“I don’t think any of the Labour leadership candidates particularly overly concern us as a party. I don’t think there’s a budding Tony Blair that we would be overly concerned about. I guess the leader we would least like to see is Liz Kendall, because that would be a break from the disasters of the last Labour government, free from baggage and all the rest of it. But I have a feeling that the Labour party are not enlightened enough to vote for her, and I don’t think the unions would stomach it either.”
This month, Davies celebrates his tenth anniversary as an MP. When he delivered his maiden speech in the Commons in June 2005, the new MP for Shipley insisted he did not want a job in government.
“I have no desire to rise through the ranks as a shadow minister and, after the next election, as a minister of the crown,” he said. “I wish to remain on the back benches and to speak up for the things that matter to me and my constituents. I want people to know that when I say something, I say it because I mean it, not because someone has told me to say it. I believe that that is the best way I can help to restore people's faith in politics.”
A decade later, Davies cannot be accused of going back on his word. But perhaps that’s because he’s not had the right job dangled in front of him.
The Shipley MP has long a keen interest in justice issues, which he approaches from a traditional right wing standpoint. He wants to see the government being tougher on crime by handing out longer prison sentences and he is keen for magistrates to be given extended sentencing powers. “I’ll be keeping Michael Gove’s feet to the fire on all of these things,” he says.
But what if he could be implementing such policies rather than merely lobbying for them from the backbenches? It would give left wingers a heart attack, but what if he could replace Gove as justice secretary? What if David Cameron offered him the job tomorrow?
Davies shoots back immediately: “I’d thank him profusely for putting his faith in me - but no thanks.”