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How the upskirting debate has shown MP Christopher Chope should have no place in the House of Commons

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On Friday afternoon, Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope blocked a bill in the House of Commons which sought to close an existing legal loophole and make the practice of upskirting illegal.

Recently there has been increasing attention on the issue of upskirting, in which photos are taken up an individual’s skirt without their permission.

House of Commons

Gina Martin, the campaigner who inspired the bill, experienced this first hand when a stranger allegedly took photographs up her skirt at a music festival.

However, because the act is not technically illegal police were unable to prosecute the offender.

It was this incident, alongside Miss Martin’s subsequent campaign which inspired MP Wera Hobhouse to raise the bill, which was given its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday afternoon.

Although it was announced prior to the reading that it was formally being backed by the government, Conservative MP Sir Christoper Chope shouted "object", thus blocking the bill from going any further as per the rules of the Commons.

Following public outcry at his actions, the MP has been forced to defend himself, claiming he didn't actually know what upskirting was when he objected, and as such was not endorsing the practice.

Instead, according to his later statement, his objection was to the way the bill had been raised.

Bills can either be suggested by the government or by individual MPs, with the latter being known as private member's bills.

The voyeurism bill, the official name of the attempt to make upskirting illegal, was initially raised by MP Wera Hobhouse, and as such was a private members bill, even though it later gained government backing.

However, this defence is problematic for two key reasons.

Firstly, his defence is based on the fact that the voyerism bill was raised by a single MP rather than the government as a whole.

However, the distinction between government and private member's bill is entirely arbitary as it doesn't actually matter who originally raised a bill, especially if the bill itself will improve people's lives or help protect them.

Interestingly, looking at Chope's history in parliament he is no stranger to private member's bills, having attempted to introduce 47 of his own in the last year alone. 

If he is genuinely agaisnt the premise of private member's bills regardless of the topic, it makes no sense for him to have raised so many himself, and as such seems little more than an ill advised excuse.

Having ruled out the likelihood that Chope genuinely opposes private member's bills, we are left we the excuse that because he didn’t know what upskirting was, it was perfectly reasonable to object to it.

Not only should he have spared the entire thirty seconds it takes to look up what upskirting means, or even have bothered to ask a fellow MP, this part of his defence shows a severe lack of respect for the issues facing women.

Essentially Chope is saying that because he has never had the misfortune of experiencing the issue, to the point he had no idea it even existed, he shouldn't have to care about it.

Returning once again to his parliamentary record, Chope has a long history of objecting to issues which have never affected him.

He has objected to introducing equal pay transparency, raising welfare benefits, making racial discrimination illegal and each of the ten bills which attempted to protect gay rights.

Essentially, from his privilleged position as a straight, white, rich man, Chope has repeatedly ignored the needs of others, and his objection to upskirting is simply the latest example in this ongoing pattern.

If upskirting had instead been uptrousering and innocent men were being violated by strangers, it seems much more likely that Chope would both know what the term meant and have offered his support to the bill.

Indeed, when the House of Commons voted on increasing the tax rate for those who earn over £150,000 a year he was adamantely agaisnt the move, hardly surprising given this increased tax would have been applied to his own income.

It is clear that Chope has consistently only been interested in voting for, or objecting to, matters which directly affect his own life and to have such an individual in a position of relative power is both dangerous and demeaning.

In a world where women, alongisde many other groups, are fighting to achieve equality in the eyes of the law, we can do without MPs who not only have no interest in helping women but also have no interest in even finding out what problems we are facing.

Ultimately, I can't help but agree with the many who are calling for Chope to be stripped of his MP status as, quite simply, ignorance can no longer be accepted as a reason for lack of progress.

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