Politics needs more Kalvin Phillips’

Tom Spencer

June 18, 2021

Anyone who watched the England game on Sunday and knows a thing or two about football will agree that Kalvin Phillips had an absolutely brilliant game. He was tough where he needed to be, and played an essential role in a fabulous pressing system that made a very good Croatian side look timid and ordinary at times.

In history’s most successful football teams there will always be a player to do the dirty work; in United’s famous treble winning side it was Roy Keane and in Arsenal’s invincibles it was Patrick Viera. Similarly, if we’re ever to solve the largest problems in our country then politicians must also embrace this attitude.

Very occasionally we do get these people. There are some examples of politicians willing to take steps, that in their view are necessary, against extremely strong political pressures. This often is not through the nicest looking or most delicate measures.

But when one waters down policy proposals or isn’t prepared to fight for something with enough conviction, then the desirable results will be lost. The most obvious example of this weakness is Ted Heath’s Selsdon Man program. This represented Heath’s attempts at Thatcherism almost 10 years before the Iron Lady became Prime Minister. However, after internal struggles in his party and strike action by unions, the policies were swiftly abandoned. 

We can contrast this with Margaret Thatcher. Love her or hate her, Thatcher shared many of the same values Heath espoused in 1970. However, unlike Heath, she epitomised the Kalvin Phillips politician.

When faced with dissent within her party she was happy to surround herself with like minded ministers and pursue the policies she believed to be right. This was not always through attractive silky football, but through sheer determination that the objective of politics, just like football, is for getting your policies passed. This is exactly the sort of politician that Britain could do with today. 

Some of the biggest problems that haunt us are ones with easy solutions – however, the consequences of these solutions are intolerable to very vocal minority interests. Take the example of housing. We all know that the solution to the housing crisis is to build much more houses. There’s plenty of evidence of places (namely Tel Aviv, Japan, and Sydney_ that accomplish this. However, the political realities of freeing up enough land so that supply can be allowed to grow is one that NIMBYs will not tolerate. This leads even the more pro-housing politicians to try to find acceptable ways to reconcile the demands of the NIMBYs rather than force through the changes we so desperately need. 

Another example of this is immigration. We know that we have an ageing population and will require immigration to help fill this gap. This would lead to a more competitive population, helping to boost productivity, leading to better life outcomes for British people, as well as for the immigrants themselves. Indeed, all the old myths around immigration leading to decreased wages, higher crime, and all the rest have now been largely debunked. However, taking on immigration isn’t popular; pursuing it is widely seen as a recipe for electoral disaster. 

The Kalvin Phillips politician does not care about NIMBYs nor do they care about protectionists. They see a policy that needs doing and they’re committed enough to the benefits that it will bring that they’re happy to push a policy through regardless of the costs.

Solving our growing welfare state and housing crisis requires a Kalvin Phillips. We need someone to take the nasty tackle and to commit the odd foul where it helps the team out. For too long our politicians have been too timid in not taking on these special interests and we’ve all suffered as a consequence of it. Let’s hope that Boris learns from the Euros and channels his inner Kalvin Phillips when the upcoming planning bill reaches the chamber.


Written by Tom Spencer

Tom Spencer is the Chief Organiser of the London Neoliberals and a Young Voices UK contributor.

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