Jess Phillips confirms she will stand for Labour leadership

MP joins Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry in race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn

Jess Phillips has announced she will stand as a candidate in the Labour leadership contest.

The Birmingham Yardley MP joins Emily Thornberry, Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy as confirmed candidates. Others including Rebecca Long Bailey and Keir Starmer are expected to join the race formally in the coming days.

She tweeted a campaign video along with a statement saying that “politics needs honest voices” and urging people to join her campaign at her website.

I’m standing to be the next Labour Leader. Politics needs honest voices. Only when we are honest again, with ourselves & with the country, will we become the people who get to make the decisions. I can’t do this alone. Join me to help make things better at

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) January 3, 2020

In the video, Phillips said she began her activism 10 years ago in her home city of Birmingham, after a series of arson attacks on cars left the community “fractured”.

She added: “In every single place I have campaigned in and every single place I have lived, people want some fairly basic things. They want to believe that they are safe, they want to know that their children will be educated and that if they are ill, they will be made better.

“Those things are radical to great parts of our country at the moment, because they simply don’t exist. I will stand up for all of those who feel they can’t stand up for themselves.”

With the slogan “speak truth, win power”, the MP is the youngest candidate to enter the race, at 38.

In a separate statement announcing her candidacy, she said voters had lost trust in the Labour party and stressed the need for Boris Johnson to be challenged with “passion, heart and precision”.

Among her criticisms of the current leadership were the “woeful response” to antisemitism within the party’s ranks and for ambiguity on Brexit from Jeremy Corbyn, who announced in the aftermath of last month’s election defeat that he would stay on for a “period of reflection”.

Phillips said: “We have got to be brave and bold and bring people with us, not try and look all ways. Trying to please everyone usually means we have pleased no one.

“Now is not the time to be meek. Boris Johnson needs to be challenged, with passion, heart and precision. We can beat him. We need to speak to people’s hearts, and people need to believe we really mean it when we do … We need to recognise that politics has changed in a fundamental way by electing a different kind of leader. More of the same will lead to more of the same result.”

She added: “We’re a party named after the working class who has lost huge parts of its working class base. Unless we address that, we are in big trouble.”

Phillips was first elected to parliament in 2015. She has achieved prominence with her campaigning on equality issues and tackling violence against women and has at times been a fierce critic of the party’s direction.

Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) will meet on Monday to set the timetable for the leadership contest, which is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Colleagues have long thought Phillips would make a bid to lead the party. Her campaign will present her as a strong personality who can take on the prime minister in the House of Commons.

She has also made clear she would have no qualms in challenging Donald Trump. Speaking in a Channel 4 News interview, she said: “Of course you have to be prepared to confront anybody if you are in any position of power … Being an ally means being honest. I would have absolutely no problem in confronting Donald Trump.

“And the reality is that I actually think Donald Trump, with somebody like me, would respect the fact. They might not like what I was saying, but that I would tell him what I thought.”

She also told Channel 4 News she regretted her use of language about Corbyn when in December 2015 she said: “I won’t knife you in the back, I will knife you in the front.”

She said: “One of the reasons that people in the country actually like people like me is because I talk a little bit like them. And that means I will make mistakes.

“And that means I will admit when I make mistakes as well. So, yes, if I could turn back time, I would say: ‘I won’t speak behind Jeremy Corbyn’s back, I will always tell him to his face.’”

The leadership race is widely regarded as a battle for the future of the party, after the scale of last month’s defeat took many at the top by surprise.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, sought to shoulder the blame for Labour’s performance, saying a few days afterwards: “It’s on me. Let’s take it on the chin. I own this disaster. I apologise to all those wonderful Labour MPs who’ve lost their seats who’ve worked so hard … If anyone’s to blame, it is me. Full stop.”

His intervention was widely seen as a bid to clear the way for a leftwing successor, most likely Long Bailey, although Ian Lavery has also not ruled himself out.

Corbyn has insisted Labour “won the arguments” on key issues from austerity to the climate crisis and lay much of the blame for the defeat on Brexit.

Labour members will make the final decision on Corbyn’s successor, but in order to get onto the ballot paper candidates are expected to have to win the backing of 21 Labour MPs – 10% of the diminished parliamentary party – as well as either 5% of constituency parties or 5% of trade unions and other affiliated societies. The NEC, however, has considerable power to vary the rules.

Labour MP for Hove, Peter Kyle, became one of the first to back Phillips as party leader.

“Jess will give voice to the millions who told us last month they want Labour to reconnect with the realities of modern life,” he tweeted.

Philip Hunt, a Labour member of the House of Lords, tweeted that he was “delighted” to support Phillips, and encouraged others to join her campaign.


Heather Stewart Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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