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Jess Phillips: ‘the awaited antidote to people like Boris Johnson’

ByMiri Hartley

Feb 3, 2020

The discussion about Jess Phillips starts when we consider the question of how far a person can be disentangled from their political guise. Consider the jarring contrast of the wily Boris Johnson, whose post-Brexit immigration stance seems at odds with his amicable persona, and Trump, who is an idiot politician and an idiot man. But, both were elected leaders which does not provide a pattern for success. Jess Phillips, however, seems to be carving her own route in the bid to Labour leadership.

This is entirely her prerogative, after her shining electoral success in the face of Labour’s dismal defeat in the latest election. Labour didn’t really stand for anything in the last election. Their view on Brexit was muddled and seemingly intentionally abstruse, their policies on renationalising rail and utilities were ridiculous and Jeremy Corbyn’s polarising presence seemed to distort any of the appealing or well-thought through policies in the labour manifesto. Rather, the labour candidates permitted back into the Houses of Parliament were those who had established loyalty within their constituencies. In my home constituency, it was with a well-practiced hand that we crossed the ballot, electing our Labour MP of two decades once more.

Does loyalty equate to good leadership though? Her pitch published in the Guardian on December 14th last year was a political masterclass; it did not blame the voters but rather shifted the blame to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership without outright condemnation. It seemed to imply that change and improvement is possible, and that the belief otherwise is a machination of the Tories. Yet this is the same Jess Phillips who laughed in the face of a suggestion of an International Men’s Day, which was suggested as a parliamentary debate in the face of the epidemic of male suicides. Granted, the way that Philip Davies could easily be construed as insensitive, but Jess Phillips’ swift shutdown, citing the ubiquity of female-oriented secure seems out of place. So why are people of Yardley, Birmingham backing her despite a handful of similar incidents of outspokenness?

Perhaps they sense that that Jess Phillips is working class and female, and in this society these facts automatically close conversations before they start. Any talk of feminism can be perceived as bitterness; any talk of social improvement is self-interest. Jeremy Corbyn’s egalitarian attitude towards women was praised and somehow Boris Johnson, an unashamed posh boy (see Ed Miliband!) presented himself in the last election as a friend to the working class. In future years, we may come to see people like Jess Phillips as the awaited antidote to people like Boris Johnson; people who actually are the people they claim to represent. Self-interest in politics is nothing to be condemned as long as it is evident; Jess Phillips has championed women’s rights linking to experiences of sexism detailed in her book ‘Everywoman’.

I want a leader who walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and actually is a duck. I want a leader who actually has the motivation to put their money where their mouth is. Theresa May’s brief stint as PM and Jo Swinson’s electoral mud-slinging were hardly good representations of female leadership. The Western world needs to stop equating privilege – whether it is masculine or financial – with national interest. It is entirely possible to champion one’s country as well as the minorities living within it, and we can thank Jess Phillips’ work for demonstrating this. Aside from any noble reasons, it would be delightfully controversial to elect Jess Phillips; an outspoken, potty-mouthed working class woman. And as the last few years in politics have shown us, that is as good a reason as any.


Image: Robert Jones via Flickr

By Miri Hartley

Senior Writer