Tory MP's ban the burqa bill reaches parliament

Philip Hollobone, who refuses to meet constituents who wear the veil, has tabled a bill making it illegal to wear "face coverings" in public.

Back in June, three right-wing Conservative MPs, Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone and Christopher Chope, teamed up to produce an "alternative Queen's Speech", a set of 40 bills that appeared to be drawn from a Chris Morris satire.

The proposed laws included a ban on the burqa, the reintroduction of capital punishment, the privatisation of the BBC, a referendum on equal marriage, withdrawal from the EU and the renaming of the August bank holiday as Margaret Thatcher Day. All of these bills have been given space on the parliamentary timetable and, to David Cameron's undoubted glee, will be debated at various points between now and 28 February 2014. 

Today there are three from Hollobone before MPs: the National Service bill, the European Communities Act 1972 (repeal) bill and, most egregiously, the Face Coverings (Prohibition) bill. 

The bill states that "a person wearing a garment or other object intended by the wearer as its primary purpose to obscure the face in a public place shall be guilty of an offence." It adds that "where members of the public are licensed to access private premises for the purposes of the giving or receiving of goods or services, it shall not be an offence for the owner...to request that a person wearing a garment or other object intended to obscure the face remove such garment or object; or to require that a person refusing a request...leave the premises."

In 2010, the last time he tried to introduce such a law, Hollobone revealed that he refuses to meet with constitutents who wear the burqa or the niqab. He said: "I would ask her to remove her veil. If she said: 'No', I would take the view that she could see my face, I could not see hers, I am not able to satisfy myself she is who she says she is. I would invite her to communicate with me in a different way, probably in the form of a letter."

There's no prospect of any of the bills mentioned above becoming law but their political significance is that they further poison a Tory brand still in need of detoxification. They alienate many of the voters that the party needs to win over if it is ever to win a majority again, such as ethnic minorities (just 16% of whom voted for the Tories in 2010), LGBT voters (an equal marriage referendum aimed at securing a no vote), northerners and Scots (try proposing "Margaret Thatcher Day" in those parts of the country), and makes it appear obsessed with fringe concerns. Unfortunately for Cameron, he has six months more of this to look forward to.

Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has tabled bills to ban the burqa, reintroduce national service and leave the EU.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Sadiq Khan is probably London's new mayor - what will happen in a Tooting by-election?

There will be a by-election in the new mayor's south London seat.

At the time of writing, Sadiq Khan appears to have a fairly comfortable lead over Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election. Which means (at least) two (quite) interesting things are likely to happen: 1) Sadiq Khan is going to be mayor, and 2) there is going to be a by-election in Tooting.

Unlike the two parliamentary by-elections in Ogmore and Sheffield that Labour won at a canter last night, the south London seat of Tooting is a genuine marginal. The Conservatives have had designs on the seat since at least 2010, when the infamous ‘Tatler Tory’, Mark Clarke, was the party’s candidate. Last May, Khan narrowly increased his majority over the Tories, winning by almost 3,000 votes with a majority of 5.3 per cent. With high house prices pushing London professionals further out towards the suburbs, the seat is gentrifying, making Conservatives more positive about the prospect of taking the seat off Labour. No government has won a by-election from an opposition party since the Conservative Angela Rumbold won Mitcham and Morden from a Labour-SDP defector in June 1982. In a nice parallel, that seat borders Tooting.

Of course, the notion of a Tooting by-election will not come as a shock to local Conservatives, however much hope they invested in a Goldsmith mayoral victory. Unusually, the party’s candidate from the general election, Dan Watkins, an entrepreneur who has lived in the area for 15 years, has continued to campaign in the seat since his defeat, styling himself as the party’s “parliamentary spokesman for Tooting”. It would be a big surprise if Watkins is not re-anointed as the candidate for the by-election.

What of the Labour side? For some months, those on the party’s centre-left have worried with varying degrees of sincerity that Ken Livingstone may see the by-election as a route back into Parliament. Having spent the past two weeks muttering conspiratorially about the relationship between early 20th-Century German Jews and Adolf Hitler before having his Labour membership suspended, that possibility no longer exists.

Other names talked about include: Rex Osborn, leader of the Labour group on Wandsworth Council; Simon Hogg, who is Osborn’s deputy; Rosena Allin-Khan, an emergency medicine doctor who also deputises for Osborn; Will Martindale, who was Labour’s defeated candidate in Battersea last year; and Jayne Lim, who was shortlisted earlier in the year for the Sheffield Brightside selection and used to practise as a doctor at St George’s hospital in Tooting.

One thing that any new Labour MP would have to contend with is the boundary review reporting in 2018, which will reduce the number of London constituencies by 5. This means that a new Tooting MP could quickly find themselves pitched in a selection fight for a new constituency with their neighbours Siobhan McDonagh, who currently holds Mitcham and Morden, and/or Chuka Umunna, who is the MP for Streatham. 

According to the Sunday Times, Labour is planning to hold the by-election as quickly as possible, perhaps even before the EU referendum on June 23rd.

It's also worth noting that, as my colleague Anoosh Chakelian reported in March, George Galloway plans to stand as well.

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.