“Husband’s work boots” warned Jess Phillips, even before I had opened the front passenger door. She had come to Crewe to lend her support to Laura Smith’s campaign, and was giving me a lift to the outlying village of Haslington, where a team of volunteers was canvassing voters. There was plenty of room in the footwell anyhow. There was also a lot of clutter. Her car is for work, not for show.
And another thing
There had earlier been a snippet of conversation that others involved in the Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections might well heed: “I like a fight”. That was apropos her not really getting one in her own seat of Birmingham Yardley: hence her willingness to come and canvas for several of her colleagues.
“I won’t get clamped, will I?” she asked as a delegation from Ms Smith’s campaign office escorted her up the street to the Albert’s Corner pub, where the morning’s canvassers, many of whom had come in from Liverpool, were having lunch. No, she didn’t get clamped. And she managed to find Haslington with a combination of my directions and her SatNav. She depends on the SatNav when away from her home turf.
You get on easily with Jess: she’s agreeable, even if she isn’t the biggest fan of the current Labour leadership. For those harbouring negative thoughts about her, no, she didn’t come any doom and gloom about the result, but suggested that Labour would be fortunate to do better than they had 2017. Not really premature defeatism.
Once on the canvass, she did just as the rest of the team - the organiser running the board told her which houses to go to, and go to them she did, whether they were marked solid Labour, Don’t Know, or the dreaded long straw, Against. Against often meant unwavering Brexiteers, Tories, or just voters wanting to rant at someone.
Or those who responded as one did: I was knocking at one door, while Ms Phillips was doing the adjacent house. As I waited to see if anyone was in, I heard the adjacent front door open. “Oh hello, I’m Jess Phillips from the Labour Party” … SLAM! It brought me up sharp; it did not faze Jess one iota. I was almost relieved to register a “no response”.
She just carried on to the next house on the register. And after finishing the canvassing round in Haslington, while the rest of us headed back to the campaign office, she set off for Stoke-on-Trent North, where she was supporting Ruth Smeeth. There is a lesson here, in case anyone missed it: Jess Phillips did not support her colleagues because they were from any faction within the party; there was no discrimination for or against left or right; she supported them because they were Labour. That was all that mattered.
Am I saying all of this prior to backing her for a leadership role? No I’m not, and haven’t so much as considered all the candidates yet. I’m saying it because, despite some on the left being unhappy at her occasional excess of candour, Jess Phillips is a Labour person through and through. And going out on the canvass was fine by her.
Most importantly, she wants Labour to succeed. And that can’t be a bad thing.
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