Tory MP bids to ban the veil

Philip Hollobone begins attempt to introduce repressive ban with private member’s bill today.

One Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, is hoping that Britain will follow Belgium by introducing a repressive ban on the niqab and the burqa. He will present his Private Member's Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill in the House of Commons today. The parliament website describes it as:

A Bill to regulate the wearing of certain face coverings; and for connected purposes.

The bill would introduce a ban on people wearing burqas (and balaclavas) in public. Hollobone has previously made his support for a full ban clear. During a Commons debate on International Women's Day he said:

The phrase that has been given to me time and again is, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." This is Britain; we are not a Muslim country. Covering one's face in public is strange, and to many people it is intimidating and offensive. I seriously think that a ban on wearing the niqab or the burqa in public should be considered.

Like other supporters of an illiberal ban, Hollobone has yet to provide a convincing answer to the point that those who complain that Islamist men tell women how to dress are doing precisely the same thing by calling for a ban. On matters of sexual equality, Muslim women would be better served by the enforcement of existing laws against domestic violence than by the enactment of new laws restricting their dress.

For a detailed discussion of Europe's war on the veil, see my colleague Mehdi Hasan's recent New Statesman cover story on the subject.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who really controls the Labour Party now?

Jeremy Corbyn's allies will struggle to achieve their ambition to remove general secretary Iain McNicol.

Jeremy Corbyn's advance at the general election confirmed his place as Labour leader. Past opponents recognise not only that Corbyn could not be defeated but that he should not be.

They set him the test of winning more seats – and he passed. From a position of strength, Corbyn was able to reward loyalists, rather than critics, in his shadow cabinet reshuffle. 

But what of his wider control over the party? Corbyn allies have restated their long-held ambition to remove Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, and to undermine Tom Watson by creating a new post of female deputy leader (Watson lost the honorific title of "party chair" in the reshuffle, which was awarded to Corbyn ally Ian Lavery).

The departure of McNicol, who was accused of seeking to keep Corbyn off the ballot during the 2016 leadership challenge, would pave the way for the removal of other senior staff at Labour HQ (which has long had an acrimonious relationship with the leader's office). 

These ambitions are likely to remain just that. But Labour figures emphasise that McNicol will remain general secretary as long he retains the support of the GMB union (of which he is a former political officer) and that no staff members can be removed without his approval.

On the party's ruling National Executive Committee, non-Corbynites retain a majority of two, which will grow to three when Unite loses a seat to Unison (now Labour's biggest affiliate). As before, this will continue to act as a barrier to potential rule changes.

The so-called "McDonnell amendment", which would reduce the threshold for Labour leadership nominations from 15 per cent of MPs to 5 per cent, is still due to be tabled at this year's party conference, but is not expected to pass. After the election result, however, Corbyn allies are confident that a left successor would be able to make the ballot under the existing rules. 

But Labour's gains (which surprised even those close to the leader) have reduced the urgency to identify an heir. The instability of Theresa May's government means that the party is on a permanent campaign footing (Corbyn himself expects another election this year). For now, Tory disunity will act as a force for Labour unity. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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