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Wednesday, March 02, 2016 

The Jess Phillips enigma.

Poor Jess PhillipsPoor, poor Jess Phillips.  All she wanted was to break the mould.  All she wanted was to not be one of those politicians.  All she wanted was to not mouth the same old platitudes, to be 4 real, yo.  She would talk about her family, her friends, bring her personal life into her politics.  She would answer a straight question with a straight answer, regardless of if the answer got her into trouble.  That's all she's been about.

And what did she get in return?  A load of abuse, being repeatedly told to "shut up bitch", and no doubt other even more offensive things.  Displaying her personality, she now realises, only leads to trouble.  Those politicians who spout the party line, they just learned quicker than she did.  The backlash you get for speaking your mind simply isn't worth it.  Much better for all concerned to just regard each other as homogenised blocks.  Politicians are all the same, the public are all the same, and nothing as a result changes.  This is the realisation Jess Phillips has reached.

Phillips is angry, upset, bitter, and more than a little disingenuous in her short video polemic for the Graun.  You'll note that she puts far more emphasis on her deciding to do personal, which is far as I'm aware entirely uncontroversial, and none whatsoever on the err, actual controversial statements she has made, which are only alluded to.  Considering her first real burst into the media and political universe was as a result of telling Diane Abbott to fuck off, a jibe which united most opinion hacks and MPs in delight at someone saying what they've always wanted to, this seems a bit of an oversight.

To give Phillips the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she didn't realise she was being set up as this new controversialist, one of those MPs hacks turn to knowing they'll get good copy out of them.  Perhaps she thought they liked her purely for being herself.  Perhaps she didn't notice fellow MP of the people, always ready with a quote for the tabloids John Mann bigging her up as potential future PM.  Perhaps she didn't see articles like this one from Matthew Norman which is so full of itself you aren't sure of whether or not he's taking the piss.  That said, as Norman notes, Phillips is funny, as a quick glance at her Twitter feed shows.

Which only increases the mystification at why she has to make herself out to be a victim.  Yes, there are a lot of people out there who aren't very bright who will take things literally, as some did to her interview with Owen Jones where she said she would knife Jeremy Corbyn in the front if she thought if he was leading Labour to disaster.  Some though at that point were beyond tired with the constant sniping at Corbyn and whingng in general about the Labour leadership.  Then others noted how this seemed to be the start of a pattern where Phillips would say things she knew would be controversial and then act as though she was mortally wounded by the response.

Phillips' Corbyn remarks and Abbott insult were in actual fact the least controversial of her various interactions with the press and the rest of us.  If you say things as a politician that it's clear others will disagree with you about, you have to up to a point accept the criticism that comes your way.  If for instance you comment that Corbyn's failure to appoint a woman to one of the "four great offices of state" was "low-level non-violent misogyny", ignoring that he appointed more women to shadow cabinet positions overall than had ever been the case before, then there's going to be blow back.  If you go on Question Time and say that "a very similar situation to what happened in Cologne could be described on Broad Street in Birmingham every week where women are baited and heckled", you have to accept some are going to respond noisily and angrily.  I'm reasonably sympathetic to Phillips on the latter point, as the response from the police inadvertently backed her up (merely the 5 serious sexual assaults on Broad Street in 12 weeks), but an orchestrated and organised campaign of sexual assault isn't comparable to drunken cretins and man children acting lecherously, little difference as it makes to the victims.

Phillips indeed did respond to the criticism after her misogyny remarks, accepting her "phraseology" was probably clumsy and that Corbyn wasn't a misogynist, but that her overall point was correct and she wasn't going to shut up.  In fact, she considers herself the equivalent of Corbyn, being principled, keeping on banging on.  Only to now almost 2 months on instead conclude that it's not possible to be a Corbyn, to be different and succeed, as it's just too tiring being shouted down.

If Phillips wanted to be a little more reflective instead of dramatic, as she herself accepts she is, then she might have added an extra argument.  That yes, there are a few politicians out there who manage to be outspoken and not just communicate in soundbites, but they tend for the most part to be supremely unpleasant and respond to the criticism they get in kind.  We're seeing it over in America, we see it to a lesser extent with Nigel Farage, whose they're all the same shtick could not be more tiresome.

As it is from Phillips: while it's not always the case, the "we're all the same line" often amounts to the person who says it not being willing to engage or not being bothered enough to.  She could also have noted how despite the complaints, those same voters keep on putting their x in the box for the same old people, and how those who do resist by voting for someone other than the big two are punished by our winner takes all electoral system.  It's not just a conspiracy of the establishment to keep things as they are: voters tell everyone that politicians are all the same, then punish parties that go through spirited internal debates for not speaking with one voice.

If you wanted to be less charitable, you might conclude that Phillips knows full what she's doing, that she enjoys the attention and positive write-ups as any MP with a sizeable ego would, but is still affected by the nastiness of the few on Twitter.  Those even less charitable might connect this with the previous attempts to present the criticism she has received as trying to silence her entirely, the irony of those complaining about being silenced usually doing so as often and as loudly as possible always lost.  This would be unfair, as this genuine MP does seem to be genuine in her disappointment at not being able to change things as she hoped.  Still, as pleasant as Phillips appears personally, it might be an idea to recall the advice of those political sages, the Arctic Monkeys:

Assuming that all things are equal / Who'd want to be men of the people / When there's people like you?

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