On Saturday, the Times published a much-lauded interview with Jess Phillips. As with all her public outings, she comes across as decent, kind, funny, hard-working, honest, and down-to-earth. These are certainly fine qualities to have in an MP. But the interview concluded with Phillips stating that she thought she would be a good prime minister. Many people concurred. This should make us stop and consider whether we’re looking for the right qualities in a potential PM, especially given that we might be seeking a new one sooner rather than later as a result of Theresa May’s failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament at the second attempt.
Three things are required for a good PM: a strong guiding set of principles, a clear vision of how Britain should look, and the means by which that might be achieved, in terms of both policy and politics. It’s clear that Phillips is principled, but the interview didn’t contain much else of substance. There was little vision beyond helping people manage better. She admitted that she’s wasn’t strong on economics, perhaps a disadvantage when seeking to be First Lord of the Treasury.
In some ways, she had a lot in common with David Cameron, another who proclaimed he wanted to be prime minister because he thought he would be good at it. There are also shades of Cameron’s essay-crisis style of governing when, comparing herself to May, she says “To be studious is noble in a way. It’s never something I’m going to be – I’m fly-by-night and slapdash.”
In lacking a plan, however, Phillips is not alone. May hasn’t had any sort of plan for government since the catastrophic 2017 election, when Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were forced to leave the scene.
The comparisons between May and Gordon Brown are familiar.