Discussing Labour’s Biggest Challenges with MP Jess Phillips

Jeremy Corbyn chairs his first shadow cabinet meeting in the House of Commons.

“The principles of our society are being let down”

Jess Phillips is the MP for Yardley, who, despite only being elected in May 2015, has already made a name for herself as an outspoken and straight-talking politician. She is now considered by some as a rising star for the Labour Party. Her reign has not been short of controversy; during her appearance on BBC Question Time she drew comparison between the Cologne attacks on New Years Eve and Broad Street on a weekend – a comment that, she claims, was “terribly and wilfully misrepresented.” She also said in an interview with Owen Jones that she wouldn’t “knife [Corbyn] in the back” but “in the front” if he is “hurting us [Labour]” more than he is “helping us.” We met the up-and-coming MP in her constituency office to get her take on Labour’s loss in 2015, life in Parliament and key social issues within the media and public sphere.

It was the first time ever in a Budget speech that someone had mentioned the words domestic violence so I felt pretty proud

As a child, Jess was interested in politics; she grew up with Labour-supporting parents. “All my life I have been campaigning for them [Labour] and then when I was little I decided I want to go into politics.” She didn’t choose to be a member of the Labour Party, it “was just given [to her] like a religion.” It was only when the Conservatives came in to power in 2010 – with the help of the Liberal Democrats – that she was inspired to do something; “I thought they are so awful. I was working at a women’s refuge at the time and they cut all of our services and I thought I’d better fight back.” Becoming an MP enabled her to take on cases and really “fight for them to the very highest level”. Her proudest moment came when, in the Autumn Budget, “George Osborne said he was giving some money to domestic violence. Literally the whole house turned and looked at me. It was the first time ever in a Budget speech that someone had mentioned the words domestic violence so I felt pretty proud.”

With regards to the 2015 General Election, Jess described how everything in its entirety went wrong. “People didn’t trust us with the economy and they didn’t like Ed Miliband. That was the top and bottom of it.” She dismissed claims that David Miliband would have made a difference. For her, “it was beyond the leader”; the narrative that the financial crisis was all Labour’s fault was “never challenged enough”, leaving her party’s message lacking hope. “Corbyn has done nothing to overcome that narrative”, she adds, claiming that instead he has only “deepened people’s fears on the economy as well as national security”. Commentating on the 33/1 odds of her being leader (at the time of writing), “put a fiver on, that’s all I’m saying.” A Jess Phillips led Labour “would be less parochial” and be “more open to listening” to people who happen to hold alternative views. Most importantly, she claims,  “I would talk about the future a lot more…not a future based on premises of things that existed in the past.”

This is not a Great Britain to be proud of

She describes appearing on national platforms on TV, such as BBC Question Time, as “terrifying”. Nevertheless she sees every one as an opportunity; “I seek out things I am scared of all the time.” She argues that the way politicians speak to the public and the media fuels political apathy. Yet, on the other side of the coin, she recognises that politicians are “tired of being wilfully misconstrued.” In response to her comments on the Cologne attacks (comparing them to a night out on Broad Street), she claims the reason she was “wilfully misrepresented” was  because people were angered she was “pointing out an unpalatable truth”.

When the topic turned to the track record of the past coalition and the current Conservative Government, Jess stated that “loads” had been done, especially concerning one of her most passionate subjects: domestic violence. One of the biggest successes was the Modern Slavery Bill, which “has the potential to, and has started to change, the face of how we consider people who have been trafficked here.” She described Michael Gove as a “woolly liberal” in regard to his policies as Justice Secretary; “the last 5 years he was terrible” but “I quite like Gove in Justice.” She claims that her office receives daily calls about people’s access to justice, which is “something that only exists for the richest few.” This is “not a Great Britain to proud of…the principles of our society are being let down,” she adds. Jess presents her view of Conservatives: “they’re not evil, they are evil, some are evil”. In practice, however, she attributes their “small amount of success” to the “accidental” intersection of their “ideology [and] meaning well”.

Approachable, straight-talking and honest

From our experience, Jess is an approachable, straight-talking and honest politician, who was a delight to meet and interview. Jess clearly knows where she stands on the internal Labour Party debate and her thoughts on the leadership. To us it was clear that she has a promising future at the Labour Party. We admire and commend her efforts to be an honest independent politician and we hope she isn’t silenced for voicing her opinions, regardless of their agreeability.

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