Books

Jess Phillips, Everywoman

Jess Phillips‘ piece in today’s Observer reminded me of how much I enjoyed her book Everywoman which I read pretty much in one sitting a couple of weeks ago.
The piece in today’s paper is to draw attention to the sheer disruption the imminent General Election will cause to the business of government and, more importantly, the disruption which will be caused to conviction politicians such as Phillips…she does not relish having to tell her constituents that although today she can fight their cases as their MP, next week she will be plain Jess, a candidate for election. I guess she will win her seat again, but she resents the break in continuity of the work she undertakes for constituents.

Everywoman by Jess Phillips

In one of these happy accidents, I picked up an immaculate copy of Everywoman in a charity shop for £2.49 – it feels as if it was an unsullied review copy – which was great, because much as I wanted to read Phillips’ book based on reviews, I kind of felt it would turn out to be one of these things that stays on a well-meant reading list for years without ever actually being read.
So let’s say the universe presented the opportunity.
Everywoman is neither strictly autobiography or personal manifesto, rather a mixture of both, very much in the style of Caitlin Moran’s books about herself (or a thinly veiled version of herself.) Like Moran, Phillips is a natural writer and is easy to read. Some people would admire her clarity by saying she sees things in black and white, I think it’s more like seeing things in colour.
For example, she writes in great detail about the difficulties caused by her brother’s heroin addiction, both before and after her enhanced visibility as a Member of Parliament and public figure. Luckily, the brother has now overcome his addiction, but does she now describe him as an all round great guy? No, Luke is a “good enough partner, a pretty good dad, an awesome uncle, an okay brother and an average son.”
Phillips goes into extreme detail about the amount of online abuse that she and other MPs receive. It’s not just even the MPs who receive the abuse and threats nowadays, but people with the most liminal connexions can be targeted – relations, certainly, but also some bloke you were pictured with at a wedding five years ago, which picture is available on social media. So Phillips says she has to warn all her relations if she knows she is going to say something controversial in public.
But hearteningly, she is not afraid of being unpopular, because that is just going to happen if she does her job right and it “turns out that not being popular actually means not being popular with the kind of people you wouldn’t want to go on a date with or find yourself in the caravan next door to on a holiday.” Amen.
An excellent book which I think I will probably be giving to a few people to read. It’s not as if we can’t benefit from a bit more politics this year…

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