S2 E3. Woman and Change: Politics with Jess Phillips, UK Member of Parliament

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello and welcome to season two of The Story of Woman. In today’s world, it can feel like change is happening, but only in the wrong direction. While we agree there’s still a lot of work to do, we’re reframing that story.

[00:00:17] Overdub: I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode of this season I’ll be exploring how women make change happen from those at the top helping to drive it. We’ll look at where we are on this long march to equality, what lies ahead, and how important you are in the fight.

[00:00:38] Overdub: This isn’t a story of a world that’s doomed to oppress women forever. This is a story of an opportunity to grow stronger than ever before. Exactly as womankind has always done.

[00:00:50] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:52] Anna Stoecklein: Hello and welcome back. Thanks so much for being here. We've got another conversation with an elected leader [00:01:00] this week. This time I'm speaking with UK member of Parliament, Jess Phillips.

[00:01:05] Anna Stoecklein: Jess is a labor MP for Birmingham Yardley, and is also a Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding. So as you'll hear us talk about today, much of her work centers around men's violence against women, domestic abuse, sexual and reproductive health, childcare and maternal and paternal rights. And not so fun fact, every year for International Women's Day, Jess reads out the names of women in the UK that were killed by men in the year since the last International Women's Day.

[00:01:35] Anna Stoecklein: And while we don't go into any detail, there is mention of sexual violence and rape in this episode. So for anyone that might be sensitive to that, just a heads.

[00:01:46] Anna Stoecklein: Jess is incredibly outspoken and fierce in her determination to better the lives of women and girls, which will absolutely come across in this interview today. And personally, I find it [00:02:00] incredibly refreshing how she just tells it like it is. God, I think we need a lot more of that. You'll know what I mean very shortly.

[00:02:09] Anna Stoecklein: And I actually toured Westminster recently and got to shadow Jess for part of the day because apparently here in the UK it's just incredibly easy to do that. I sent an email, arranged a time, and then showed up about a week later. So it was really easy and super cool to get to see behind the scenes.

[00:02:29] Anna Stoecklein: But just to really paint a picture of how fierce of an advocate Jess is on these issues and just how long and hard she has been working on it. When I went in that day, there was this other woman who walked up the stairs with me to Jess's office, and when we got there, they hugged and talked, and they were clearly old friends that went way back, so they were catching up and talking business.

[00:02:55] Anna Stoecklein: And then they started talking about this actress in a movie that I guess had [00:03:00] represented this woman that I had walked in with. And they were talking about if they thought that this actress portrayed the woman well. And after the woman left, I said to Jess, I was like, who was that? I have to ask who was that and what movie was she being portrayed in?

[00:03:14] Anna Stoecklein: And she told me, and I'm not gonna name this woman just for privacy, even though this is all public knowledge, but, um, yeah, just to, just to keep it private. But she said that's the woman who filed the initial lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein for years of sexual assault that she endured while she worked for him. She filed that lawsuit when she 23 years old or something, and then of course was promptly fired and forced to sign an nda, and she then spent like the next 25 years or so fighting him.

[00:03:49] Anna Stoecklein: And as we all know, thanks to her and people like Jess Phillips who have been working on the inside changing policies and laws, Harvey is now in prison. [00:04:00] Not that the work is done. That system that enabled him to do this for decades to hundreds of women still very much exists. In fact, that day that we were in the office, they were both talking about these NDAs that still exist in the government and what they could do about them.

[00:04:19] Anna Stoecklein: So here, this woman was, you know, two and a half decades later, still meeting with politicians, talking about ways to improve the system and protect girls and women in ways that she wasn't protected all those years ago. And not just talking about but doing something, you know, actually making these changes happen alongside Jess and other politicians and advocates. So that was really, really cool to see that in action.

[00:04:47] Anna Stoecklein: And the movie, by the way, was She Said, which I haven't watched yet, but I did read the book, which is about the New York Times journalist, Megan Twohey and Jody Kantor's work publishing that report that exposed Harvey's sexual [00:05:00] abuses back in 2017.

[00:05:02] Anna Stoecklein: But anyway, Jess is amazing, and in our conversation today you'll hear us talk about what it's like to work for the government, why Jess decided to run for office in the first place, what she likes about it, what she finds challenging- both as a person, but also as a woman advocating for women, because as we know, that doesn't always go over so well in male dominated spaces.

[00:05:27] Anna Stoecklein: We talk about her work with men's violence against women. And we also talk about how important politics is in all of our personal lives. From decisions about how long our work weeks are to what we can do with our own uteruses and even to if people can kiss on boats, that will make sense very shortly, I promise.

[00:05:48] Anna Stoecklein: But all of this is happening inside of these government buildings. All of these decisions are being made inside of the government buildings, which is why we need more women inside of them, and [00:06:00] more people that support women to vote for those who have women's interests in mind and at heart. So hopefully this provides a, a little motivation as well if anybody's thinking about running for office, we could use more of you. And more people like Jess who are fierce in their determination and improving the lives of girls and women.

[00:06:23] Anna Stoecklein: All right. That's all for now. Please enjoy my conversation with Jess Phillips.

[00:06:28] Section: Episode

[00:06:28] Anna Stoecklein: Hello, Jess, welcome. Thank you so much for being here today.

[00:06:32] Jess Phillips: Oh, thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

[00:06:34] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. So to start, I just wanna have you kind of set the scene for us and describe what the job of an MP, or a Member of Parliament, is for our non UK listeners. But probably also a bit for our UK listeners as well.

[00:06:50] Jess Phillips: It is very different in the UK to how it is elsewhere in the world. No doubt about it. I mean, the things that are the same of every representative, [00:07:00] elected representative is that you are there to make legislation. You're there to write laws, change laws on behalf of your constituents and their experiences in their lives. And that happens obviously in Parliament.

[00:07:13] Jess Phillips: But that's a tiny fraction of my job. I only do that for three days a week, where I'm in London, not in my constituency. The difference between an elected British member of Parliament and elsewhere in the world is that we are much more directly engaged. I mean, some aren't. I mean, some don't bother, obviously, but we are much more directly engaged in the lives of our constituents. So I represent, obviously it's smaller than, for example, in the US where you are, you'd be representing. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people if you're in Congress. I represent about 150,000 people.

[00:07:52] Jess Phillips: Every single day that I'm in Birmingham, so today, I spend my day in an office or out on [00:08:00] the streets with them in their schools in. They come into my office all through the day. So I'm a bit like a social worker. So today, for example, I will handle cases of people who are homeless, cases of people whose children haven't got a school place, people who can't get access to the right healthcare.

[00:08:16] Jess Phillips: So part of my job is a law maker. Part of my job is. Community worker, social worker. And then the other part of my job is about campaigning and all members of parliament, pretty much apart from the really rubbish ones, will have like specific campaigning targets that they are working towards that aren't necessarily about their political persuasion or even their constituency necessarily, although it will be part of that. And mine is always around violence against women and girls and men's violence in society, and generally the equality agenda.

[00:08:53] Jess Phillips: So you know, I spend a lot of my time as well as doing those other two jobs, being a feminist activist and [00:09:00] others will be like you know, blood cancer activists or there'll be activists for road safety or whatever it is, but most members of parliament have this sort of third wheel to their job, which you do in both of the parts of your job, but you have to sort of play that fur as well. It's a time consuming job, that's for sure.

[00:09:18] Anna Stoecklein: Time consuming job with a lot of different hats. I got a kick out of the one anecdote you said in your book that you had a woman come to your office with a spider in a jar because she wanted you to find an antidote for its bite. So all, all kinds...

[00:09:32] Jess Phillips: And it was a house spider. I mean, in a way, I did find an antidote for its bite. It doesn't bite you and it's not dangernous. Uh, so, you know, I feel like I had a roaring success in this case.

[00:09:44] Jess Phillips: But yeah, the amount that people think, and this is definitely a British issue at the moment, I, I can't speak to other places, but so many services that used to exist have gone. And so in my constituency, in the area that I represent, I'm like the [00:10:00] last advice center left. And so people will come to you about absolutely everything, including whether they need me to help them get the antidote for spiders.

[00:10:12] Jess Phillips: People think that I'm a doctor, often people think that I'm a lawyer. Uh, I'm neither of those things. people will genuinely come to me about their health concerns and I'm like, that um, I, I really think you need to see a doctor cuz I've got no professional training whatsoever. I'm not, I can't even do first aid.

[00:10:31] Anna Stoecklein: Marvelous. Marvelous. You know, you're not too busy. You can just add that to the list. You know, why not?

[00:10:37] Jess Phillips: Yeah, I'll just, I'll just become a pediatric surgeon as well.

[00:10:39] Anna Stoecklein: So I'd love to hear a little bit about your story getting into politics cuz as you point out in your book, The Life of an MP, which is a fantastic look inside of Westminster and really inside of politics as a whole. But as you point out, so many members of parliament come from backgrounds of immense privilege. A lot of them going to the same elite school, following [00:11:00] the same kind of path into politics where the money and the risk that it takes to pursue that career isn't really a barrier.

[00:11:07] Jess Phillips: Yeah, that's true.

[00:11:08] Anna Stoecklein: Whereas you, on the other hand, had not gone to these same male elite schools, and at the time you were working at a local women's charity as a city counselor, and you had two small kids, a five-year-old and an eight-year-old.

[00:11:21] Anna Stoecklein: So I'd love to hear about your decision to run, but also can you help us understand just how much you break that mold of your average member of parliament.

[00:11:30] Anna Stoecklein: Whilst there

[00:11:30] Jess Phillips: is a huge amount of elitism in, well politics here and around the world, if you just look at the current cabinet at the moment, you'd see that, I think it's 70% of them went to fee paying private schools, and that just, it doesn't marry up with the nation. That's which is 7%.

[00:11:47] Anna Stoecklein: Wow.

[00:11:47] Jess Phillips: And yeah, it's quite...

[00:11:50] Anna Stoecklein: Quite a discrepancy.

[00:11:50] Jess Phillips: 7 versus 70. But there are lots of other people like me who've taken similar paths. They do tend to be much more likely to be [00:12:00] Labour members of Parliament or some of the other opposition.

[00:12:03] Anna Stoecklein: Sorry, just to cut in labor is the more liberal side of the....

[00:12:06] Jess Phillips: Yeah, well, the Labor Party had to be made to exist. The Conservative Party has always existed since the beginning of time. It might have been called something different, but it essentially, the Labor Party had to be invented by the workers to represent something different in politics over a hundred years ago.

[00:12:23] Jess Phillips: But if the Labor party didn't exist today, it would have to be made to exist. So naturally you are going to have fewer people from elite backgrounds representing a party that was invented by workers. And so quite a lot of Labor members over the years have come through the union movement, as you might imagine.

[00:12:41] Jess Phillips: I mean, there are absolutely conservative members of Parliament who will work in class who've come from working class backgrounds, so I don't want to deride them. But the main problem with getting a greater pool of people into Westminster is that it is incredibly high bar and high risk for people, and it [00:13:00] costs quite a lot of money. Whether you have that money to initially put in, which obviously the vast majority of people in the country don't have 50, 60 grand going spare on a whim that it might be 50 50 to run in an election.

[00:13:13] Jess Phillips: And I certainly didn't have that money, but for me it wasn't so much that sort of initial outlay, it was the loss of income. So to win a marginal seat as I did, so my seat wasn't a Labor party seat, we flipped it in the election, and for me to win that meant a huge amount of work and effort.

[00:13:34] Jess Phillips: We don't have big money in politics in the same way as in other parts of the world, so I wasn't given finance or resource to do that. And so you have to work incredibly hard, and that just meant that for me, I had to work part-time losing my family's income. My husband, who was a night shift worker at the time, had to stop being a night shift worker, which he was paid a premium for. So just even in one year of campaigning for the two and [00:14:00] a half years that I campaigned to be elected in the seat, it would cost us 10,000 pounds a year in lost income just from my husband because I had to then work nights cuz I had to work in the day and work, then do the campaigning and all that stuff on the nights and the weekends. And that just when you've got small kids, that's just not a possibility, especially with young parents.

[00:14:24] Jess Phillips: And so our parents were still working. It's not even like we could dump our kids on somebody else, and even if we could, that wouldn't have been all that helpful. You can't rely on that in the same way that you might be able to rely on paid childcare, which we certainly couldn't have afforded on top of it. And so it was a massive, massive risk.

[00:14:42] Jess Phillips: Having said all of that, on the day before the election when I won the polling said that it was 50 50. Whether I would win, I mean, I'd buy a lottery ticket on those odds, , but I might not stake my entire life on them, but yet I did. But having said all that, I didn't find it a particularly difficult [00:15:00] decision to make to do, actually. Partially out of ignorance, I don't think I knew that it was gonna cost quite so much money or be quite such an uphill battle, and maybe if I had known, maybe I would've given it more thought.

[00:15:15] Jess Phillips: To be honest, I just felt like the whole way through, like if you want it, you just gotta keep on going. And yes, it's gonna be hard work. And yes, there is risk. I mean, and I'm still in a much more privileged position than lots and lots of people. Lots of people wouldn't be able to take that risk.

[00:15:30] Jess Phillips: Like, you know, had I lost my home, I wouldn't have been homeless, for example, I could have lived with my dad, my parents-in-law, you know, we wouldn't have been on the streets. So it's a sort of calculated risk. And there were other people who wouldn't be in that position. But I mean, I could have lost my home, that's for sure. That could have happened.

[00:15:50] Jess Phillips: I mean, literally my husband, a man rang me from the Labor party and said, would you consider running? And I was. I have shouted downstairs to my husband. They're saying that maybe I should be a member [00:16:00] of Parliament and, uh, and my husband literally just went, yeah, that, that, that stacks up

[00:16:05] Jess Phillips: And that's the sort of the level of decision making...

[00:16:08] Anna Stoecklein: Casual.

[00:16:08] Jess Phillips: ...made about it.

[00:16:09] Anna Stoecklein: Oh my God.

[00:16:10] Jess Phillips: Once I was selected, cuz it's all such a Hail Mary, you know, I at that point you're like, oh, go on, then I'll give it a whirl. And then you've gotta get yourself selected to run for that. Just, I suppose a bit, a bit like the US primaries, but it's not anywhere near as bad as that.

[00:16:25] Jess Phillips: And then at the stage when you've actually been selected and are gonna be running in the election, which that took like eight months or something for that process to be gone through and for me to win that process. At that stage on the day I was selected, I did think, oh my God, I really think we maybe should have thought about the childcare a bit more.

[00:16:42] Jess Phillips: Or like, you know, how's this actually gonna work? And the prospect of living away from my family became very real and something that we then thought about a lot and how we would manage that. But yeah, before we made the decision for me to run, to be the candidate. I, I can't [00:17:00] say that we gave it all that much thought.

[00:17:01] Jess Phillips: Uh, you know, a delightful character flaw that has benefited me for much of my career is not giving things much thought. And I recognize that for lots of people, that that's a privileged position to be in.

[00:17:12] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. You may not have given it all that much thought or, you know, acted, maybe some people would say impulsively, but there was clearly something there that drove you.

[00:17:23] Jess Phillips: Yeah.

[00:17:23] Anna Stoecklein: So what were kind of your reasons, you know, you wrote in the book one of the reasons being that you wanted to change the world. Like what's kind of at your core of why you wanted to get into?

[00:17:33] Jess Phillips: I think it sounds a bit naff doesn't it? I wrote as I wrote in the book, it makes me sound a bit like Miss World. Uh, obviously. Has a Miss World ever achieved world peace yet? That's, I mean. It's not, it's not up for. I think the answer is no. I did want to change the world and uh, you know, it sounds naff in a way, but you know, I think that the vast majority of people in the world feel that way.

[00:17:59] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah.

[00:17:59] Jess Phillips: I [00:18:00] don't want it to be represented that it's entirely altruistic. It's quite arrogant to think that you could change the world. I am a person of immense self-belief and confidence to a nauseating level.

[00:18:13] Jess Phillips: Somebody once told me this is a genuine syndrome that they call Jerusalem syndrome. That when people go to visit the sort of fractious nature of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, that they believe that they could solve it when they're there, like, and I definitely had that the last time I was there. I was thinking maybe I should just move to the region.

[00:18:34] Jess Phillips: I remember when they wouldn't let women be bishops in the Church of England. I'm literally not even baptized, not christened. Before I was a member of Parliament, I'd never been to a church service. I don't believe in God. I was just like, I'm just gonna have to do this . I'm just gonna have to become a bishop cause they won't let women become bishops.

[00:18:52] Anna Stoecklein: I love that.

[00:18:53] Jess Phillips: You know, there is a certain sort of tapped nature to in my nature that makes me think I'm the solution to every problem. [00:19:00] Like the idea that I wanted to save the world is a genuine self-belief that I had an opportunity to do that, that I could change the world. I don't wish to sort of overplay or underplay how important that is, but yeah, that's the reason I wanted to do it. I wanted a better job as well, and I don't think you allowed to say that are you, but it like tripled my income, and that's okay.

[00:19:19] Jess Phillips: Like I wanted to earn more money and I wanted to have a career for life that I could have security forever. And I basically was doing the same job that I do now in the voluntary sector, like I was changing government policy, I was supporting people. So I do it in the exact same job. I, I got paid a lot less and less, fewer people listened to me and I had less power to do it on a bigger scale.

[00:19:43] Jess Phillips: And so it is just sort of a bit like a natural progression really. And there were loads and loads of women in the country who will be doing exactly that. They will be doing the work that other people like me then take credit for, politicians who say that they change the world. And actually in [00:20:00] reality, the vast amount of work is being done by ordinary people who get paid less. It's not great, is it?

[00:20:05] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. Well, I think it's fabulous that that part of yourself that just sees a problem and sees yourself as the solution. And also that you have goals of changing the world. You know, what if every politician wanted to change the world. You know, unfortunately the stigma, at least, and I'm sure you know there's all types, but is that there's two types of politicians, right, those who wanna change the world, and those who want just the power and the privilege for themselves, so..

[00:20:33] Jess Phillips: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:20:34] Anna Stoecklein: I think it's okay if you wanna make more and you wanna better your own life, but if that underlying main reason that you're doing it is, is to change the world, that's a beautiful thing and we need more of that.

[00:20:46] Jess Phillips: Oh yeah. Also, I just saw that people were doing it dreadfully. I can't bear bad bloody practice. Specifically in the field that I was working in of women's refugees and sexual violence services. I would watch politicians not know [00:21:00] what they were talking about, and I just thought, oh, I can't bear incompetence.

[00:21:03] Jess Phillips: And usually my solution foolishly to incompetence is just, oh, well, I'll just do this myself then. And every woman in the world almost certainly has gone 'o, for God's sake, just give it to me, I'll bloody do it.' So it was, you know, a mixture of those things. I just thought, oh my God, I can't believe they've let this idiot in being charge of this.

[00:21:21] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah, yeah. So do it myself. And then we've got all these, plates to spin it once.

[00:21:27] Jess Phillips: I did try and get some of the other women at Women's Aid to stand as well, so there's a woman called Wendy who I worked with, and I was like, Wendy, she'd been to an electoral hustings. And she was like, God, they didn't know what they were talking about.

[00:21:38] Jess Phillips: I said, that's okay wendy right well, me and you, let's do this, because we do know what we're talking about. Let's go and be elected. And Wendy put in zero effort.

[00:21:46] Anna Stoecklein: Zero effort.

[00:21:48] Jess Phillips: Zero effort from Wendy to get herself elected.

[00:21:50] Anna Stoecklein: She's cheering on you from the sideline. I bet still.

[00:21:52] Jess Phillips: Yeah, she, she certainly was all the way through.

[00:21:56] Anna Stoecklein: You're like, what?

[00:21:57] Jess Phillips: I thought we had a pact.

[00:21:58] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. Come on Wendy, if [00:22:00] you're listening.

[00:22:00] Jess Phillips: Come on Wendy.

[00:22:01] Anna Stoecklein: There's always next year. We need you. So I wanna talk about some of the campaigns that you champion, but first I wanna talk about the mission that you write about in this book that I've mentioned, Life of an MP, that mission to make politics for everyone, and not just in terms of running for office, Wendy, uh, but also for your everyday citizen as well. So what do you mean by politics is personal. And why is that your mission?

[00:22:27] Jess Phillips: 'Politics is personal' has long been the slogan of the feminist movement really. People constantly push back on that. Not necessarily the broader philosophy that it's personal to everybody, but the idea, oh, you mustn't take, its personally, it's only politics and it's just like, oh God, that's so lame.

[00:22:44] Jess Phillips: Like, politics is in every single aspect of our lives, and people just have no idea I think in the vast majority of cases. From the sort of absolutely tiny minutiae of our lives, I've sat on hours and hours of committee about the use of [00:23:00] disposable barbecues, for example, right up to legislation about what I can and can't do with my womb, you know, and who can love who and who can be incarcerated for what?

[00:23:11] Jess Phillips: Like, these are very serious things, but like in every single element of our life, the people who work in the building where I work have poured over the detail about what the rules should and shouldn't be. So the idea that people should feel like, oh, well it's not to do with me when everything in your life, the hours you work the weekend, literally when the sun rises is decided by politics.

[00:23:36] Jess Phillips: Obviously, we don't get to decide on the celestial beings. They deal with that themselves. However, what we call that time and how we work around it was decided by a series of politicians at some point. The fact that you have to get up at seven to be at work for nine, that wasn't an accident that just happened because of the light, that was decided.

[00:23:59] Jess Phillips: The [00:24:00] fact that people eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner was literally something decided in the war, in food policy. Like that, that was the healthiest way. Your five a day. All of this stuff that people take on board all the time. And then industry runs with like how much water you should drink and all that stuff.

[00:24:20] Jess Phillips: And then, you know, everywhere I go there's like thousands of water bottles and people's having different sorts of water and it's just like, you know, these, these are things that are put in place in a building like where I work and people think it has nothing to do with them. People are so fundamentally within a system that they often feel they have no control over, and in many cases they don't have any control over.

[00:24:45] Jess Phillips: And that just seems absolutely flabbergasting to me that people aren't really aware that, I once sit on a committee for ages about whether people could kiss on boats.

[00:24:54] Anna Stoecklein: What?

[00:24:56] Jess Phillips: It was specifically the Navy, I think. You know, like...

[00:24:59] Anna Stoecklein: [00:25:00] That is so specific.

[00:25:01] Jess Phillips: Really the tiny things, like what you are allowed to eat is decided where I work, everything, absolutely everything. And if we decided we don't want anybody wearing Breton stripes anymore, that would be totally possible for us to change that. I mean, I don't think that's gonna happen. I think there would be a pushback because who doesn't live a stripe jersey? But like we could do that.

[00:25:26] Anna Stoecklein: Unbelievable.

[00:25:26] Jess Phillips: So it's very personal and it's very personal to women, especially because so many of the things in our lives rely on state actors seeing us. So whether it's the issue of childcare, whether it's our right to fertility or the lack of it, no male organ has ever been discussed as much as a woman's womb in Parliament. It is deeply personal and there are ideologies in buildings like the one where I work that really, really [00:26:00] would seek to make my personal decisions about my body for me.

[00:26:05] Jess Phillips: If people think that that's not personal, that whether I, my life went one way or another, was entirely decided in a building, yeah, it's about time people got involved in it because, you might want to kiss in boats, wear Breton tops, you know, burn a million disposable barbecues and have an abortion.

[00:26:25] Jess Phillips: And you might not be able to do any of those things if you don't get yourself involved?

[00:26:29] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. And yet it can be so easy to distance ourselves with cynicism and exasperation and saying, oh, what difference is it gonna make anyway? But I liked this line in your book you wrote, "When we start to believe that politics is a game played by the rich toffs and crooked corrupt pigs, then we start to opt out of the system. And when we do that, we hand it to them on a plate."

[00:26:55] Jess Phillips: Yeah.

[00:26:55] Anna Stoecklein: "And the on onus is on us to change the rules of the political game."

[00:26:58] Jess Phillips: people think that opting [00:27:00] out of politics is an act of defiance, and it isn't. It's an act surrender. People say it to me, oh, you know, like it will be an insult to me. Like, oh, you're all the same. You know, oh, you're not interested in this. And I just think, oh, well, they've won. Well done. You've surrendered. You've surrendered to the system that we've always lived in, and it's my responsibility to make them not feel like that, but it's also their responsibility.

[00:27:22] Jess Phillips: I believe that people have responsibility and yeah when people think that they're acting defiant against the political system, they're just acting to surrender to the one that we've always had.

[00:27:31] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. Yep. Keeps the status quo.

[00:27:34] Anna Stoecklein: So if politics is personal, and as you've started to lay out the personal issues that touch women specifically, there's quite a few of them, but yet at the same time, we have massive underrepresentation of women in politics. So you can start to see why there is no real focus and progress with all of these issues that have been 100 plus years in the fight for women. So tell us a little [00:28:00] bit about some of the causes that you're championing and then we can kind of look at what this reality is with women being represented in politics.

[00:28:08] Jess Phillips: The main cause that I champion is the elimination of men's violence against women. So the major manifestation of that is domestic abuse, sexual violence, rape, trafficking, sexual exploitation and sexual harassment in the public realm and at work. So all of them are essentially the same thing to me, they present as the same thing.

[00:28:34] Jess Phillips: Certainly that's not the case for the victims of the individual crimes. They seem very personal and unfortunately I have dealt with so many cases in my life now, you, I mean, I'm talking thousands and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of stories, in my career. It, it's all part of the same issue, and that is about women having less power and control, and men using the power [00:29:00] to exert control over us.

[00:29:01] Jess Phillips: And when that can't be done through negativity or economics, then I'm afraid, like we go to war, like conflict. an act of control always ends in violence. I mean, actually what I spend most of my time doing is cleaning up. Classic women's job. I try and make legislation and services on the ground better for when the bad thing has happened, and that is deeply unambitious. It's a great thing to do, and it's the right thing to do.

[00:29:29] Jess Phillips: I'm never gonna see the end of violence against women and girls in my lifetime and I, I'm not naive or idealist enough as I was when I was a kid to think otherwise. I used to wanna win the Nobel Peace Prize for banning guns in America. My mom just said, you be sh. My mom just said you'll be shot in the first day. So I gave up that after my mom shot me down very quickly. She was like, they'll kill you before you can say anything.

[00:29:50] Jess Phillips: I don't think I will ever see the end of this. But what my work at the moment is to do is to try and make it so that when a woman needs to escape, [00:30:00] there's somewhere safer her to go, that the criminal justice system responds to her appropriately, that she's safer going to the police than not going to the police. At the moment, I'm afraid to say that most women in our country don't feel that way about our criminal justice services. And that women aren't made destitute and their children made destitute when they decide to live free from violence.

[00:30:24] Jess Phillips: And that the status of a woman in our country, regardless of where she is from, is equal in the eyes of the law with regard to violence against women and girls. Now, none of those things are the case at the moment. Not one of them is the case. Now, there's been marginal improvements over the years to widen access to make things better, but still we are nowhere near. The idea that if you've got diabetes in the UK, you would absolutely be able to access the preventative measures to stop you ending up in a crisis situation.

[00:30:56] Jess Phillips: We are nowhere that. We're nowhere near that a [00:31:00] hundred percent. And so I spent a huge amount of my career trying to make the current, what we'd say, 30% up to 50, which you know, is deeply unambitious. And so now it has to move on from being just about that, and I will keep working on that for the rest of my life.

[00:31:17] Jess Phillips: But it has to be about how you end the fact that women end up in this situation. And you can't do that without women's economic empowerment. Women earn less, women have less power, women have less social power, economic power, everything. And that is why they fall prey to the violence of men. And so the only thing that would ever fundamentally equalize women's safety in their homes, workplaces, and the public realm is if they are equal to men. And that is a long, long way off.

[00:31:51] Jess Phillips: But that has to be the aim. That has to be the driving goal. And it's very easy to get distracted by saying, okay, well I just want everyone to get into a [00:32:00] women's refuge, but all I'm doing then is propping up the same system. Now I want both those things, of course, and they're always gonna both have to exist.

[00:32:09] Jess Phillips: But the changing of the world bit is that. The other bit is just tidying up the world as it exists. Now, I'll never achieve either of those things in my life, and I've come to terms with that, but so you just have to make marginal steps along the way. I've learned to be much more patient than I was when I was first elected. I was deeply impatient. I'm still quite impatient, and I'm not grateful either. Women are, I'm expected to be grateful all the time for the basics. I'm like, I'm not grateful. They're like, oh look, we gave you this. Oh, you gave it you. You made it so that now 40% of women, rather than 30% of women might have access to a refuge. What do you want a ticket tape parade?

[00:32:46] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. Change is slow. It's a long process.

[00:32:50] Jess Phillips: So slow.

[00:32:51] Anna Stoecklein: But this is why we need more of you.

[00:32:54] Jess Phillips: We definitely get change faster with better women's representation and women with power at [00:33:00] every part of the ecosystem. So Parliament obviously, but also then within civil services, within the departments, whether that's policing or the courts, this all will get better where women are equalizing their power within those institutions.

[00:33:17] Jess Phillips: And undoubtedly, if you look back to when I was born and today there are way more women in Parliament and there is way more focus on these issues. It's inarguable that representation matters in that regard, but we're still a lot, I mean, what we're 30% women in Parliament in the UK Parliament. One of the really quite far down the pecking order in the world stakes and actually developing countries do way better. Weirdly, when the stakes, isn't it that, you know, in really powerful countries, the power remains where the power always has.

[00:33:54] Anna Stoecklein: Yep, Well, I wanna talk a little bit about what it's like to [00:34:00] be a woman in Westminster amongst, you know, your one of 30%, what it's like working in that male dominated world. And you already gave us a little bit of an illusion when you say you're expected to be grateful for these little things, and you mentioned in your book that you're frequently told, you're too emotional, which makes my skin crawl even just now repeating that story.

[00:34:24] Jess Phillips: I'm just like, you're not emotional enough if dead women doesn't make you mad...

[00:34:27] Anna Stoecklein: Right?

[00:34:27] Jess Phillips: ...then you might have a deficiency is my response. I'm like that. I think you are the one with the problem here if you don't feel emotional about murdered children.

[00:34:36] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah.

[00:34:38] Jess Phillips: I think I'm the normal one. I think I'm having the human reaction here.

[00:34:42] Anna Stoecklein: A hundred percent.

[00:34:43] Jess Phillips: I was like that, what's wrong with you? You weirdos. I, I don't wanna present it as being like a horrendous, I wouldn't do it if it was really, really problematic, I wouldn't be able to do it. I really love working in Westminster. I love the people I'm surrounded by. The level of [00:35:00] camaraderie when you are, because you are a bit in a foxhole with people who only understand what that life is like, regardless of which political rosette they wear there is a level of, of real camaraderie that you rarely get in other sort of workplaces.

[00:35:15] Jess Phillips: I don't want to present that it's some sort of den of inequity. I'm not scared when I'm there and there's a, a huge amount being written about sort of sexual violence and sexual harassment and bad bullying and things like that that have gone in in Westminster.

[00:35:29] Jess Phillips: And I, you know, I'm in a privileged position in Westminster, so I don't suffer from those things. But I mean, I know that they happen and I support lots and lots of women and men who they have happened to, but you are fundamentally reminded of your place in the system on a regular basis. And that is incredibly irritating.

[00:35:48] Jess Phillips: Like if you try and change anything in Westminster, you will immediately face this sort of arcane backlash about how all things have gone too far. Like women [00:36:00] make up sexual harassment claims. We are the kind of people that they're gonna attack because you know, we've got power. That's what they're coming for. They're coming for their power and their money. And I hear that sort of stuff. all the time and it's just like, oh God, do you, have you ever thought that women come forward here because you are really powerful people and therefore you are much more likely to abuse that power than your average Joe?

[00:36:21] Jess Phillips: It's tiring more than it is aggressive, I would say, for me, but I'm much, I mean, the truth be told, I am much more aggressive than 99% of them.

[00:36:31] Anna Stoecklein: Yes, that is refreshing to hear, Jess.

[00:36:34] Jess Phillips: Yeah, I don't take any shit with anyone, but what I find is the thing that will kill most women like me in that system is just so, it's so tedious and so tiring to try and even get the standards of sort of safeguarding in place that would exist in any other public sector workforce is just, it's like [00:37:00] your trying to rip out the liberties of the elected representative class, and it's just like, oh God man, just trying to stop people, groping people at work. You're making out like I'm suggesting indentured labor. I'm, I'm just suggesting don't touch up your staff and then expect no one to moan about it.

[00:37:17] Jess Phillips: But yeah, so that, it's very, very tiring. It's very, very tiring, work environmentto fight for your constituents and be told by people who will never live the lives that they have lived or even meet or befriend. I have to explain to people about access to education and things to people I know would never let their child marry one of my children or be in a class with them.

[00:37:46] Jess Phillips: They wouldn't live on the street I live in. That can be incredibly tedious and tiring to have to sort of beg for better from like a master class. It [00:38:00] can get incredibly tiring. You know, the current prime minister of the United Kingdom wouldn't dream of sending his children to the school my children go to.

[00:38:10] Jess Phillips: He wouldn't even know it existed. Do you know what I mean? He lives on a different plane to the one I live in. He wouldn't dream. And were one of his children wanting to fraternize with one of mine, it wouldn't be good enough, would they? Do you know what I mean? Like, and you know that that is tiring, that is tiring environment to work in.

[00:38:30] Jess Phillips: Now, if you were to put that to them, they'd say absolutely not. That's not the case. Of course, that's not the case. But you know, we all learn our place in this world and I know that that is the case. It's very, very tiring when you're trying to fight something you really believe in that you are emotional about that is personal to you.

[00:38:48] Jess Phillips: It's very, very, very tiring. I'm mindful that we're talking on the day that Jacinda Arden has stood down from her role as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and [00:39:00] it's very, very, very sad. But also the level of leadership shown by her in her leaving is I've never seen anything that could ever compare, being as, you know, the last two Prime Ministers in the United Kingdom that resigned, one resigned after 44 days of an absolute bin fire, and the other one said hasta la vista. So it's quite the comparator, isn't it? That this amazing woman just said, doesn't think that she's got enough in the tank. Like, what a thing.

[00:39:31] Jess Phillips: And it's tiring. It's so tiring. And that's the thing, I think that women, in any particular industry that is largely male-dominated, that is built on patriarchal norms, and that's the vast majority of industry. It's the media, whether it's the, you know, politics, whether it's banking, whatever it is, the vast majority is built by men for men over the years, notwithstanding some very brilliant men trying to change that.

[00:39:57] Jess Phillips: And you have to do so much more labor, so [00:40:00] much more work. It's a bit like when in the Black Lives Matter movement, it just became really tiring for black people to have to explain it to everybody. Like to have to constantly explain yourself and why you're fighting for the thing you're fighting for when to you, it just seems so obvious that I should be able to make a decision about my own womb. That I shouldn't expect to be raped in my home. Like just seems so obvious to me that it becomes like you can't explain it without becoming just so tired saying the same thing over and over and over again.

[00:40:32] Jess Phillips: It's a bit like being a parent though, so I'm well trained because I can just be replaced with a tape that said, where's your shoes, where's your shoes? Where have you put your shoes? Can you not leave your shoes in the hall? I'm basically just like a one woman Hitler about shoes.

[00:40:47] Anna Stoecklein: So, uh, barring having a tape recorder of yourself to repeat the same message, what keeps you going?

[00:40:54] Jess Phillips: Change keeps me going. Change and hope.Like, I have changed things, nowhere near as [00:41:00] much as I would've wanted to, but change. Uh, also I deal with people who are, you know if you think I'm tired, people who have lived through total calamity. Watched their mothers be murdered in front of them. Lost their children. Have been brutally trafficked for 10 years, forced to have sex with a hundred men a day. And they come into my office and we laugh.

[00:41:22] Jess Phillips: People think we run a really sad ship, but we don't at all. It's like those people and often the story of the survivor, certainly in violence against women and girls is one of, she came through it all and she set up a business and it's like, you know, the vast majority of survivors are just ordinary people who laugh at the same things as you laugh at, regardless of their terrible crises, they'll take the piss.

[00:41:42] Jess Phillips: That's what keeps me going is that like they get up every morning like I can keep going because they get up every morning and I dunno how some of these people raise their head off a pillow, let alone bother to make it the way to my office to try and change something for other people. They got no chance to change it for themselves.

[00:41:58] Jess Phillips: The terrible [00:42:00] abuses happen. Their kid is dead. They can't change that, and they bother to get up and come and see me. So they massively keep me going. Like I live a completely non-political life as well and live completely separately to it. My husband's never read a book I've written, never really watches me on the television.

[00:42:17] Jess Phillips: I live a separate life. We are normal human beings. My children don't give a toss about any of it. I live three streets away from where I was born, and all of my family and friends live around me. I have a different world and a different perspective that is about strictly come dancing and dancing to nineties r and b on a Friday night that I wouldn't be able to cope if it weren't for that.

[00:42:42] Jess Phillips: I wouldn't keep going. It would be too tiring. But life has fun asides, doesn't it? Like my life has magical moments in it just like everybody elses. It's not all work, and I think that sometimes women are expected to present as if at all they do is work. Certainly since Covid, I [00:43:00] work a lot less than I used to.

[00:43:01] Jess Phillips: I actually take time and do fun stuff. I don't watch documentaries about violence against women and girls. I watch the Bake Off. Oh God, love the Bake Off, the British Institution.

[00:43:13] Anna Stoecklein: Lovely. Well, I'm glad you have that balance. I think that's, I, you know, that's really important to be able to do the work that you're doing, but still be able to enjoy your life.

[00:43:22] Jess Phillips: Yeah, sometimes I'm really lazy and I put things off. Look, I, you know, I hate this idea that sort of women have to be presented as being really perfect. I am idle quite a lot of the time. I play a huge amount of New York Times quizzes on my phone.

[00:43:37] Anna Stoecklein: Wordle, are you into wordle?

[00:43:38] Jess Phillips: I, I, I'm big on wordle, but spelling bee is where my absolutely, I love spelling bee I do it every single day. Uh, you know, I, I would sooner do that than feed my children. It is a higher priority. I have to complete it every single day.

[00:43:52] Anna Stoecklein: I love it. So we're coming up to the end of our time here, but I just wanted to talk to our listeners for a minute. And you have this [00:44:00] call for involvement in your book, you know, politics is personal. Now is the time more than ever to get involved. So kind of a a two-parter. One is what you might say to someone about considering running for office because you know, the idea of getting into politics scares the shit out of most people.

[00:44:20] Jess Phillips: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:44:22] Anna Stoecklein: So, so anything you, you might say to anyone tossing around the idea or not? And then also just kind of more generally speaking, as we've said about the power is in our hands, and by not voting, by not getting involved, we're just kind of letting the status quo go on and the people who have always had power remain.

[00:44:41] Jess Phillips: So what I would say to somebody thinking of getting involved in politics is first and foremost, especially women, I would say, you think that you are not good enough, you should just spend 20 minutes watching any day of the House of Commons to disavow yourself of that view. You think you're not good enough, then just pop in. It's pretty poor standard. People are [00:45:00] terrified of public speaking and so was I. I used to have to take beater blockers when I was first, had to do it when I was a kid, when I was a student, and it's just practice. Like anything you can practice to be better at this.

[00:45:12] Jess Phillips: What I would say is you do have to be quite hard. You do have to be nails, and you do have to accept. That there's a certain level of acceptance of sense, that it's tough and people will be vile, and that one day you'll get your comeuppance, but don't try and get it every five minutes. It would be my advice because you just won't make it there if take sort of eternal offense at everything.

[00:45:35] Jess Phillips: Uh, don't take eternal offense at everything. Just take it on a systematic basis. I would say absolutely. If you are even considering it, you're halfway there. Do it because it is a privilege to have power and don't be afraid to try and grab power. It's not a bad thing to want to grab power and be more powerful, especially women. Want to be more [00:46:00] powerful. Don't let people tell you that your power is only your sexuality. Like that is what we've been told since the beginning of time. It's not, it's not, it's not.

[00:46:09] Jess Phillips: You know, whilst you have to be and people will be vile to you, there's no two ways about that. Don't do it if you were expecting everyone to love you, do it if you enjoy that lots of people don't like you. I really enjoy that.

[00:46:21] Jess Phillips: But what I would say more generally is that nothing good that you have in your life was not delivered to you by just some ordinary person sat in a dusty room at the back of a church or in the canteen at work and thought this isn't good enough.

[00:46:38] Jess Phillips: Every single thing, the weekend was delivered to you by people annoyed that they didn't have a weekend. You know, in China there is no weekend.

[00:46:48] Anna Stoecklein: That's wild.

[00:46:49] Jess Phillips: Yeah, exactly.

[00:46:51] Anna Stoecklein: No weekend.

[00:46:51] Jess Phillips: You could live without a weekend. That was delivered to you by two people sat having a cup of tea in a canteen somewhere, [00:47:00] in a factory or like, you know, on a farm and going, do you know what, it'd be really nice if we just had a couple of days off and didn't have to work.

[00:47:07] Jess Phillips: That would be nice, wouldn't it? Like, so like that was just like some dudes, not powerful people. Women having the vote was just like church halls full of women going, 'doesn't seem right that we don't get a say.' Don't put these people who did these things onto some massive pedestal, they are just like you. And if you wait around for the thing you want changing for someone else to do it, it might have meant to be you.

[00:47:31] Anna Stoecklein: Yes.

[00:47:31] Jess Phillips: You know, Rosa Parks didn't go, someone else will sit up on this bus. Do you know what I mean? Like somebody else will probably make this argument start the entire Civil Rights movement. It's probably you. If you really feel strongly about something and wanna change it, it's probably you who's gonna do it.

[00:47:47] Jess Phillips: It's not magical. Doreen Lawrence, who took on the entire, policing in the UK and got it to prove that it was fundamentally racist. She like worked in a bank, do you know what I mean? [00:48:00] Like, you know, she was just a woman. She's just a woman who had a terrible thing happen to her and thought, I'm not gonna put up with this.

[00:48:07] Jess Phillips: Ordinary people change the world all the time, and yet for some reason, we don't think that we can. Every change that ever happened was just because some woman or some man just went, oh, it'd be nice to have a day off. Don't overthink it. Go about changing it. You probably can. Most people do.

[00:48:22] Anna Stoecklein: Love it. Absolutely love it. The power is in our hands. And you know what I think right now, you know, we've got the weekend, now we're pushing for a three day weekend. This is the newest. Let's go for it.

[00:48:37] Jess Phillips: Why stop at three? I'm going four.

[00:48:39] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. 50 50.

[00:48:40] Jess Phillips: Yeah. I could do spelling bee all day long.

[00:48:43] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. Lovely. It has been so nice to chat with you. Jess Phillips, thank you so much for your time and for all of your fantastic work.

[00:48:52] Jess Phillips: My pleasure.

[00:48:54] Overdub: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, and think we need more of [00:49:00] women’s stories in the world, be sure to share with a friend! And subscribe, rate and review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to help us beat those pesky algorithms.

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[00:49:37] Overdub: And in exchange, you’ll receive my eternal gratitude and good nights sleep knowing you are helping to finally change the story of mankind to the story of humankind.

[00:49:48] Overdub: This episode was produced and hosted by me, Anna Stoecklein.

[00:49:52] Overdub: It was edited by Maddy Searle. With communications support by Jo Cummings.A special thanks to Amanda Brown, [00:50:00] Kate York, and Dan Kendall for their ongoing production support and invaluable advising.

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