Tag Archives: jess phillips

Why I’m supporting Jess Phillips for Labour leader

Featured image and video: JessPhillips.net/YouTube

In May 2015, I was on the ground in London covering the general election as an independent journalist. Following that year’s terrible results for Labour, I wrote a blog on this website describing why, in my view, the party lost because Ed Miliband didn’t run far enough to the left. Later that summer, in a column for the Gay UK Magazine (no longer available, but archived here), I endorsed Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader.

As someone who believes that nationalising the rails, public utilities, and offering free broadband are all in the public interests, Corbyn seemed like the obvious choice. And, as I wrote in my autopsy of the 2015 election, the public seemed to agree—despite the fact they had just rejected milquetoast Miliband.

A lot has happened since then. From Brexit to Grenfell Tower to the continued cuts to public services, five years ago feels more like fifty years ago. In the cold light of the dawn of a new decade, it’s easy to see how foolish I was to think a move to the left would lead to electoral victory. Corbynism was a poisoned chalice from which I gladly drank and, as a result, Boris Johnson occupies 10 Downing Street.

This is, in part, my mea culpa. It is with the guilt and shame of having been so catastrophically wrong that I approach the current Labour leadership election with my blinders finally removed. The British public isn’t as left wing as me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t desperate for change. Boris Johnson didn’t win the last general election so much as Jeremy Corbyn lost it—for reasons that include but go beyond his manifesto.

People didn’t trust Corbyn’s Labour party. From his mealy-mouthed answers on Brexit to his scandalous inability or unwillingness to tackle antisemitism within the party, they simply didn’t think Corbyn represented their views or interests. Rightly or wrongly, voters felt he talked not to them, but down to them, and that much of his frontbench did the same. Simply put, voters didn’t like Corbyn and they didn’t like Corbynism.

After two straight general election defeats, it’s clear that it’s time for a change of direction. Labour needs a leader who can regain the trust of the British people, who is charismatic enough to both carry the red banner for socialism and go toe-to-toe with Boris Johnson, and who has a vision for a brighter future and a plan to make it a reality.

That woman is Jess Phillips.

Ever since she famously told the writer Owen Jones that she would “knife Corbyn in the front” rather than conspiring behind his back should she ever feel the need to break ranks with him, Jess Phillips has impressed me. Her frank and unapologetic approach to politics is refreshing. There’s no calculation with Jess, no pretence, no show. She tells you what’s on her mind, what she thinks you need to hear, and she does it with a gusto and earthy charm matched by none.

“We have to go back to the basics,” she told Andrew Marr on Sunday. “My son doesn’t go to school five days a week. And while that is the case—and lots of people in the country, they can give you their own example; they can’t get social care for their parents—and while that is the case, offering people free broadband was just not believable.” It’s the kind of candid admission that we so rarely see, but that voters so desperately craves from MPs.

That Phillips can be so blunt while remaining so charming sets her apart from most politicians and pundits today. She’s incredibly likable in an era where likability matters more than it ever has before. When Jess Philips enters a room, whether a pub or the Commons chamber or a tv studio, she owns it. She is a larger-than-life personality from a salt-of-the-earth community. She has the populist magnetism of Nigel Farage without all the racism and poor bashing.

Phillips has her critics, invoking an ire few politicians are ever unlucky enough to receive. Jacobin recently lamented her “remarkable faith in the power of public relations and internal company processes to resolve industrial disputes,” but this is an example of what makes Phillips so appealing. She doesn’t live in the world as we would like it, but rather as it is, which means that, unlike those on the hard left, she sees not only what is wrong but, crucially, how we can use the tools at our disposal to fix it.

She’s shown an ability to do this time and time again, having an uncanny knack for capturing the public attention and directing it at issues which desperately need fixing. Whether it’s doing homework with her son on the steps of Number 10 to protest Tory education cuts, blasting xenophobia and standing up for migrants in her own constituency and across the country, or brilliantly and heartbreakingly reading the names of women murdered by men to highlight the epidemic of domestic violence, Phillips knows how to get your attention.

If you think that’s it, though, once she has your attention, she knows how to get things done. Her tenacious campaigning for domestic violence refuges in part forced the Tories to commit to putting them on a statutory footing. Phillips campaigned for more domestic violence refuges for over a decade, showing a gritty determination that is absolutely needed not just for the next election, but for the next Labour government. Things are not going to change overnight, and this pragmatic yet progressive attitude is exactly what the British people are looking for.

With sharp political instincts and a Barbara Castle-like understanding of the working class (especially its feelings towards the EU), Phillips has managed to increase her majority by nearly fifteen percent since 2015. That’s the most of any Labour MP in a constituency which voted to leave the EU.* As though that isn’t impressive enough, her constituency of Birmingham Yardley saw only a small decline in her majority from the 2017 election to the 2019 election.

That she managed all this while actively campaigning for Remain is a testament to just how good she is. “My constituents don’t mind that we might disagree – they appreciate above all else a straightforward approach,” she wrote last month for the Guardian. Phillips credits “our ability to disagree well, with good humour and a shared vernacular” with her popularity.

I would agree. With a common touch and good-natured attitude towards people of all political persuasions, Jess is the right woman for this crucial moment in the history of the Labour Party and the history of the United Kingdom. She is the woman to lead Labour out of the wilderness and back onto the path to electoral victory.

*This blog was updated on 15 January 2020 to correctly identify Jess Phillips’ constituency as having voted to leave the European Union. It previosly stated her constituency had voted to remain.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer. With a decade of experience covering US and UK politics, culture, and media, his work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Tennessee. 

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2015

naught and nice 2015

It’s Christmas Eve, the night that Santa makes his list and checks it twice before delivering presents to the children of the world. 2015 has been a chaotic year in which we’ve seen the best and worst of humanity. But who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? Here’s five of each!

naughty

5. Simon Danczuk

He’s terrible. From telling LBC that Jeremy Corbyn would face a “coup” on “day one” of his leadership (spoilers: he didn’t) to continually undermining Jez’s leadership in right-wing rags, Danczuk has shown that he’s less dedicated to ensuring a Labour victory in 2020 than he is to his own vainglorious spotlight. Far from the leader of the Blairites (that mantle goes to Liz Kendall, who has shown not only grace in defeat but a remarkable reticence and resilience), Danczuk has largely behaved like a petulant child in his Daily Mail columns, revealing details of meetings with Corbyn and basically throwing a national temper tantrum. Stop it, Simon. It’s not a good look. And it’s not helpful

4. The mainstream media

Fuck, where do I even begin? From questioning Jeremy Corbyn’s patriotism because he didn’t sing God Save the Queen to calling him a hypocrite because he said he would in the future, to complaining he didn’t bow deep enough at the Cenotaph (when he was the only party leader to hang around and talk to veterans) to labelling him a terrorist sympathiser without critically analysing his positions, to just yesterday claiming that he cancelled Christmas because he won’t have a Christmas Eve presser (looking at you, Telegraph), you’ve been so incredibly biased that a self-avowed Tory—Nick Robinson—has criticised your lopsided coverage. In America, the press has routinely trotted out tired tropes about Hillary Clinton, ignored the meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders, and allowed Donald Trump to spout of racist, xenophobic, and Islamaphobic bullshit with little pushback (this time looking at you, George Stephanopoulos). Indeed, the US broadcasters have built Trump up and covered him as though he were an event rather than a candidate for President of the United States of America. The mainstream press has done a horrible job of covering politics in an objective fashion this year. A pox on all your houses.

3. Iain Duncan Smith

The bedroom tax has been a failure, and IDS knows it. Thing is, he buried the damning findings under almost 400 other reports on the last day Parliament met this year. 75% of those affected by the bedroom tax have had to cut back on food; 40% of those affected have cut back on heating. He has gutted the welfare state with a glee not seen since the Grinch stole Christmas, and it’s been sickening. While we fight over Labour MPs abstaining from the latest round of benefits cuts, let’s never forget that it’s actually the Tories what done it.

2. Katie Hopkins

For the first time, we have a repeat. Katie Hopkins made my 2013 naughty list, and here she is again. Why? Because she’s fucking awful. Her heartless comments about refugees, from asking the press to show her bodies floating in the Mediterranean to calling migrants ‘cockroaches’ to fat-shaming people without really tackling the emotional and physical realities of obesity, Hopkins has time and time again proven that she is a heartless bigot who gives no fucks about the feelings of others or the consequences of her words. She routinely stokes xenophobia and Islamaphobia, most recently backing Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and supporting the US ban on a Walthamstow Muslim family that was travelling to Disneyland. She’s horrible.

1. Donald Trump

The man is a monster, and no, I’m not referring to whatever is happening on top of his head. (Seriously Donald, what the fuck even is that?) I’ve never liked Donald Trump. He’s always seemed obnoxious to me. I’m from the American south, so that makes sense. Yankees are rude. But from the moment he announced for president, Trump has proven he’s a thoroughly despicable human being. Whether calling Mexicans “rapists” or making sexist comments about women (Megyn Kelly’s “bleeding out of wherever” or Hillary Clinton’s “disgusting” pee break), he’s been a bigot from the beginning. It’s hard to say which of Trump’s fascist, undemocratic comments was the most odious this year, but his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States is a top contender. It is certainly the most un-American. We are a country founded on religious freedom and tolerance, one which has long embraced Muslims as our brethren. But this is the year that Trump decided nah, we weren’t going to do that anymore. What’s frightening is that so many Americans agreed with him. We do not have religious tests to patriotism in America, and the fact that Trump is trying to institute one to even enter the country is terrifying. He is the devil. He must be stopped. I am more scared for my country now than I was after 9/11. Trump. Must. Be. Stopped.

Dishonourable mentions: George Osborne, Ted Cruz, George Galloway 

nice

5. Jess Phillips

Wow. It’s rare that a new MP emerges as a rock star, but Jess Phillips certainly has. First elected in May, her maiden speech was on point. “I am deeply committed to improving our country’s response to victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse in all its forms. Having worked for years in a service that operated refuges, rape crisis, child sexual exploitation services and human trafficking services, I know that we need to do more.” In the subsequent months, she has become an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and has gained a reputation as a straight talker, promising to knife Jeremy Corbyn in the front, rather than from behind—a far cry from her compatriot Simon Danczuk’s scheming. She’s got critics on the hard left, some of whom will likely chastise me for putting her on the nice list. But I believe Jess Phillips is the future of the Labour Party, and that given the chance, she can prove to be a key legitimiser of anti-austerity measures. This is a woman who gets it.

4. Iain Dale

Iain and I agree on almost nothing. I first started following him in 2010, when I was still a Tory. Now I’m a Corbynista. Yet over the past several months, I’ve listened to Iain’s LBC show rather religiously, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. He’s a journalist who lets his biases be clearly known, but also attempts to be as fair as possible given those biases. He has challenged people who have called in to slag off Jez for the unfair talking points advanced by the Murdoch press and Simon Danczuk, and he’s had an open and sympathetic mind to Jeremy. Sure, he doesn’t agree with him, but he sure does seem to recognise the innate bias against him and he often questions its fairness. This is unusual for a right-wing journalist (*ahem* Dan Hodges). Iain isn’t perfect, but he’s far better than most of his colleagues at covering Corbyn.

3. Owen Jones

Owen Jones got a lot of flack for the New Statesman cover trumpeting his trip inside “the Jungle”—their words, not mine. “The Jungle” is, of course, what the refugees stuck in the Calais migrant camp call their home, and coming from a white journalist can be seen as problematic. Thing is, as Owen routinely reminds us, he doesn’t write the headlines. Still, his reporting was enlightening and brought to the national consciousness the humanity at the heart of the refugee crisis. He did this, it should be said, before it was fashionable to write about refugees. He saw the writing on the walls and he went, and he challenged us. Owen did that all year, actually. In February, he made some enemies in the radical feminist circles when he (it must be said, finally) trumpeted public support for trans people. He hasn’t backed down since. And his steadfast support of Jeremy Corbyn has been remarkable considering he’s basically the only mainstream British columnist who actually had the fortitude to support—and continue to support—the beleaguered Labour leader. I’ve long been a fan of Owen’s (he was an honourable mention on last year’s nice list), but this is the year I became a stan.

2. Justin Trudeau

I rushed home from the airport to watch the Canadian election results come in. This is weird for me; though I write about international politics, Canada is somewhere that doesn’t often register in my analysis. Yet I knew this was a pivotal election. My neighbour to the north had, for a decade, been governed by a neocon who had pillaged its land (see: tar sands) and ignored its most marginalised. Trudeau, in less than two months, has begun to transform Canada back into that bastion of equality and goodwill we all know it is. He’s been photographed embracing Syrian refugees, he’s opened up investigations into missing indigenous women, and he’s appointed the most racially and gender diverse cabinet in the world. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders hope to stoke the flames of international progressivism. Justin Trudeau has lit this shit on fire.

1. The people of Walthamstow

I don’t know where to begin. You have shown me the most kindness and the most hospitality of anyone this year. It was serendipitous that I wound up in E17 covering the general election in May. I crowdfunded at trip to London and needed a cheap hotel. What I didn’t know then, but I’ve come to appreciate, is that my cheap hotel is a massive part of the problem in Walthamstow. Regeneration is destroying a vibrant working class community, displacing thousands of people who have called the area home for generations. But the residents are fighting back, as I learned on my first day there—when I had the privilege of interviewing Nancy Taaffe and Sarah Sachs-Eldridge—and subsequently, speaking to local residents at Lloyd Park, the Goose, and this random gay night at a pub whose name escapes me but is somewhere on Hoe Street. The time I spent in Walthamstow was, by far, the highlight of my year. I felt at home, and I made a home, amongst these wonderful people. When news of the “Walthamstow Riot”—a street fight amongst 200+ teenage girls—broke, I laughed. Not because it’s funny, but because the media overblew the story and also because that McDonald’s was out of mozzarella sticks then as it was when I was last there in May. (Seriously, McDonald’s, get your shit together.) When the media was reporting that an anti-war protest marched outside of local MP Stella Creasy’s house, I was sceptical. My gut was right. Walthamstow doesn’t do that. They marched to her office. And the fact that a grassroots march organised so rapidly is impressive. It was peaceful and local, and it was magical. I’m constantly in awe of the amazing left-wing activists in E17 and the things that they’re doing. I admire you, I tip my hat to you, and I desperately want to join you. This has most recently been demonstrated in this amazing community rallying around a local Muslim family denied entry into the USA for reasons unknown. (Stella Creasy has tried to get answers from the US Embassy but they’re not acknowledging her, which is troubling.) Walthamstow, you made me feel like one of you. You supported me, encouraged me, congratulated me, and took me in. I never once felt like a stranger. Your activists showed me the true face of the British left—one the media should acknowledge—which is warm, inviting, kind, and generous. I love you. I want to join you. I want to be one of you. You are the best of Britain, full stop.

Honourable mentions: David Lammy, Mhairi Black, John Oliver

Whichever list you find yourself on this year, I hope you have a very merry Christmas. Thank you for reading my work, whether here, in the Gay UK Magazine, at the Daily Dot, or elsewhere. I appreciate your support and encouragement. I have one or two more blog posts that’ll be coming before year’s end, so watch this space. Until then—Happy Christmas from The Curious American.

x. Skylar