In Depth

Jess Phillips: the Labour MP’s fiercest rows

Straight-talking politician has hit the headlines again after taking on leader of a protest against same-sex education

Straight-talking Labour MP Jess Phillips is back in the spotlight after calling for an exclusion zone around a primary school targeted by protesters against LGBT rights education.

In a heated row filmed by BBC News outside the Birmingham school, Phillips took on the man leading the campaign to overturn the decision to teach pupils about same-sex relationships.

Asked why she had “not supported” the parents’ protests, the Birmingham Yardley MP told Shakeel Afsar: “I don’t agree with the protests. I don’t agree that you get to pick and choose which equality you can and can’t have.

“Our equality laws protect us all. I want to protect you, I want to protect the Muslim community...The worst thing about it is it is damaging the reputation of a peaceful and loving community that I have lived in my entire life.”

The star of Labour’s 2015 intake, Phillips “has made headlines by making as much feminist noise as she possibly can”, says The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead.

Here are five other occasions when the politician has given her opponents an earful:

Phillips vs. Carl Benjamin

Following a comment by Phillips about rape threats against female politicians, alt-right YouTuber and UKIP MEP candidate Carl Benjamin tweeted in May 2016 that “I wouldn't even rape you #AntiRapeThreats #FeminismIsCancer”. His response prompted “a deluge of threatening tweets against [Phillips], including rape and death threats from his followers”, reports The Times.

Speaking to BuzzFeed News, the Labour MP said: “The Electoral Commission should surely have standards about who can and can’t stand for election. If Facebook and Twitter can ban these people for hate speech, how is it they are allowed to stand for election?”

She continued: “I don’t really know what to say, as someone who works still every day with victims of rape, the idea that it is funny or a joke to hear someone saying that that if forced they would rape me. There is a childish misunderstanding that rape is about sex rather than power and violence.”

Phillips vs. Diane Abbott

Phillips clashed with fellow Labour MP Diane Abbott in September 2016 after challenging Jeremy Corbyn over the lack of women in important positions in his first shadow cabinet. Abbott accused her of being “sanctimonious”, and pointed out that Phillips was “not the only feminist in the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party)”, according to The Independent.

Describing the incident to HuffPost’s Owen Bennett, Phillips said: “I roundly told her to fuck off.” Asked how Abbott responded, the Birmingham MP replied: “She fucked off.”

Phillips added that “people said to me they had always wanted to say that to her, and I don’t know why they don’t as the opportunity presents itself every other minute”.

However, in a January 2018 interview with The Guardian, Abbott insisted: “Jess Phillips never told me to fuck off. What was extraordinary is that she made a big deal of telling people she had.” Phillips later apologised.

Phillips vs. International Men’s Day

A social media storm erupted in October 2015 after Phillips mocked Conservative MP Philip Davies for suggesting a Westminster debate on International Men’s Day.

She laughed and pulled faces during Davies’ speech in the Commons, before saying: “You’ll have to excuse me for laughing. As the only woman on this committee, it seems like every day to me is International Men’s Day.

“When I’ve got parity, when women in these buildings have parity, you can have your debate.”

Davies afterwards said: “If a male MP had reacted in that way about the need for debate on International Women’s Day, there would have been hell to pay. It’s entirely possible you’d be removed from Chambers or have the whip removed. I’m surprised she finds that a laughing matter.”

Following Phillips’ objections, she was subjected to further rape threats on social media.

Phillips vs. Andrew Griffiths

The revelation that Tory MP Andrew Griffiths had sent 2,000 sexual texts to two women constituents over a 21-day period, just weeks after the birth of his first child, prompted his suspension from the Conservative Party last July. However, he was reinstated in December so that he could vote in the Theresa May no-confidence ballot.

Following his return to the Commons, Phillips read out one of his sex texts in the chamber, saying: “‘She’s so cute, so sweet, I can’t wait to beat her. Can she take a beating?’ Not my words, Mr Speaker, the words of the MP for Burton, while barraging two of his female constituents with thousands of sexual text messages.”

The Labour MP then “posed two questions for leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom” about the decision to reinstate Griffiths, reports the London Evening Standard.

Querying the lack of “due process” in restoring the Tory whip, Phillips asked: “What message does this send about how any process here in this place can ever be trusted? What matters more, political power or protecting victims of sexual harassment and abuse?” 

Phillips vs. Labour’s National Constitutional Committee

Phillips reacted with anger in March 2018 after a female party activist who accused MP Kelvin Hopkins of harassment said he had been given permission to cross-examine her in written questions at a disciplinary hearing.

Ava Etemadzadeh, treasurer of the Young Fabians, said the Luton North MP would not be in the same room but would be able to submit questions to her at the hearing of Labour’s National Constitutional Committee, which has the power to expel members.

Phillips responded to the news by saying she would resign from the party if that were true.

The Labour MP later said she had been reassured that Etemadzadeh would not have to meet Hopkins face-to-face at any point, but added that there were “still serious questions to ask and so I will”.

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