This time, Sir Christopher Chope has blocked a plan to hold a women’s conference in the Commons. Because of course he has.
Oh, Christopher Chope. No, that’s not a Conservative twist on the infamous pro-Jeremy Corbyn chant. Rather, it’s the sound of thousands of women groaning wearily across the land, as they hear about the latest risible antics of the really quite tiresome Tory MP.
The last we heard of Chope, the 71-year-old backbencher was defending himself against claims of sexism and sleaze after he single-handedly blocked a private members’ bill that would have made upskirting illegal. Now, the MP for Christchurch in Dorset is in the headlines again, after obstructing a plan to hold a global women’s conference in the House of Commons.
In a scene that must be becoming rather familiar for Chope, the MP faced shouts of “shame” from his fellow politicians after he objected to a motion that would have allowed the venue to be used for the Women MPs of the World conference later this year.
The motion said the conference was intended to celebrate the centenary of partial women’s suffrage, and would provide “a unique opportunity to gather parliamentarians from across the world to engage in discussions about equal representation and bring about social change”. It was read out on Monday night (16 July), and could have passed immediately if no MPs opposed it. Enter, with the dismal inevitability of your toast landing on the floor jam side down, Chope.
The Guardian reports that Penny Mordaunt, the government’s women and equalities minister, immediately walked over to Chope and “began what looked like an angry conversation with him” after he blocked the motion.
The MP later submitted an amendment to the motion, in which he said he objected to it because he did not want non-parliamentarian delegates sitting in the Commons at the conference. But whatever his motives might have been, this most recent display hasn’t gone down well with other politicians. On Twitter, SNP MP Alison Thewliss and Labour’s Stephen Doughty were among those to call him out.
Labour’s shadow equalities minister, Dawn Butler, called on the Prime Minister to live up to her self-professed feminism and tackle Chope’s behaviour.
MP Jess Phillips also pointed out that Chope sits on the Committee on Standards, which oversees parliament’s new sexual harassment and bullying complaints procedures. She called on May and Tory chief whip Julian Smith to remove him from that position.
Chope faced overwhelming criticism from the public and his fellow Conservative MPs last month – including disapproval from the Prime Minister – after he blocked the upskirting bill. He later defended himself by saying that he wanted upskirting to be made a sexual offence, but opposes all private members’ bills on principle.
The backbencher says he takes issue with private members’ bills because he doesn’t agree with legislation being brought before parliament on a Friday, when there is insufficient time for it to fully debated (even if, in the case of the upskirting bill, there is little opposition and so hardly any debate to be had). “The suggestion that I am some sort of pervert,” he told the Daily Echo, “is a complete travesty of the truth.”
The Voyeurism (Offences) Bill was later introduced as a government bill in late June, meaning that Chope couldn’t block it even if he wanted to. But it is still mystifying as to why he keeps on picking these ridiculous hills to die on. He insists that he is not anti-women, but is simply a stickler for parliamentary procedures and the minutiae of motions.
Even if this charitable interpretation is true, it’s nothing short of baffling that he seems unable to see how awful his stubbornness makes him – and by extension his party – appear in the eyes of female voters.
Another theory is that Chope actually is an old misogynist, one who rather enjoys the attention when he causes a stir like this. Coming so soon after the upskirting row, it’s hard not to suspect that he’s one of those men who gets a bit of a kick out of outraging feminists.
Whatever the truth, Chope is unlikely to be able to block the Women MPs of the World conference coming to the Commons at all. On Tuesday (17 July), a cross-party group of MPs – including the Conservatives’ Andrea Leadsom and Maria Miller, the SNP’s Hannah Bardell, and Labour’s Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Stephen Twigg – resubmitted the motion for consideration.
We hope they’re successful – and that we won’t be hearing from Chope again for a while. Somehow, though, that seems doubtful.
Images: UK Parliament / Getty Images