Conservative Diary

« Jeremy Hunt puts the BBC on notice that it should expect the licence fee to be cut next year | Main | Claims that Conservatives have invited Martin McGuinness to speak to this autumn's Party Conference are wrong »

Why Phillip Hollobone should reconsider his surgery veil view

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-07-17 at 12.01.39 As I write, Islamist groups will doubtless be searching for women contacts in the Kettering constituency.  There's no guarantee that they'll find one, but if they do, they'll doubtless use their arts of persuasion (if that's exactly the right phrase) to persuade her first to wear a veil, if she doesn't already; second, to book in soon at one of the constituency surgeries of the local MP, Phillip Hollobone and, third, turn with up with protesters in attendance, plus a media scrum of hacks, cameras, boom mikes and tape recorders.

I say this because the Kettering MP's declared in this morning's Independent that he would refuse surgery time to such a woman if she refuses to remove her veil.  He says that this is because since "I could not see her [face], I am not able to satisfy myself she is who she says she is".  This is an unusual line of reasoning, because most MPs conducting surgeries accept constituents' claims to be who they say they are at face value.  Perhaps Hollobone is more scrupulous, asking as a matter of course for proof of identity.

But this is beside the main point - which is whether the Kettering MP's taking a step too far.  He's every right to campaign for the veil to be banned (as I've previously explained, I campaigned against veil use in my former constituency, though I don't believe that it should be barred nationwide).  Furthermore, he's entitled to ask any constituent who appears at his surgery wearing a veil, or any other garment which he dislikes, to remove it.  (Jack Straw's position, as I understand it.)

However, there's a fine line between starting a legitimate debate and stimulating - no doubt unwittingly, in this case - a media circus, with unknown consequences. And while MPs will sometimes refuse to meet constituents, I wonder if Hollobone's rationale is robust.  I hope that the Kettering MP, who's a hard-working local representative, re-considers his view.  It may be that the Independent caught him off guard for a moment.  Words spoken into a tape recorder, rather than written on to a computer, can sometimes come out in ways that their speaker didn't intend.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.