It takes an awful lot of work to be abused. After the week I have had, being subject again to a Ukipper’s rape threats, I am once more reminded how if you dare to speak up and take action against harassment you should expect to clear your diary and focus on nothing else. In the days in which it became a genuine part of the national discourse to talk about whether you would or wouldn’t rape me, the main drag for me was that it took over my life. It is always the victim who has to spend time making their case, hours poring over evidence – which in my case was hundreds of videos of ne’er-do-wells making up lies about me. I can think of a few better ways to spend my evenings: I would genuinely rather undergo a bikini wax.
Police meetings, evidence gathering, reporting to both the government and opposition front bench on where we go next – as well as trying not to feel guilty about not getting back to the thousands of emails of support from across the world and political divide. Being abused does not suit the already busy. The alternative, of course, is to sit back and let it be normalised that hate preachers have free rein in our political debate. So I will suck up the extra hours and crack on with enforcing and changing our laws, because I am a lawmaker, not a YouTuber. In the end, persistence, courage and hard work have to trump libertarian neckbeards. If not, then we are all doomed.
When people matter as much as bins
In a week where I could certainly have packed up my Westminster desk and jacked it all in to run a small, stress-free haberdashers’ shop, I received a phone call that crystallised my determination to carry on. On Saturday morning the minister for housing and homelessness called and said that the government would bring forward plans to put domestic abuse refuge accommodation on a statutory footing. This is something I have campaigned on for nearly a decade. It means that every local authority will have to provide refuge places, and the government is going to work to fund them. Making refuge funding sustainable was the single reason I decided I had to get my bum on those green benches. It is essentially my life’s work.
I could have done cartwheels around my house, but I was sworn to secrecy and so instead tried to get my ten-year-old son to appreciate the achievement of finally putting women’s safe housing on a legal standing. He looked as happy as a kid could, when really he wanted me to stop blethering on while he watched Spider-Man: Homecoming. “Great Mum, I’m really pleased for you.”
When you go to Westminster as a feminist you have a lot of grand plans – and you quickly realise that your main job is just reminding policymakers that women exist. It can be a tough slog. The ruling about domestic abuse refuges matters because until now, councils only had to provide adult and children’s social care and bin collection – these were the legal minimums. Domestic violence victims now matter as much as bins, and that might seem a low bar, but to me it felt like winning the lottery.
Thoughts gathered, without a hairbrush
My weekend was a mixed bag. On Saturday I planned to travel to London to attend the Progress (centre-left Labour group) conference. On Friday night, I had been texted by two political journalists asking for the speech I was going to make, to which I replied, “Er, I haven’t written a speech.” So I decided to get up early and at least try to gather my thoughts before I got on the train.
I texted my colleague Alison McGovern, who was chairing my session: “See you at 1pm.” To which she replied, “Jess you’re on at 10.30am.” This was dramatic news as it was already 9am and I was in Birmingham, in pyjamas with ungathered thoughts and very messy hair. Ninety-nine per cent of being a politician is this moment, running wildly from one meeting to another while someone runs behind you trying to tell you what the meeting you are going to is. All political parties should update the way they select their candidates by making them rush unprepared and unwashed to a meeting and then make a rousing speech.
It turns out I need no preparation to say that the Labour Party must show courage and bravery and stop worrying about pleasing everyone – because it has led to us getting respect from no one. Who needs a hairbrush to state the bleedin’ obvious?
Staying silent on Farage
With Sunday came the Nigel Farage car-crash interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. Farage doesn’t want to be asked about his normal specialist subject of Farage – he wants a podium to just say whatever he damn well pleases, whether it’s true or not. I can’t even be bothered to be cross with him: he has, after all, given us a few decades of warning flags. The huge surge in the polls for his Brexit Party and the free rein he gets – to have no substance – are entirely the fault of the main political parties, which think that the way to challenge him is to say nothing.
When did we all get so scared of the public that we cannot firmly stand up to this charlatan? The public wants to hear us, and they can listen. We just have to have something to say that wasn’t workshopped in a nine-hour-long meeting. Where the hell did our guts go?
Trolled by my son
My son and his mates admitted to me this week that they are joining in the new national sport of trolling Jess Phillips MP by trying to change my Wikipedia page. Alas, none of it was for my benefit as they were not claiming that I was the UK’s answer to Jacinda Ardern but, instead, that I like to eat Quavers in the bath. I was thrilled by their alternative comedy skills and delighted by my son’s insistence that even though he was on this occasion lying, he should have been trusted as a reliable source. To be honest, it would be one of the smaller lies I’ve read about myself.
This article appears in the 15 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Return of the Irish question