Labour is strongest when united by a common purpose – and resisting the desire for self-flagellation

I am not so rose-tinted as not to think there needs to be big changes. But after Batley and Spen, I am going to enjoy the idea that an inspired, disciplined party can win out

Jess Phillips
Sunday 04 July 2021 16:41

Labour’s Kim Leadbeater says Batley and Spen have ‘voted for hope’

“What are you doing?” was the question a young man asked me as I walked up a steep hill knocking doors on election day in the Batley and Spen by-election. He was filming me on his phone, never meeting my eye but instead speaking to me through his screen.

This is a new and growing form of intimidation. I told him we were out encouraging voters to get out and vote for Kim Leadbeater. His response – “F*** Kim Leadbeater!” He then proceeded to follow us up the street singing “Galloway” in the manner of a football chant. “Gall-O-way.” I guess everyone wants their 15 minutes of wobbly camera notoriety.

We ignored him and ploughed on regardless. To be honest, the steep hill and burning sunshine was giving me more cause to throw in the towel, but instead I just used it to mop my brow and push on to knock another door.

There was a determination in the Batley and Spen by-election that no matter what was thrown we would plough on regardless. This was inspired by a good many things: Kim Leadbeater's resistance and thorough goodness, the memory of a dear friend killed, the desire to stand up against hatred and ego, and the inspiration of a campaign that felt like the good old days: well organised, encouraging and with the Labour team pushing hard for people. I can eat eejits with camera phones for breakfast, if I am inspired.

Aside from Batley’s answer to Steven Spielberg, every other person I met on the streets of Heckmondwike, Batley and Cleckheaton were a pleasure – and the place is absolutely lovely. It would be easy to listen to the chatter of the commentariat and think that everyone who lives in a metropolitan city, as I do, is living in some sourdough-eating, liberal-minded hotbed of university lecturers. Similarly you could listen to the chatter about the "red wall" and think every brick of it was a forgotten run-down mill town where everyone hates anyone who eats sourdough and holds a liberal view on anything. What an absolute load of old cobblers.

Batley and Spen feels like a place I might aspire to go and live. It is beautiful and considerably more affluent, outwardly, than the allegedly metropolitan-liberal-elite seat that I represent. What the people behind each door yearned for was in no way different to the people I represent. They cared about the same things, talked about the same issues. They just did it with a different accent. Nobody went on at me about flags, or freedom of speech, or shared an opinion on footballers taking the knee.

They did want politics to be better, to be more about them, more inspiring. They wanted to feel part of something that was for them and about them and who the hell could blame them because that is what I want too.

The Labour Party in Batley – both the local set up and those of us who travelled from outside – felt like the Labour Party of my youth. A common purpose and goal driven by the principles we hold dear of fairness, kindness and an equal chance for everyone in every place. A Labour Party that has to stand up for its beliefs forcefully while ignoring the noisy distraction of those that wish to harm us, both internal and external. All while trying to resist the constant desire for self-flagellation.

A Labour Party focused on an outcome in the future that it believes in and is willing to fight for, recognising that it cannot please all the people all the time and nor should it want to.

I know a majority less than 500 should give me pause over endless analysis about everything that has gone wrong over the last decade – as is the wont of the political classes, way more than it is of the people in Batley and Spen or Birmingham Yardley.

I am not so rose-tinted as not to think there needs to be big changes and bold moves. But this weekend – as I look forward to welcoming Kim Leadbeater to her seat in parliament on Monday – I am going to enjoy the idea that an inspired, certain, disciplined and outcome-driven Labour Party can win out.

I know we have a mountain to climb. But that’s OK because I got some practice in Batley and I managed to do it while ignoring an idiot chanting nonsense at me for his social media accounts. That is one hell of a lesson going forward.

Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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