One of the more notable aspects of the recent UK election was the campaign in the Shipley constituency, a seat held by Philip Davies since 2005. In addition to rivals from Labour and the Lib Dems, Davies was challenged by Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party due to his supposed “misogyny”. The WEP’s targeting of Davies was rather curious, as they were unable to come up with a single example of sexism by the MP in his twelve years in Parliament. Thus, what they were doing was completely fraudulent from the very beginning, but their attention seeking antics did generate significant media interest, with reporting from newspapers, the BBC, NBC and even a visit to the constituency by veteran reporter Michael Crick for Channel 4:
On election night itself, interest in the seat massively increased upon the “news” that Davies had been defeated. Davies trended on Twitter for much of election night, and those reporting on his defeat included Politics Home, various Guardian writers, Labour MPs such as David Lammy, not to mention Crick himself who even asked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn his opinion of Davies’ defeat. A number of articles quickly appeared online about Davies’ loss, Helena Horton of the Telegraph wrote a piece titled: “‘Don’t mess with women’: Twitter gloats as anti-feminist Philip Davies loses his seat.”
The Huffington Post’s Jasmin Gray titled her article as follows:
The only problem with all these thousands of tweets, news articles and even questions to opposition leaders is that they were all complete nonsense. Every single one was posted well before the Shipley result was actually confirmed, thus suggesting those present could surely see a far bigger pile of votes for his opponent than for Davies. However, once the results came in, the contest wasn’t even close. Davies won the election with his highest total of votes ever, His majority was almost 5,000, his vote share increased 1.4% and an outright majority of the constituency had voted for him – i.e. he received more votes than every opponent combined! All this in the face of a huge campaign by much of the media to unseat him, including the withdrawal of the Green Party in the seat, not to mention a disastrous campaign nationally by Tory leader Theresa May.
Such hopeless reporting resulting in viral fake news is no accident in this case. The media is notoriously biased against anyone like Davies who stands up for equality for men. At HEqual we’ve forced the BBC to retract lies about Davies in the past and reported on further instances of them spreading lies about the MP. The reason why reports spread of Davies losing are quite simple – the “journalists” involved were so misandrist and biased that they let this bias get the better of them and chose the result/story they wanted to hear rather than report on the actual facts.
The lack of ethics and professionalism by some of those involved is simply shameful. Horton’s original article not only got the result wrong, but its opening paragraph contained outright lies about Davies, describing him as “the MP largely known for opposing women’s rights in Parliament”. Davies has of course never once opposed women’s rights and simply attempts to make sexist bills gender neutral instead of privileging women over men. To top it all off, her headline stated that he was someone who had “messed with women”, a total of three lies in the article in addition to the fake result. Two of Horton’s awful smears were later removed, yet one still remains as the image caption.
A glance a Horton’s background shows exactly why she fabricates such nonsensical articles and fails to check basic facts. She previously worked for the red top Mirror tabloid newspaper, and the International Journalism Festival website states “Helena Horton is a British journalist and activist, who has interests in LGBTQ liberation and feminism.” A glance at Horton’s Twitter account shows the extent of her feminist bias and she’s even a fan of Jess Phillips and Harriet Harman, two of the most the most misandrist politicians in the history of Parliament and politically she’s also expressed her support for former Labour leader Ed Milliband. The problem is that Horton is a feminist activist and her contempt for men is such that she cannot write honestly or accurately on gender issues. Horton’s blinkered and ill-informed approach is such that she simply cannot distinguish between the ideology of feminism and women as a whole. To her, any critique of the tiny proportion of people subscribing to her feminist ideology is automatically an attack on all women and even opposition to their basic human rights.
The conduct of Crick, a former BBC reporter, was in many ways even worse than Horton’s. His hostility towards Davies was obvious in a pre-election report from the constituency where he also attempted to smear Davies as a sexist and despite being in broadcasting for 35 yeas his appetite for Davies’ loss was meant that ethics and common sense went out the window and he took a mere rumour as 100% fact, misleading half the country in the process. Crick’s colleague Jon Snow is even known to have had attempted to bully Davies in the past as a result of Davies exposing Snow’s bias, with Snow’s boss later apologising for the way Davies was treated. An examination of Crick’s background shows he worked as an election agent for a Labour MP, and his hostility to Conservatives is clear, with Crick even entering the political arena himself to report Tory MP Michael Howard to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. The only two tweets Crick sent regarding results on election night concerned Davies’ “defeat”, and such was his glee about the outcome that he even quizzed the leader of the opposition about Davies’ “loss”. While others at least corrected the fake news and apologised for spreading nonsense, the Channel 4 political correspondent’s tweets remain up. and even some five days later there’s not a single acknowledgement anywhere of the actual outcome. Channel 4 is actually a state-owned broadcaster and that surely gives it the scope to be less biased than other organisations rather than the worst of the lot.
So, why does this spread of misinformation matter so much? It’s obvious that the pre-election smears of Davies undermine our democracy, but posting outright lies immediately after the polls close is almost as bad. People often believe what they read in the papers, and those reading Horton’s attempts at journalism will be understandably angry at an MP supposedly opposing women’s rights who apparently “messed with women”. Such anger will only be heightened upon finding out that Crick had invented the election result, and it’s surely no coincidence that Davis has received multiple death threats from feminists since his victory. Fake news isn’t just random words online or idiots talking rubbish on the TV, it has very real consequences for people’s lives. People like Horton and Crick really need to decide whether they wish to be activists or actual journalists. At the very least they need to be transparent and fully disclose their biases and blatant political agendas.