Jess Phillips: Fear of the public backlash turns MPs into robots delivering the line

Birmingham Yardley MP who has faced social media storms for speaking her mind isn’t surprised when politicians play it safe

MPs learn to be “robots delivering the line” because of waves of public criticism that follow any show of personality or deviation from the norm, the Labour MP Jess Phillips has said.

Phillips, who was elected in May, has become a prominent figure in the party known for her willingness to speak her mind. But she told the Guardian that she now realised why many politicians were not prepared to expose their personal lives and views in the way she had done.

“I always said I would never be one of those politicians who delivers a line. I’ll just be myself,” she said. “The number-one criticism aimed at politicians is that we are all the same – robots delivering the line. You know what, I completely agree.”

The Birmingham Yardley MP, who has weathered several social media storms for her outspoken feminism and her criticisms of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said she had initially ignored advice to keep her personal life away from her political life.

“I talked about my kids, my husband, my mates, my late dad – I gave my actual opinion in answer to the question rather than toeing the party line. I answered honestly rather than saying what I’d already decided to say regardless of the question,” she said. “How stupid of me, how terribly arrogant.”

Jess Phillips at her family home in Birmingham.
Jess Phillips at her family home in Birmingham. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Phillips revealed last month that her women’s rights activism and her battle against misogyny had led to rape threats, with counter-terrorism police carrying out a risk assessment of her constituency office and visitors having to give their name and address before being allowed inside.

She said she now realised colleagues who often came across as robotic “just learnt quicker than me how displaying your personality only leads to trouble”.

“Showing you exposes you,” she said. “It’s the fear of that backlash that turns politicians into the line-driven robots you find so frustrating. It’s just tiring to have loads of people shout at you all the time. One day you sit back and realise being all the same is probably the best option.”

Phillips said she feared that the homogenisation of politics and how it operated meant politicians increasingly viewed the public as a grey bloc rather than individuals.

“We think you’re all the same and you think we’re all the same. We can pass laws without regards for how it affects individuals and you can believe we’re all faceless bureaucrats,” she said.

“Being all the same is the best and easiest option, and we shouldn’t criticise our politicians for it anymore, but then again, the easy option rarely changed the world.”


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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