There’s a type of modern politician who “tells it like it is” – or at least as they see it. And who doesn’t play the game by the conventional rules. Think of Nigel Farage. Or George Galloway. Or from the main parties the following: Ann Widdecombe, John Prescott, Nadine Dorries, Ken Livingstone…and Boris Johnson.
Jess Phillips either fits into this category or likes to think she does. But all those on that list above, with the exception of Livingstone, have served on their party’s front bench. And he was Mayor of London.
The odds were therefore always against Phillips making progress in Labour’s leadership election. Without that experience, our take is that she had to stand for a very clearly-defined policy platform to break through. It’s very difficult to see what that was. She was clearly a candidate of the non-hard left, but didn’t really flesh out that position: she got noticed mainly for U-turning over rejoining the EU. Phillips is clearly passionate about homelessness but that single issue alone is not a prospectus.
Maybe she will now knuckle down, as Johnson had to do for a period, to work on the party’s front bench. And maybe not.
Insofar as Phillips stands for something other than telling it as she sees it, this seems to be claiming moral superiority over the Conservatives – on the ground that they are a bunch of out-of-touch toffs, while she is an authentic woman of the people.
Leave aside for a moment the to-and-fro about her middle class background. What’s more to the point is that this type of politics is out of date – exploded by the Tory breach of the Blue Wall, and the visibility of new Conservative working class MPs. And of old ones like Eddie Hughes, who seconded the Queen’s Speech.
Phillips will have to do more to break through. Maybe it will be to take clearer and bigger policy positions as backbencher. Perhaps it will be to toil away as Shadow Minister for Something-or-Other. Maybe it will be neither – and that, as for Dorries, Widdecombe, Ed Balls and now (see above) Alan Johnson, her future is Reality TV.