MP Jess Phillips Tells Wimbledon Bookfest What’s Going on in Westminster and Why We Should Care

Politician Jess Phillips describes the funny business of Westminster politics at the Wimbledon Bookfest schools’ event. Photo credits, John Stone

Millie Porter, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

Wednesday 15th September, Jess Phillips addressed two Wimbledon Bookfest audiences – school students and adults - predicting the downfall of Gavin Williamson and warning the younger generation to vote. To encourage political engagement from wider audiences, Phillips has written a book that tells us Everything You Really Need To Know About Politics.

Jess Phillips is a passionate politician, yet she still exudes humour and humanity. “Every single thing in our lives is debated in parliament’’ she revealed, ‘Once I was even in a committee about whether people could kiss on boats.” Describing her battle with sexist social norms to enter politics and change the world, it’s easy to understand Phillips’ frustration around the dearth of women in parliamentary debate.

For girls, Phillips explained it takes a “huger” journey to get to Westminster; she herself was actively denied the chance to study politics at school as it was deemed a boys’ subject (until her Mum intervened). And social media has impacted the landscape: tweeting about climate change for example, politicians can face a toxic backlash of comments, and the validity to talk about the real issues of the day can be “squashed”.

We all need to pay attention to politics, there is so much going on globally and nationally that needs public support and attention. We cannot let mainstream media focus our energy on schoolboy light laughs, cheap jokes and ridiculous policy implementations that make the headlines. Phillips is ready to play the game a little bit, by making dry politics reach people’s hearts and minds. It is not about being popular, Jess reminded her audience, it is about making changes. And changes happen when more people are politically engaged and supportive.

As Jess Phillips puts it frankly, the political establishment is ‘not scared of anyone under 25, because young people don’t vote.’ Only 47 % of 18-year-olds to 24-year-olds voted in the 2019 election compared to 74% of those over 65. Policymakers are going to prioritise their voters; policies will only be made for the votes that can be won. Her message was to vote, because otherwise policymakers will never consider your needs. You are not a vote they need to win if you’re not going to show up on election day.

Phillips brushes off ridicule from some quarters for using television and newspaper platforms to gain profile and popularise her views. “Why would I not take the opportunity to speak to the biggest audience I can?” she asks, rhetorically. In fact, The Sun newspaper is credited in her book for helping Phillips implement changes to the domestic violence policy. “I definitely couldn’t have won the campaign without them” she emphasises. The Sun has also given her a platform to discuss issues like women in the workplace, sexual harassment, and refugees, all from a “deeply feminist perspective”.

Sadly, “All the nuance and reality drips away” in each re-election cycle, she reflects. It is easy to understand the frustration any MP who must campaign for around two years to get noticed and implement any policy changes. And campaigning is costly. Phillips explains this in her book. Other crucial elements she covers include: how the media covers politics, what it means to be a good MP, the inner workings of Westminster and why politics is important. And she pulls no punches, in fact Bookfest interviewer Stefan Stern commented that Phillips’ new book is as candid as it could be without ending her career.

Jess Phillips' Everything You Really Need To Know About Politics is available to buy from the links below: