I said at the beginning of this process that I would tell the truth. I said that I was the bold choice and only bold could beat Boris Johnson, and I meant it. And then I did something I didn’t think I would do, and I stopped being bold. I didn’t lie, but I certainly stopped being real. I really believe that authentic, big-hearted, funny, kind and different politics is the only way to beat Johnson. So I am going to practise it.
So now for the honesty.
I hated the first hustings on Saturday. Genuinely the most inspiring moment was the sound of a baby crying in the audience. That was Baby Alfie, whose mother I knocked doors with while he was still safe in the womb. She knocked doors in the rain, in a seat we lost, while she was nine months pregnant and in possible slow labour.
The hustings was awful. I was awful because I was trying to hit a million different lines and messages in 40 seconds. Some were my lines, some were other people’s, and it fell flat.
It was not all my failing. The format of the hustings is terrible. To answer any question in 40 seconds is ridiculous. If it were possible to sum up, for example, an economic plan or an industrial strategy in 40 seconds, one wonders why they are actually hundreds of pages long. What a ridiculous farce.
“How will you unify the party?” is an example of a question we will be asked in every hustings. Everyone is going to give the same bloody answer: “I’ll build a broad team, I’ll end factionalism, I’ll make sure all are welcome … blah blah blah.” The truth is it is going to be a long hard slog of carrot and stick. This is no criticism of the other candidates – I did it, too. The real truth is you have to inspire change. You have to lead people to it, they have to believe in your intentions and want to go along with you.
I have absolutely no idea what kind of test of leadership it is for five people to stand on a stage and deliver frankly dull pre-rehearsed lines, some that have clearly been focus-grouped to death. How does it show how you will lead a team, inspire people to action or reach out into the country? It doesn’t. It proves some people can practise lines.
What galls me the most is the triangulation, the lines planned to reach different parts of the membership of the Labour party, all while talking about the end of factionalism. This is fundamentally dishonest. I get that repetition is an important part of political marketing but I am not sure I can take six weeks of it.
Ready for some more honesty? The likelihood that anyone but Keir Starmer or Rebecca Long-Bailey is going to win is, well, pretty low. Shock horror! What I am meant to say is, “Anything is possible, the campaign is long.” I get it. I am not blind. The likelihood of someone like me, who speaks like I do and says the things I say, ever being elected to be a party leader is slim. So I tried to do what was required, to learn lines, appear statesmanlike (as if!) and say the things I am meant to say. Turns out I cannot do it, because when I try it looks fake.
Also, I don’t think it is what leadership actually looks like. Leadership to me is deeds not words.
Leadership is the woman in my constituency who was sick of the dangerous parking around her school and so every morning put on a yellow tabard and patrolled the street, moving people on. Week in week out she did this until there was a rota of parents, neighbours and friends all helping her.
Leadership is those brave whistleblowers who have never given up in the face of pushback to expose the sexual exploitation of vulnerable kids in Rochdale and Rotherham. It is the Hillsborough families who took their grief, pain and the slights against their people and kept on going until others were inspired to follow. None of these people have lines; they have heart and grit and they inspire.
That isn’t the political leadership people look for, but it should be. What would show actual bloody leadership would be if the prime minister said: I will not rest until the plague of violent crime on our streets has disappeared. Not only changing policy and pulling levers of government to do it, like police numbers, youth service investment and changes to the criminal justice system, but also by inspiring and empowering communities. People love a grafter. People love to see someone giving something a go. They would love it in a political leader, too.
I might not look the most like a prime minister in this race. I cannot win that war so I am going to stop fighting it. I am going to do the thing that made tens of thousands of people ask me to run to be the leader. I am going to say what I think. I probably won’t win, but I am guessing that I might just inspire others to give it a go, too. I believe that the only way to beat a compulsive liar, who thinks only of himself but has the gift of the gab, is to be brutally honest, give a real toss about the people in our country and also have the gift of the gab. I could be wrong, but I would rather give this way a go than ever deliver a line in 40 seconds again.
• Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley