Election blind dates: John Whittingdale and Jess Phillips – BBC News

What happens when two strong-minded individuals from opposite sides of the political debate sit down for dinner?

To find out, the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has organised a series of election blind dates for the general election campaign.

Labour politician Jess Phillips describes herself as a feminist with a “big gob”, while former government minister John Whittingdale is a “Thatcherite Conservative”.

They went into the meal without knowing who they would be meeting.

But did they get on?


Jess Phillips

Describe yourself: I am Jess Phillips and I was the Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley – and now I’m the candidate in the election. I think people probably best know me as a women’s rights, equality activist with a big gob. I’m a difficult woman with a dirty laugh.

Political background: My political ambition came about when I was working at Women’s Aid, watching how government decisions – both poor and good decisions – changed the lives of some of the most vulnerable people. I got cross and thought I’d go and do this job now because the people who are doing it don’t know what they are talking about.

Political views: I’m a left-winger at heart, but a pragmatic left-winger. I will do almost anything to improve the lives of the people I represent – I just want things to get better for those people – but naturally my heart beats on the left.

How was your date?: It was good, I enjoyed it – lots of interesting conversations. We didn’t agree on lots of things, which makes for a much more interesting time.

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Media captionThe pair discuss feminism, and all-female selection panels for interviews

What did you agree on?: We shared quite a lot of common ground over the pressures and issues faced by parliamentarians. We have a lot in common, we’re both blazing the campaign trail at the moment. The stories are very similar.

What did you disagree on?: We disagreed on most areas of the different manifestos and policy issues around what needs money spending on it and what doesn’t. He very much didn’t want to be putting a burden on business and I don’t want to be putting a burden on my constituents, so I suppose that was one of the biggest differences.

What did he convince you on?: I’m not convinced by much. Our consensus came from how we are feeling, the public reaction to this particular election, whether that’s about just getting on with Brexit, and consensus around how Theresa May is appearing, and some of the policies she’s trying to put out.

Best thing: It is always interesting to sit down with people who don’t agree with you and have a bit of rough and tumble with them about your views. I think that actually he probably was more compelled by some of my own personal experiences of caring for my dying mother, of facing caring for my father as he gets more elderly, and also experiences I have with my own children.

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Media captionThe pair are well aware of other politicians’ high-profile faux-pas.

Worst thing: It was really not that bad. I think that maybe we could have covered more ground on the Liberal Democrats. We definitely had some consensus there. I felt maybe we should revisit that and have a “John and Jess chat Liberal Democrats”.

Three words to describe your date: Divided but friendly.

Marks out of 10: I’ll give him a solid eight.


Find out more

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 BST on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

Monday’s election blind date will be businesswoman Gina Miller and former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom.


John Whittingdale

Describe yourself: I’m John Whittingdale. At the moment I’m the parliamentary candidate for Maldon and I’ve been the MP there since 1992. I served in the cabinet for 15 months and before that I did 10 years as select committee chairman for culture, media and sport.

Political background: I decided I wanted to get some experience of politics at quite a young age, so I volunteered to go and work with the Conservation Party before going to university and I got hooked. I became a special adviser to Norman Tebbit, who was then secretary of state for trade and industry, and his two successors. Then I was asked to be political secretary to Margaret Thatcher.

Political views: I am, I suppose, what used to be called a Thatcherite Conservative. I believe very much in free markets, liberal economics, at the same time I believe very strongly in my country, the defence of the nation. I was a strong supporter of leaving the European Union.

How was your date?: It was good fun, I enjoy debating politics. Jess is stimulating company. She’s lively, we had a good argument on one or two points and, as I would have expected, actually there were areas where we found we agreed with one another.

What did you agree on?: Obviously when we were talking about things like the pressures of being an MP, but also on some issues. She is realistic and acknowledged some of the challenges the country faces.

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Media captionThe public perception of politicians was a key theme over dinner

What did you disagree on?: I think when we got on to things like public services and whether or not we could afford things. Jess is fighting on a manifesto which promises everything to everybody without any real sign of how you could possibly afford that. I think in our manifesto we are confronting some of the challenges which have to be faced.

Most convincing argument: I think she’s right to identify that people from her area need to understand, or we need to get the message across, about how we are helping them and how, when it comes to wanting to deliver better public services, actually you have to earn the money first. And the sense of disillusion among young people with the political system, I encounter it in my constituency in the same way she does.

Best thing: I do a lot of media interviews. She does, too, and this was certainly different and actually, it brought a different kind of atmosphere to it. It’s nice to have an opportunity to have a longer discussion with somebody away from the ding-dong of politics, and actually find common ground to share some experiences.

Worst thing: Eating lunch itself is very difficult when you’re being filmed. It’s a challenge to not look stupid as you’re eating. Neither of us ended up having very much.

Describe her in three words: Forthright, lively, fun.

Marks out of 10: Seven or eight. I mean I enjoyed it, I’d do it again.


Watch more election blind dates

Find out what happened when…

Nigel Farage went on a date with journalist – and Boris Johnson’s sister – Rachel Johnson

Food blogger Jack Monroe went on a date with Made in Chelsea’s Toff

Strip club owner Peter Stringfellow went on a date with historian Mary Beard

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