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.