International Women’s Day: Could there ever be a Lib Dem Jess Phillips?

What’s not to like about Jess Phillips? She is courageous on domestic violence, she tells it like it is to Jacob Rees- Mogg, she tweets words of comfort to parents scrabbling around to find a last minute costume for World Book Day. She is simultaneously charismatic but ordinary.

Jess Phillips (“Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth“) and Harriet Harman (“A Woman’s Work“) have new books out.  Both books are moving, inspiring, usually sisterly, though both MPs are not averse to a bit of tribalism in giving the Liberal Democrats a kicking. Phillips is disgusted by her patronising Lib Dem opponent and Harman despairs at what she sees as the failings of Swinson and Featherstone when in government.

Both Phillips and Harman are outstanding on sexual harassment. One very telling anecdote is when Harman is in a senior role but does not report being groped at a local party event. We often look at women not reporting because they have less status than the perpetrator. What Harman writes about brilliantly is that she did not report because of the disparity of status the other way. Anyone who faces sexual harassment in a senior position knows the loss of face one fears; the fear of looking silly when you are meant to be important.

Phillips is incisive and courageous on the horrible accumulator effect of trolling and explains just how embarrassing it is when a local primary school is trolled just because it mentions her on its website. She will not cow tow to the bullies who (in the words of Princess Di in that Panorama interview) try to “dismantle and isolate” women. Uniquely she is very funny about the sad folk who dole out online misogyny. One American wise guy troll turned out to be less than glamorous – an unemployed bloke in his pokey bedroom in Swindon.

So could we the Lib Dems ever produce an MP like Phillips?  Hopefully things have moved on since my day but the candidate training then (early 2000s) was a bit “jolly hockey sticks” and more about accessorizing and being credible than upsetting any apple carts. Perhaps where we lacked a Jess Phillips most was when we had our local difficulties on allegations of sexual harassment in recent years. Where were our female Lib Dem MPs during that period? It isn’t hard to call out discrimination in the wider world but it takes some guts to shine a light on your own party’s failings as Phillips has done on Corbynista style bullying against women.

Scary Lib Dem Women with regional accents (preferable) and a life outside politics (essential)? We have quite a few but we need many more.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • “So could we the Lib Dems ever produce an MP like Phillips?” Well said, Ruth.

    There are many very able and good people in the Labour Party like Jess. The late Jo Cox immediately comes to mind, and Stella Creasy who fought a wonderful campaign on pay day loans.

    And then of course that great old man, Alf Dubbs.

    It constantly irks me that some posters on this site are so blinkered that they can’t see that.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Mar '17 - 4:55pm

    The answer is yes but then unfortunately not all Lib Dem candidates are of the calibre of Ruth Bright.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar '17 - 5:10pm

    International Women’s Day latest – English Candidates’ Committee has come out against a clear right to maternity leave for candidates. A leave of absence to have a baby will be in the gift of Lib Dem Regional Candidates’ Chairs with a right of appeal to the English Party!

    Brace yourself girls. It’s certainly going to be a whole lot of fun explaining episiotomies, caesareans and post-partum bleeding to a Regional Candidates’ Chair.

    To paraphrase WB Yeats, justice for women certainly comes “dripping slow”.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Mar '17 - 5:23pm

    Sarah Noble, You are right, Jennie Rigg would be great – I’ve often wondered whether she would consider standing for Parliament 🙂

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Mar '17 - 5:34pm

    Ruth Bright, would you consider standing for Parliament again, or have the experiences you a have described on Lib Dem Voice put you off trying again?

  • April Preston would be fabulous also.

  • From a slightly older generation, we should mention our candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election, Jackie Pearcey, has never been known to be backward about coming forward.

  • I came to write Jennie Rigg and discover that others have blazed that trail before me…

  • There’s no way I’d stand for the commons, sorry. I’d end up going postal just from being a candidate. I wouldn’t mind being in the Lords (or whatever scrutinizing chamber we end up with) but I suspect that’s INCREDIBLY unlikely.

    However, I am VERY happy to worm my way into the party’s internal power structures, and (relevant to this thread) am restanding for regional candidates committee, if those who are in Yorkshire would care to vote for me when the ballots come out 🙂

    Ruth Bright’s comment above certainly does nothing to dissuade me of my oft-stated view that the English party just needs to be abolished and it’s powers reallocated to federal/regional as appropriate.

  • And yes, Jackie would (will!) be a fabulous MP, & as Gadsden says, is not backwards about coming forwards.

  • Also another thumbs up to April Preston.
    Sadly I suspect that any gobby lib dem woman would get it with both barrels from the media as well as online trolls, though, in a way that the Labour ladies don’t any more (although they did when they were few)

  • Alisdair McGregor 8th Mar '17 - 6:19pm

    I keep telling Jennie she’d make a great Candidate, Councillor, MP or (eventually) member of a Yorkshire Regional Parliament, but she won’t go for it.

  • Jennie Rigg 8th Mar '17 - 7:01pm

    Alisdair: I saw what being a candidate did to you at very close quarters. I also worked in an MP’s office for several years.

    Not for all the tea in China would I go through the former, only to be “rewarded” with the latter. And certainly not for the salary on offer, which while it IS significantly more than I’m on now, would nowhere near make up for the opprobrium I would doubtless have heaped upon me for being bi, poly, tattooed, and opinionated.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Mar '17 - 10:36pm

    We need more LibDem MPs as opinionated, humourous and stick-two-fingers-up-to-received nonsense as Jess Phillips. We could do with some men of the same approach, too…

    Speaking As A Man … I’m not sure everyone in the party has ‘got’ that you promote equality through diversity, honesty and allowing people to be themselves, not by enforcing conformity, despite several esteemed voices on here today.

    Exhibit A:

    Has this chap heard of Richard Herring and his activities today?

  • Not sure whether it’s fair for a purportedly Lib Dem blog to have an article bigging up the main rival in a target seat. Wheels within wheels?

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar '17 - 11:13pm

    Sorry Jennie – you are going to get fed up of this but I agree with everyone else. There are lots of nice women in the party who can put together a local campaign about something or other. But you really have something to SAY and have an original and engaging approach. Please don’t rule it out xx

    Tony, Catherine you are very kind. I am a bit of a sad old bat who sometimes daydreams about having won “my” seat when I stood in 2005. I would love to stand again but don’t really have the funds or the confidence any more. My kids are old enough to deliver leaflets now so that is a plus!

    Richard – I hear Jackie is excellent.

    Matt (Bristol) – exactly.

    E Bourne – Having been a party member for nearly 32 years I am pretty tribal. I was a councillor in Harriet Harman’s patch and aspects of her local Labour party’s approach drove me up the wall with fury. But speaking as someone who encountered violence in childhood, there are more important things than party politics. When Phillips read out the names of all those murdered women she did something of international importance.

  • Victoria Charleston 9th Mar '17 - 10:56am

    I am afraid Ruth, I just can’t agree with you. Whilst Jess Phillips is great, I am sure, there are PLENTY of MPs of both genders on all sides who do little either for their constituents or the wider public and there are some on all sides who stand out: Maria Miller works closely with Jess Phillips within the APPG on Domestic Violence and they have done some incredibly important work together.

    Our MPs work hard and we know our female MPs championed policies that are important to us: pushing for equal marriage, shared parental leave and the increase to personal allowance – to name just three wins – I watch with interest what Sarah Olney can to contribute to this list

    We have some inspiring candidates who are working towards 2020 and the training available for those who want to stand run by people such as Ros Gordon and Candy Piercy is fantastic. I look forward to supporting Jackie in Manchester through this by-election and many of our great candidates who deserve our full support.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Mar '17 - 12:00pm

    Victoria, of course we have some great women coming forward, but you have to admit that precious few of our most prominent women candidates are from a working class background. As I said, in my day (approved in 2002) a lot of the training at conference for women was a bit “jolly sticks” (and at least one of the female old guard made me feel uncomfortable breastfeeding at conference too!). I am glad if things have moved on.

    Daisy Benson and Daisy Cooper certainly stand out and Daisy Cooper (unlike our female MPs) had the guts to speak out about allegations of sexual harassment within the party. Just praising a Labour MP does not mean I am rubbishing “my own”. We surely need to get away from that silo culture?


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