Labour MP Jess Phillips’ response to the big leadership question gives a strong message to women in politics.
The Conservative party won the 2019 general election by a landslide on Friday (13 December), and Boris Johnson will continue to be the UK’s Prime Minister. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has since announced that he will step down. He told the BBC that this won’t happen just yet, as the “responsible thing to do is not to walk away from the whole thing”.
It is likely that a new leader will be chosen early next year. But the big question is: who will it be?
It’s a question that Stylist’s former cover star Jess Phillips answered at the end of results day. The Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley won the seat she has held since 2015.
In an interview with ITV News, a journalist asked Phillips: “I know everyone’s asking it, do you think you could be leader of the Labour party?”
“It’s the way everyone asks the question in just a slightly different way,” responded Phillips. “And what you said is, ‘do you think you could be the leader of the Labour party?’. And the answer to that question is of course someone like me could be leader of the Labour party.”
The journalist continued to press her, adding: “Do you want to be the leader?”
Phillips replied: “Do I want to be leader is an entirely different question…
“I mean [to] ‘want’ something that is going to be difficult and hard is not something I’m going to say. What I really want is to put up my Christmas tree and watch the Strictly Come Dancing final. I literally want to go to bed more than I’ve ever wanted anything.
“So ‘wanting’ it isn’t necessarily what matters. I think we’re going to have to do what needs to be done in the Labour party and I will absolutely be part of that solution. I have no doubt about that.”
As Phillips points out, this isn’t the first time the question has been put to her.
When Stylist recently asked Phillips if she could see herself as Prime Minister, she replied: “Not really because there has never been anyone like me who has been the Prime Minister, so it is hard. But more and more, recently, I would say yes.
“My mates have started to make jokes that start with, ‘When you’re the PM….’ It’s usually questions about if I will still be allowed to hang out with them. Or if security details will have to come on holiday with us.”
She also said on stage at the Cheltenham Literature Festival during the summer: “Might do [run for leadership], yes. The answer is I genuinely don’t know. I’d have to see how the land lay at that moment.”
She continued: “What I don’t want to be is just a personality in politics. We have gone too far down that rabbit hole.
“If I stand it has to be not just because people trust me, people do trust me, it isn’t just because people feel connected with that. That’s not enough, it has to be about having a genuine plan for the future for our country.
“At that time, I would make that assessment about whether I was the best thing for the future of the country. That’s a big ask of someone but I am incredibly arrogant.”
With Corbyn now stepping down, it looks like that time has come.
And Phillips isn’t the only female MP who could be in the running for leadership. Angela Rayner, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry, Yvette Cooper and Dawn Butler are all being tipped as potential candidates by political commentators.
Considering Labour has never had a female leader in its history, this would be a breakthrough moment. And that’s why Phillips’ comments on “someone like me” being Prime Minister are so important for fellow female politicians – whether she goes for it herself or not.
Images: Getty, Stylist