It will make a lot of Labour members in Birmingham Yardley, and beyond, extremely happy if their MP Jess Phillips is ‘triggered’ in a vote tonight.
Phillips is one of Labour’s most prominent working class female MPs, one of the few MPs whose appeal reaches out to the wider electorate; a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, who came into politics to do more to protect victims of domestic abuse; and in the last fortnight alone has stood out for standing up to Boris Johnson in the fight to keep the Domestic Abuse Bill alive.
But none of that matters in the Labour party today if you’re not a Corbynite. Phillips has refused to give the sort of unconditional, uncritical praise that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters demand, and hasn’t been afraid to give her reasons. It’s cost her a place on the Labour front bench, and brought unremitting, daily abuse from Corbynites over the past four years.
Now that the ‘deselection express’ is one step closer to removing Phillips as an MP altogether, the same Labour members smell blood. Momentum is agitating online to get the members out against her. Reporting on the imminent ballot, Corbyn-supporting ‘independent’ media site Skwawkbox lead by accusing Phillips of lying about the fact that she’s writing a book, as a bizarre background to the vote tonight.
Five minutes on social media will tell you the rest. That there are Corbynites would love nothing more than to get rid of the “backstabber” “racist” “duplicitous bitch” “traitorous MP”, and are awaiting the vote tonight with glee. Even some notorious former Labour members have had their say, including anti-Israeli activist and Labour Against the Witch-hunt star Tony Greenstein, who was kicked out of the party last year, has said “the sooner she is dispatched by the trigger ballot the better”. The hunting packs are gathering.
There’s another, overlapping group who will be thrilled to see the back of Phillips if it comes to that. Another group who don’t like it when people stand up to them, especially not a woman.
Incensed at the rollout of relationship and sex education (RSE) – which teaches children to respect LGBT rights and promotes tolerance and protection for different family makeups – a group of religious fundamentalists spent the best part of last year picketing schools in Birmingham, trying to harass teachers into submission. It started on the school gates and spread like mould on social media, morphing into a high-profile campaign which eventually turned on local politicians.
And unsurprisingly, for her public opposition to the protests, Phillips has borne the brunt of it. In a relentless campaign backed up by truly sinister social media content, she has been targeted for no confidence votes, accused of lying to her constituents, accused of “pampering to the LGBT lobby” attempting to “sexualise our children”, and, in what only seems like a paradox, of “planning a coup against Jeremy Corbyn”.
“We love Jeremy Corbyn!” one of the organisers proclaims in the video, while holding up a banner urging a no confidence vote in Phillips which resembles a wanted sign. Later he urges Jeremy Corbyn directly, “you need to deal with these type of politicians”. He might get his way tonight.
The changes to the rules on trigger ballots against MPs were brought in, ostensibly, to empower “grassroots” members to choose their own MPs or candidates. Which sounds fine. The reality is that the deselection process has been carefully designed as a means of ousting MPs like Phillips who haven’t been willing to submit to Corbyn’s leadership.
And it’s hardly a major democratic grassroots mandate compared to general election figures: in the case of Diana Johson, one of only three MPs to be triggered so far, the turnout in one branch vote was two.
(It all seems especially hollow when you consider that a number of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) currently without a candidate have been ordered to “pause” their own selection processes by Labour HQ, while elsewhere members agitate to remove elected MPs.)
Among the members of Birmingham Yardley voting to decide Phillips’ fate tonight, the schools protest faction will undoubtedly be represented. A small group can prove decisive under the new one-branch-one-vote rules, as was the case with another prime target MP, Margaret Hodge, who was triggered at the end of September. Especially because in Birmingham the anti-LGBT lobby will be working hand-in-hand with Corbynite members and Momentum activists towards their common goal.
If Phillips is triggered tonight it will be a new low for Labour. Corbynite fury at disobedient MPs is one thing. But effective collusion with sinister fundamentalist anti-LGBT forces – anathema to our own values – to bring down one of Labour’s most popular MPs, who works in Parliament to speak up for vulnerable women, is another altogether.
Instead of preparing to fight the Tories in a general election, Labour is fighting itself. Instead of showing we are a party ready to lead and unite Brexit Britain, we are showing that we are a party ridden with sectarianism, which appears to be prioritising the removal of some of its most outspoken, popular female MPs, many of them Jewish, for internal reasons absolutely bemusing to the general public.
Labour has so much to do to prove it is a credible party of government, and not just the nasty party in red, back to its bad old self-destructive ways. It’s not going to be easy and there isn’t much time left. We should start in Birmingham tonight.