David Davies MP: I'm not bigoted, I punched a gay man

Anti-gay-marriage Conservative MP offers unusual evidence of his tolerance: a boxing match with "The Pink Pounder".

David Davies MP made waves over the weekend when he told BBC Radio Wales:

If there are any sort of areas where there isn't full equality with married couples then I'd be more than happy to support making changes to civic ceremonies, so I really don't know why we need to go ahead with this at all.

I think most people are very tolerant and have no problem at all if people are gay but, and I hate to say this in a way because I expect it's going to cause controversy, but I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else.

Davies also told the radio station that he was concerned with the knock-on effects of equal marriage, arguing that it would change the way sex education is taught in schools and may lead to churches being forced by the ECHR to hold same-sex ceremonies.

Yesterday, Davies doubled down on his statement, and added that he wasn't bigoted in thinking it. He tweeted:

I'm not even angry anymore, because that it is amazing. This isn't just "I can't be homophobic, some of my best friends are gay"; it's "I can't be homophobic because I once beat up a gay man". (For what it's worth, Davies won the fight against "Britain's only openly gay boxer", Charles "The Pink Pounder" Jones.)

Other reasons Davies has given for not being homophobic include:

Interestingly, Davies has previously written, in a letter to Stonewall, that he is in favour of allowing churches to perform gay marriages, and that the only reason he is against the current proposals is because they may lead to churches being forced to officiate. Given the draft bill (and thus the legal language which would form the basis of any potential appeal to the ECHR) hasn't even been published yet, that really is a rather odd position to take.

Christina Odone also wants you to know about all her gay friends:

I'm a Tatchellite – full of admiration for the indefatigable human rights campaigner. I have close gay friends, many of whom have been in civil partnerships that make most heterosexual marriages look brittle. I supported civil partnerships. But…

I'm considering starting a some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay counter on this issue.

Update: Removed quotes in headline, added Christina Odone.

"In the blue corner…": Davies fights Jones.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.