Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading (16th November 2017)

Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

The Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund generously supported the Department of English Literature and the Department of Politics and International Relations in hosting Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading last week.

Jess Phillips was invited to deliver a talk on the topic, ‘Finding your Voice’, and to engage in a Question and Answer session led by Dr Mark Shanahan from the Department of Politics and International Relations. A book-signing for the MP’s recent book, Everywoman, was organised with the help of Blackwell, and this took place after the talk.

185 people were in the audience on the night. Members of the wider community joined us (including some in the 15-18-year-old category), and the majority of the seats were taken by colleagues and students in roughly equal proportion. The University’s live Facebook stream shows that 3,465 views were recorded during the 90-minute broadcast.

A Twitter feed from the event provided a lively flow of the MP’s comments as well as audience responses. One tweet alone (presented below) was viewed by 1,334 people.

Jess Phillips herself added her ‘like’ to the feed.

Jess Phillips’ talk included her childhood experiences as a campaigner with parents who were both committed to socialist causes: she remembered attending a day-care centre run by activists and helping to produce the banners that would be used on the drive-way to Greenham Common. She also discussed a brief period of political apathy when, in the early years of the Blair governments, many situations improved and the need for constant campaigning declined (she noted that she was more a fan of Blair’s ‘early work’ than of his later concepts). The election of David Cameron reignited her political activism, and her years of experience with ‘Women’s Aid’, a refuge charity, finally persuaded her to make herself heard and to enter Parliament. Her speech also included issues of class and privilege, questions of fairness and responsibility, and all her comment was laced with wit, humanity, and a deep-seated commitment to social justice. In the speech and in the Q&A session that followed it, it was clear that Jess’s passion is for equality, not in the highly theorised sense of ‘academic feminism’, but in the ‘lived’ sense of fairness, human rights and plain decency.

All of us who met Jess were extremely impressed by her warmth and her wit: there was no gap between her public image and the real person. It was also a timely and much-needed reminder that there are many MPs who are politicians because they are driven by their convictions and who are defined by their integrity and compassion. Meeting heroes is a dangerous enterprise but not in this case.

Thank you to all colleagues and students who attended the event. Jess Phillips told me (and told many students too) how impressed she was with Reading students and I felt very proud of everyone who contributed so much to such an excellent evening.

 

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