The hollowness of Jess Phillips

When ‘telling it like it is’ means saying nothing at all.

Tom Slater
Topics Brexit Politics UK

‘Speak truth. Win power.’ That’s the slogan for the Labour leadership campaign of Jess Phillips, the outspoken MP for Birmingham Yardley and darling of commissioning editors for broadsheet Sunday supplement magazines.

But while Phillips has barely been out of the media since she was elected in 2015, what she actually believes in, what truth she intends to speak, is not altogether clear. And as her long-trailed leadership bid got underway this weekend, we’re still none the wiser.

Her interview on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday was full of platitudes and non-statements. She said the primary reason Labour lost the election was a lack of public trust in the party’s ability to govern. But on policy, she offered little in the way of specifics.

Marr asked her about Labour’s pledges to nationalise rail, water, energy and power. Would they be kept by a Phillips-led Labour Party? ‘[L]eadership is about choices’, was her response. When pushed, she said she backed nationalising the railways, and reversing privatisation in probation, then trailed off about the rest.

The only eye-catching announcement she made was to keep open the prospect of her campaigning for Britain to rejoin the European Union after we formally leave at the end of this month. And she walked that back this morning.

Phillips is associated with the ‘moderate’ wing of the Labour Party and has been a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn. But she also calls herself a ‘socialist’ and says she rejects factionalism. In the end, what she would do as Labour leader or PM is anyone’s guess.

As Isabel Hardman notes in the Spectator, Phillips has spent her time in parliament campaigning on the issues of domestic violence – before entering parliament she managed women’s refuges in the Midlands – and schools funding.

But she hasn’t really expressed any broader political views. Even as regards education, as Hardman writes, ‘we know that she thinks schools should have enough money… but it’s rather less clear what she thinks the structure of the education system should be’.

During her short time in parliament, Phillips has become a darling of the centrist media set. But in interview after interview after interview, she has managed to say remarkably little about policy, let alone principle. She’s even tried to make a virtue out of it.

As one Times interview put it last year, ‘she’s not good at economics or technocratic detail’. In another interview, with The Sunday Times, she admitted to having to ‘Google the Single Market and the Common Market every time I go on telly’.

‘She volunteers all this with no hint of apology – nor any discernible politician’s filter’, says the gushing ST write-up. But while a politician admitting she doesn’t know what she is talking about might, in a sense, be refreshing, it is hardly positive.

Phillips’ ability to cut through the niceties, waffle and pretense of Westminster is at the centre of her brand. But her version of ‘telling it like it is’ seems to entail saying absolutely nothing of substance while generating endless headlines about herself.

‘All over the world we see that it isn’t enough to offer big change, you also need a big personality’, she wrote in the Guardian on Saturday. But Phillips is not so much authentic as she is a kind of character act, lapped up by an out-of-touch commentariat.

Every interviewer gawps at her hoop earrings, Converse trainers and gobbiness. Her parliamentary interventions, all lovingly retweeted by lobby hacks, often manage to crowbar in references to her own supposed ordinariness, regardless of the subject of debate.

This hit farcical levels last September, when Phillips (who earns £80,000 a year as an MP) claimed in parliament that she doesn’t own a printer. (She said she relied on her mother-in-law’s.) The internet soon went to work, finding various photos of Phillips next to printers.

She is celebrated as a working-class hero by people who probably cross the street whenever they see a working-class person. All the while, the fact of Phillips’ comfortable upbringing (her mother was a well-paid NHS exec) seems to have passed the media by.

Her true appeal is flattering the media set’s prejudices. As Brendan O’Neill has put it, Phillips is beloved by them ‘because she sounds working class – to London poshos – while espousing exactly the same political and moral views as London poshos’.

And even then, her views seem to amount to being Corbynsceptic, anti-Brexit and moralistic. Indeed, Phillips seems to treat Labour Party politics as little more than an exercise in looking after the great unwashed in a nicer way than those dastardly Tories do.

Her swish leadership video shows various Birmingham residents telling her how wonderful and caring she is. ‘You help the vulnerable, you help at the food banks, you help the families that need it most’, says one, as Phillips looks on, smiling.

This is her, and much of the modern Labour Party, in a nutshell. She confuses left-wing politics for charity. Ordinary people are there to be looked after by middle-class do-gooders. The idea that they may run their own lives is an almost absurd prospect.

In more ways than one, Jess Phillips mania – a malady thankfully limited to SW1 – reminds us how out of touch Labour now is.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty

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Beggars Belief

11th January 2020 at 9:15 pm

Given all the negativity about Phillip’s here I will say that at least you can rely on her to join in with a lynch mob. She didn’t bat an eyelid when her gang went after a pro Palestinian activist member of Labour. Surely that makes Spiked happy?

Ray Warman

11th January 2020 at 8:15 am

Jess is a prime example of the emptiness of the opposition benches. As a long time observer of ‘the great and the good’, I can see no hope for any meaningful alternative government for a very long time ahead.

Chris Hilton

10th January 2020 at 8:47 pm

Could your writers stop describing the working class as “the great unwashed”. I’m working class and have not come across any unwashed people in fifty years. This does rather amplify your own attitude to the working classes (fake) and your knowledge of them (nil). As if the “working classes” even exist and are not just useful tool for the chattering classes (yourselves) to play with. Also, the phrase is about a century and a half out-of-date and becoming more common. What can that mean?

Firstname Title

10th January 2020 at 8:21 pm

A nasty and pointless personal attack though I enjoyed some other more rational articles on Spiked.

A further irony was all these stupid uses of the phrase Liberal Elites in every article, though the spin doctors that devised it a few years ago have done very well brainwashing the gullible with it. Do you pay royalties every time you bleat it out?

Then to top it off I got a series of adverts on Spiked for

A brand new Aston Martin/Bently (forget which)
flights to Abu Dhabi
Golf equipment
£3,500 worth of building materials.

None of these are things I would ever buy nor relate to this computers history, but its an insight into the readers/backers of spiked.

a watson

8th January 2020 at 8:22 am

Being a working class pensioner living in North London I can assure you of the arrogant and patronising attitude of the Labour Party towards the London working class. Those that haven’t been forced out by lucrative Labour Council housing policies in once strong working class areas and the terrible overcrowding in remaining council properties due to massive immigration are left with not having any political voice in local politics. Incompetent career politicians and snobbish uncaring thugs now populate the London Labour party. Of course they mostly own their own valuable properties and keep the housing market lively by building housing for international investors.

Marvin Jones

8th January 2020 at 12:20 pm

Tom’s article and your comment lays bare to the state of this country’s decline in any intellectual and knowledgeable politician to ever exist in our house for career morons. Phillips for example, I have now seen three interviews of her for the leadership of labour, and others before. I tape them so when my wife gets home from work, it gives her something really amusing to watch and realise the state of our politics and the type who have the gall to even contemplate their intelligence to be PM someday. This is one sentimental maternal fool whose limitations are child care, food banks and breast feeding.

Neil John

7th January 2020 at 2:42 pm

K Tojo

7th January 2020 at 12:21 pm

Surely this Jess Phillips woman has a natural following throughout the land. She gives voice to the shallowness of a whole generation. Twitter-length bursts of moral outrage, righteous (but brief) postings on social media. Her “F off Diane Abbott” was a crowd pleaser. As “the Beast of Bolsover” proved, you can build a whole political reputation on carefully time one-liners.

Whether calculated or not Jess Phillips provides politics for the Momentum generation: the triumph of attitude over substance and moral posturing over knowledge and intelligence.

Matt Ryan

7th January 2020 at 10:28 pm

So, basically so is a vacuous bitch?

K Tojo

8th January 2020 at 1:03 am

Whether she is a bitch or not I neither know nor care. Vacuous? Probably not. That would suggest she has nothing at all to say. What she does have to say has as much substance as a bowl of cornflakes. For the smartPhone zombies of the Momentum generation (you know, those people who can’t bear to read an email message longer than one sentence) she must sound like the sweet voice of good common sense.

The stout-as-a-stump, no nonsense, down to earth “Beast of Bolsover” got away with that kind of trivia for decades. His audience was of an earlier generation. It consisted of northeners who would only ever vote Labour and didn’t want to spend too long thinking about la-di-da London politics. Just give them a bit of working class bluster and a few laughs – and you’d have their loyalty.

Neil McCaughan

7th January 2020 at 11:30 am

It is said that she sometimes does her housework (as if) in the nude.

I’m sorry if I just spoilt anyone’s day.

Chris Stapleton

7th January 2020 at 10:05 am

Tom refars to Isabell Hardman’s article in the Spectator: “What Does Jess Phillips Actaully Believe in?” In response to that article I wrote:

“Thank you God [figure of speech only], I was looking forward to commenting on this political excresence.

Isabell Hardman says: “….but that doesn’t mean she is launching with a particularly well-formulated policy platform. In fact…. it’s not quite as easy to work out what she thinks.” Boy, you can say that again. As Lamia [from another Spectator comment] has said earlier (and better than I could), she has two buttons: ‘Fulminate’…. and ‘Sob’. Otherwise it is just a bad tempered vacuousness, which is particularly poisonous when directed at men.

When Isabel Hardman said that “until today, we had heard very little indeed from her on foreign policy,” I laughed out loud. Phillips does not do politics as it is generally understood (ie to include stuff like foreign policy etc). She is just a gobby feminist and PC mouthpiece.

Enjoyed that.”

Jerry Owen

7th January 2020 at 8:07 am

I didn’t watch the interview, but presumably Marr didn’t ask Phillips for her truthful opinion on white male suicide.. a hoot apparently. It’ll be such a good campaign launch for her and will be about as successful as the Libdems ‘ Bollocks to Brexit ,’ campaign.


7th January 2020 at 2:23 am

Rebecca Wrong Daily will knock her for six!

john larkin

6th January 2020 at 11:22 pm

Jess Phillips claimed over £200 K in expenses in 2018; why hasn’t she bought a photocopier for her constituency work out of all this money?

Ven Oods

7th January 2020 at 7:28 am

Those hoop earrings don’t come free with boxes of Shreddies, you know. And you don’t see Converse trainers at knock-off prices in the Sports Direct sale…

Jim Lawrie

6th January 2020 at 10:29 pm

Middle class lefties have always tried to “democratise” their accent, as it used to be called.

Almost every one of them, and many Tories, annoy people with their dropped tees and forced glottal stops. It grates because inevitably, under pressure, they drop back into their clipped elicitation. The inconsistency jars

I do very good Morningside accent when I want to be posh. It sends most people’s blood pressure through the roof and their hands towards my throat in less than 5 seconds.

Sadly, here in Scotland, a faux Glasgow accent, with hints of Estuary, is becoming all pervasive.

Twisting her arm hard up her back would reveal her real accent. I do wonder about her job though – business development manager. How does one drum up business for a women’s refuge?

Jim Lawrie

6th January 2020 at 10:34 pm

* elicitation = enunciation

steve moxon

6th January 2020 at 10:20 pm

Jess Philips is a man-hating obscenity who laughed in the Commons at the epidemic of male suicide, one of the causes of which is her feminist extreme misrepresentation of the issue of intimate partner violence. The key lines of evidence — experimental (vignette studies), injury rates vis-a-vis what would be anticipated, and heavily disproportionate male under-reporting — converge on IPV being predominantly and likely overwhelmingly a problem of female perpetration (see my three published science review papers on this). [* Girls/women are shown in a couple context to use physical violence as their preferred mode of aggression, whereas boys/men will back off in any context where a female would be the target. * The actually recorded roughly equal IPV injury rates do not fit with the expected 20:1 female:male ratio (owing to sex differentials in upper-body strength and frame weakness) if IPV was also roughly equal; so this suggests at least an order of magnitude excess of male over female victims. * Males compared to females under-report even in anonymous survey where all demand characteristics have been removed, and researched estimates are of a sex differential male over female of up to an order of magnitude or more: it’s at least threefold even according to the CPS (who then fail to factor this into their data, which would change their headline stat of 40% of victims being male to males being two to three times more likely to be victims).]

Michael Green

6th January 2020 at 9:55 pm

The politics of the left seem to amount to just this: taxpayer funded social programs for designated ‘victim’ groups, from which middle-class leftist do-gooders can fund their public-sector salaries.

Matt Ryan

7th January 2020 at 9:28 am


H McLean

6th January 2020 at 9:32 pm

Phillips is good at moaning, nagging and playing the victim – and that’s it. Her political vacuity reflects her ideological programming – feminist, neoMarxist and self-serving. By her own admission she believes that in order to lift people up you must tear others down, an attitude that allows her to justify and wallow in own bile.

That someone with the self-righteous zeal of a first year gender studies has become a ‘popular’ mainstream politician only demonstrates how far Labour and the left have fallen.

Michael Lynch

6th January 2020 at 9:38 pm

A well written and exact description.

steve moxon

6th January 2020 at 10:21 pm


Matt Ryan

7th January 2020 at 9:28 am

And she is thick as mince.

Bella Donna

7th January 2020 at 11:41 am


Michael Lynch

6th January 2020 at 9:28 pm

It’s totally weird that the Party are going to vote for people who have their fingerprints all over it’s destruction. With the exception of Nandy, who, in my opinion, should hold off for a few years and then ride to the rescue after the next election. It seems that those currently running find it necessary to court the membership rather than the voters in order to win. Really odd behavior given that Labour is quite frankly doomed for the next decade if they don’t elect a fresh face from the very start. If they continue on with a middle class woke at the helm (this includes Phillips who is about as working class as Thornberry) then they are going to spend decades in the political wilderness. If they really want to attain power then they are going to have to work incredibly hard on winning over the electorate. This means giving up on the political correctness, identity politics, virtue signaling and their general patronizing attitude toward everyone outside their middle class bubble. They will also need to atone for the way they have betrayed the working classes. Not just over Brexit either, but also for the grooming gang scandals that they had a hand in aiding and abetting for the sake of their diversity ideology. Just because the media played the scale of this down and the courts did their damn best to silence all dissent it hasn’t gone away; this was a very deep wound that has not yet healed. If they fail to recognize the scale of their task quickly then they may as well pull up the drawbridge now and change their name to the London Party.

steve moxon

6th January 2020 at 10:29 pm

Yes, Nandy’s time looks in the future — assuming there’s any Liebore Party left by then, which looks doubtful.
She surely can’t get very far before voting starts in February starting from low single figures.
The drive to get masses of new members to join will be by Starmer’s cronies. She’ll have to get all their second preferences if she is to get anywhere near being in later run-offs.
Shes actually nice! …. really cute: she’s the only one on their benches you’d want to take home!

Stuart Mack

6th January 2020 at 8:54 pm

She either thinks it’s clever to appear ignorant, as it is her way of trying to ingratiate herself with ‘ordinary’ working class people, or she’s just thick. Unfortunately, it’s probably the latter!

John Marks

6th January 2020 at 7:59 pm

She is the perfect candidate of the globalist media: vacuous, would obey orders but (with enough media propaganda) could be ‘sold’ to the masses.
She’s just the PM the Deep State would want: malleable but a lightning conductor for the anger of the masses as they sink deeper into the poverty the global corporations have arranged for them.


6th January 2020 at 8:28 pm

That might be true, but what precisely do you envisage the Tories doing to neutralise the overweening power of corporations in the UK? I envisage them extending the freedoms of shadowy offshore companies at our expense — including, tragically, at the expense of the good people of Bishop Auckland and Blyth Valley who were forced to vote Tory due to the rank incompetence of Corbyn’s Labour.

H McLean

6th January 2020 at 9:38 pm

But, but, but … ‘the TORIES!…’

Jonnie Henly

6th January 2020 at 6:42 pm

” As Brendan O’Neill has put it, Phillips is beloved by them ‘because she sounds working class – to London poshos – while espousing exactly the same political and moral views as London poshos’.”

The irony of Spiked writing this is utterly hilarious, though in a broader sense they are correct (for once) about Jess Phillips.

Geoff Cox

6th January 2020 at 6:41 pm

Well, Tom – I think you are being very generous here. You could have added her ability to take offence when actually she couldn’t understand a very obvious joke-meme; or if she did understand it, her deliberate choice to take it out of context to support her irrational behaviour. But above all – she cannot dress properly. In this age of female scruffs in Parliament, she is amongst the worst.


6th January 2020 at 8:24 pm

Actually, she dresses like a normal human being, not like some bourgeois functionary or party apparatchik.

Ven Oods

7th January 2020 at 7:31 am

I think she ought to be obliged to start wearing a tie. It happened to Jeremy.

Ven Oods

7th January 2020 at 7:33 am

“But above all – she cannot dress properly.”

Pretty low down the list of unspeakable things that a politician could commit, I’d hazard. Look what some of the smartly turned out ones get up to.

In Negative

6th January 2020 at 6:36 pm

Jess Philips – Spice Girls do politics.

Self-aggrandising noise with an accent.


6th January 2020 at 8:25 pm

Everyone on earth has an ‘accent’. RP is an ‘accent’. Estuary English is as much an ‘accent’ as Geordie or Glaswegian.

In Negative

6th January 2020 at 11:03 pm

I think “LOL! Spot on!” was the reply you were looking for 😉

Just helping.

In Negative

6th January 2020 at 11:10 pm

As it happens though, noise doesn’t have an accent. You may want to say that the accent of “self aggrandising noise” was that of self aggrandisement, which I might agree with 😉 But this is one for the metaphysicians and the aestheticians, not for jokers such as I.

Mark Lambert

6th January 2020 at 6:16 pm

It seems to me that her “media moment” came when she said she’d told Diane Abbot to “F off”.
A bit like Ash Sarkar’s media moment of “I’m literally a communist”.

And then it all goes downhill.

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