Dark Money Investigations: Investigation

Eyebrows raised over Tory candidate’s ‘unusual’ £100,000 MPs’ expense claims

Conservative who blocked upskirting legislation and opposed anti-domestic-violence laws outsourced parliamentary research to anti-political correctness campaigner.

Peter Geoghegan Jenna Corderoy
Peter Geoghegan Jenna Corderoy
11 December 2019
Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, in Parliament, 21 October 2016
Davies in 2016, demanding ministers do more to verify the ages of child refugees
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PA/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Conservative Philip Davies spent more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money on research from a little-known consultancy run by an anti-political-correctness campaigner, openDemocracy can reveal.

Opposition politicians and campaigners have asked why Davies – who is defending the marginal seat of Shipley – used public funds to purchase research from a London-based consultancy called the Big Ben Partnership.

Big Ben Partnership is run by the co-founder of a group called Campaign Against Political Correctness. The only public reference to the consultancy’s work appears to be a citation in a men’s rights publication.

Davies has spent more than £100,000 on external research from Big Ben Partnership from his expenses as an MP since 2012, according to documents released to openDemocracy by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

The arrangement is “unusual” – the vast majority of MPs employ their researchers directly – but “not necessarily wrong”, the parliamentary watchdog told openDemocracy. Davies says that the money was spent on speech-writing and research for parliamentary questions and amendments for bills.

“It is more cost-effective for the taxpayer to pay for this research in this way rather than directly employing someone,” Davies said, adding: “IPSA has been provided with all the information they have requested about the research carried out by the Big Ben Partnership.”

The Labour candidate in Shipley, Jo Pike, said: “Davies' constituents will be rightly asking why their hard-earned taxes are being used in this way. Of course parliamentary researchers are used by MPs, but employing a company like this is quite unusual.”

Davies, who sat on Parliament’s women and equalities committee, has previously been criticised for his stance on equalities issues. He blocked legislation to ban ‘upskirting’, has said that many women want “equality but only when it suits” and wrote to a leading equalities campaigner asking “why it is so offensive to black up”.

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “Philip Davies’s spending on ‘research’ linked to Campaign Against Political Correctness comes on top of his participation earlier this year in a men’s rights conference where fellow speakers included a US ‘male supremacist’ and an activist who had previously called for ‘Bash a Violent Bitch Month’. How he can get away with spending taxpayer's money on these antics is beyond me.”

Men’s rights

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority had reported that an MP had spent more than £100,000 on external research, but it released Davies’s name – and that of Big Ben Partnership – only after a Freedom of Information request from openDemocracy.

Davies appears to be Big Ben Partnership's only client. The consultancy does not seem to be registered with Companies House, its website is very basic and the phone number listed is disconnected.

Big Ben Partnership home page
Anyone home? | Big Ben Partnership

In September 2018, the parliamentary watchdog wrote to Davies saying that the invoices from Big Ben Partnership contained “no information on the topics of research, or a breakdown of costs claimed”. After later reviewing materials supplied by Davies, the regulator said that it was “content that the materials are parliamentary in nature”.

The hardline pro-Brexit European Research Group, of which Davies has been listed as a member, is similarly funded by MPs out of their parliamentary budgets. Earlier this year, IPSA was heavily criticised after openDemocracy went to court to force the watchdog to release the ERG’s research, which experts subsequently said was “highly partial”.

Davies confirmed to openDemocracy that Big Ben Partnership’s work is carried out by Laura Midgely, who co-founded Campaign Against Political Correctness in 2004 with her husband, John Midgely. The Midgelys had previously worked with Davies’ father Peter after he successfully ran for mayor of Doncaster on a platform of cutting what he deemed “politically correct” initiatives such as the borough’s racial multi-agency partnership and gay pride events.

Philip Davies confirmed that Laura Midgely has a parliamentary pass by virtue of her work for him. Davies has been the “parliamentary spokesman” for Campaign Against Political Correctness, which is now defunct.

The only publicly available reference we could find to Big Ben Partnership research is in a men’s rights newsletter. It reports Davies’ 2016 claims that men were unfairly treated in the justice system compared with women. Baroness Corston, a Labour peer considered to be an authority on women in the justice system, said that there was no evidence to support the MP’s claims.

Earlier this year, Davies spoke at a men's rights conference in Chicago on the same platform as a number of controversial figures. They included former UKIP MEP candidates Carl Benjamin, who tweeted a rape joke to Labour MP Jess Philips, and Mark Meechan, who taught his girlfriend's dog to perform a Nazi salute. Also on stage was Paul Elam, leader of the US men’s rights group that once announced an ‘Annual Bash a Violent Bitch Month’. Davies said that his appearance at the conference did not mean that he agreed with other speakers present.

Davies was criticised in 2009 after it was revealed that he had run what journalists at The Guardian as a “one-man campaign against ‘political correctness’”. He had written nineteen letters to Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, including one that asked "why it is so offensive to black up your face, as I have never understood this". He also asked whether it was racist for a policeman to refer to a BMW as "black man's wheels". Davies said that he believed in equality and as such disagreed with "positive discrimination". "That builds up a resentment that doesn't exist before," he said.

Davies has a long record of opposing a range of legislation on protecting women’s privacy and safety. He ‘talked out’ a private member’s bill to ban upskirting and attempted, unsuccessfully, to filibuster a bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing domestic violence.

He has also blocked legislation to give free hospital car parking to carers, reverse NHS privatisation and to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Davies has said that talking non-stop is the only way to block bad bills.

Taxpayers' money

In 2017, over 1,000 people attended a women’s march organised by Shipley Feminist Zealots. The group chose its name after Davies told a previous men’s rights conference that “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it”.

Jude Wright of Shipley Feminist Zealots said: “Sadly, we are not surprised when it comes to Mr Philip Davies and his expenses.

“Mr Davies is claiming he is saving the taxpayer money by not employing a local person in his office, but instead, paying a London based consultant £50+ per hour for their time. We may well ask, is this the actual cost of his filibustering?”

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party – which ran a candidate against Davies in the 2017 general election, in which his majority was significantly reduced, said: “The fact that a man like Davies has the power to vote on – and to block – vital legislation which could improve or even save women’s lives is deeply disturbing.”

When openDemocracy asked Davies why he paid for research from Big Ben Partnership rather than employing a staff member, he said: “If I did as you suggested the cost to the taxpayer would be far higher. £100,000 over seven years is around £14,000 a year – much less than employing someone directly. Therefore you should be commending me for saving taxpayers’ money.”

In response to further questions, Davies said: “You metropolitan left-wingers really take intolerance to new levels.”

He added: “Some people might be more bothered by a voicemail just received at my office saying: ‘I am going to fuck you over like Jo Cox,’ but don’t worry how your kind of journalism feeds into that kind of attitude.”

Big Ben Partnership has yet to respond to requests for comment.

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