There is a new brat-pack of MPs in parliament. They pride themselves on using Twitter like teenagers – posting selfies and sarcastic bitchy asides. They feature frequently in the Independent and the Guardian, bravely speaking out about tampons, Page 3 and global warming. They are young, hip and all about breaking down the barriers between stuffy Westminster and the ever-mysterious public.
At the head of this new generation of ‘cool’ politicians is Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley. Since starting her career in parliament in May, Phillips has worked up a reputation for being an outspoken backbencher and rebel MP. But the real reason Phillips frequently makes the news is that she’s partial to attention-seeking stunts. In September, she boasted about telling Diane Abbott to ‘fuck off’; in October, she was filmed laughing at the idea of International Men’s Day; and, most recently, she’s made headlines for threatening to stab Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the front (metaphorically, she hastens to add).
You’d be forgiven for thinking Phillips had a promising career in reality TV, rather than parliamentary politics. But this ‘authentic’ Brummie has been lauded by many as a breath of fresh air and a sign that a new type of politics is on the horizon. Julie Burchill, who tips Phillips as a future Labour leader, has described the 34-year-old MP as an ‘overgrown schoolgirl’ and a ‘Mrs Pankhurst meets Tigger in Topshop’. She’s like a naughty teenager and the liberal press love her. But plaudits like this are unintentionally accurate. Because if we put aside the hair-flicking, the sarky tweeting and the gobby Brummie schtick for a moment and attempt to get to grips with what Phillips stands for politically, the new kid on the block comes up very short.
Phillips’ main bugbear is gender equality in parliament. Her swearing match with Diane Abbott was in response to the four top jobs in Corbyn’s team going to men. Following the incident, Phillips told the Guardian, ‘there’s something wrong with the Labour Party… you have to be a remarkable and amazing woman to rise to the top’. Phillips was not the only one whining about representation in the shadow cabinet when Corbyn was elected. She was joined by many other mediocre politicians, including Yvette Cooper and Stella Creasy, who similarly thought it was unfair that more less-than-remarkable women weren’t chosen in the spirit of equality.
On the one hand, Phillips is continuously arguing that women can do the things men can while standing on their heads. Writing after her snub of International Men’s Day, she assured her critics of her support for both male and female issues: ‘I’m a woman, I can multitask.’ But, on the other hand, Phillips seems hell-bent on making out that women are in desperate need of a leg-up: ‘Being a man is its own reward. You hit the jackpot when you are born a boy child.’ She is torn between her desire to pass as a working-class, no-shit, strong woman, and her attraction to the feminist politics of equal opportunities and 50/50 representation. What she doesn’t realise is that the working-class women out there, who she believes she speaks for, don’t need half the room in parliament to be wearing skirts in order to feel like they can succeed in life. Watching Phillips continuously make the headlines for idiotic comments, however, could be enough to put some of us off.