Here is another excruciatingly bad performance from Jess Phillips during the Intelligence Squared Debate on the current state of the Labour Party. It is not for nothing that Jess is known as the Ian Paisley of feminism.
Before entering politics Jess was a business development manager for the Women’s Aid Federation and she still appears to view that, rather than Birmingham Yardley, as her constituency. In common with the majority of Labour MPs Jess comes from an upper middle class background. Her mother was deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation and chair of South Birmingham Mental Health Trust. Jess Phillips worked for a period for her parents at their company, Healthlinks Event Management Services – I wonder if that appointment was achieved through an open and transparent process? Jess was educated at a selective Grammar School for girls and attended Leeds University where she studied economic and social history and social policy. Jess was selected for her constituency via an all-women shortlist. There is nothing wrong with being upper middle class and decidedly privileged, but sometimes that background brings with it a tendency to performative radicalism.
Three of the four protagonists were interesting, erudite and treated their audience and each other with respect. Speaking for the motion that Labour was unelectable were Matthew Goodwin and Ella Whelan and speaking against the motion were Professor Anand Menon and Jess Phillips.
Matthew, a political scientist and a former Labour voter, pointed out that Labour had lost two ‘red walls’ (Scotland and the North of England) and a lot of its remaining MPs are sitting on wafer-thin majorities. He observed that it had become a party for the graduate class and young students who congregate in University Towns. The working class now typically votes for the Conservative Party because Labour MPs and activists are culturally detached from the rest of the country. The public has rejected the identity group politics that puts white, male non-graduates at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Speaking against the motion Professor Anand Menon observed that voting behaviour was more fluid and changeable than it has ever been and voters could, if the circumstances were right, quickly come back to Labour. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the current Labour Party.
Ella Whelan, journalist and writer is always worth reading or listening to and she didn’t disappoint this time. She argued, perhaps a little too strongly, that Labour’s response to Brexit showed that it hated and feared democracy. In fact, both parties were divided on Brexit.
At 40.00 Jess Phillips began her cringe-worthy performance. The first thing I noticed was how bad her body language was and how she spoke slowly and deliberately as if she was talking to an infant. Although trivial you might think a professional politician could do better than that.
At 42.21 Jess started to talk about the Conservative Party’s hold on power and says ‘but it is not my experience that’s because they are any good, its certainly not my experience that they are any good; they are absolutely shit ……. it’s pretty crappy to live under this government where I live‘ Jess hit the wrong tone for what had been, until her speech, a respectful and erudite debate.
It goes on. At 43.09 Jess says ” people say to me on the doorstep -oh you know-he handled the pandemic quite well didn’t he? and I’m like well yeah, yeah if you consider the worst death toll in Europe quite well – well no one could have done better well -Germany” No Jess, we now have robust data averaged over a sufficiently long time and the UK did not have the worst death toll in Europe. An international review published in the Lancet this year provides robust data on the excess mortality in different countries during the pandemic. See – Estimating excess mortality due to the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic analysis of COVID-19-related mortality, 2020–21.
|Country||Excess mortality |
|UK||126.8||122.3 – 130.9|
|Belgium||146.6||135.8 – 156.3|
|France||124.2||120.5 – 127.7|
|Germany||120.5||115.1 – 125.1|
|Italy||227.4||212.0 – 242.5|
|Netherlands||140.1||131.3 – 147.6|
|Portugal||202.2||190.7 – 212.2|
|Spain||180.7||181.3 – 191.5|
Looking at the table above, based on data that I extracted from the paper, you can that Jess was wrong. Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and Spain all had significantly higher mortality than the UK. France was about the same and Germany was only slightly better and that difference barely meets statistical significance. Indeed the difference between states within Germany was greater than the difference between Germany and the UK.
At about 1:26:36 The debate had turned to the Labour’s problems with trans issues and its inability to accept that biology has to enter into the definition of what it is to be a man or a woman. Jess was asked by Ella Whelan why she deleted a tweet foregrounding an article from the Guardian that may have conflicted with the Labour Party viewpoint. Jess says ‘for a start off, the reason I deleted it was because dickheads were arguing with each other not even arguing with me ..I can not be arsed with watching people being horrible to each other…. I spend my entire life talking about women-only issues…”
Jess hadn’t finished humiliating herself. At 1:28:00 the debate moved on to Gavin Williams’s proposal to strengthen freedom of speech on university campuses. Matthew Goodwin defended this legislation as ‘a means of ensuring that figures such as Kathleen Stock, Neil Finn, Noah Carl, Jordan Peterson etc etc etc are not chased off Britains University campuses‘. He goes on to say ‘I would have thought the Labour Party would historically have been interested in ensuring that….’ Jess then interrupts with ‘I just don’t want holocaust deniers on them‘. As a response, this was beneath contempt. None of the figures Matthew mentioned were holocaust deniers. They faced cancellation for views that most of the public would find perfectly acceptable. Even by the epically poor standards of Jess Phillips, this response was a low-point.
I am curious why Jess Phillips who is thoroughly middle-class, well educated, privileged and frankly posh, feels the need to talk this way in a debate. There is a place for strong language and swearing. With personal friends it can be okay or in extreme circumstances. In an otherwise articulate and well-mannered debate it was frankly embarrassing. Jess has form here, she proudly boasted of having told Labour colleague Diane Abbott to ‘fuck off’. Curiously, according to Diane Abbott, Jess never told her to ‘fuck off’. It seems that Jess is more interested in seeming ordinary, like of us and a woman of the people; she thinks this is the way to do it.
I suspect the motivation is that Jess is aware of her privileged upper-middle class roots but wants to seem more ‘authentic and working class’. She appears to think, that by being shouty and ‘sweary,’ she achieves that. The result is frankly embarrassing and about as plausible as Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent in Mary Poppins.
The audience clearly felt the same way about Jess Phillips’s tirades. At the start of the debate, 42% thought the Labour Party was unelectable and at the end, 52% thought it was unelectable. Good result Jess.