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28 September 2022

Jess Phillips’ Diary: An alcohol-free Labour conference and trickle-up economics

For the first time in my political career I feel that Labour is now a united, fighting force. Three cheers to that.

By Jess Phillips

The best piece of advice anyone has ever given me about party conferences is: you can either stay up late or you can drink a lot, but don’t try to do both. You’ll regret it the next morning, when you’re in an 8am meeting with your local manufacturing lobby.

I have ventured on this year’s Labour Party conference completely sober, which I’ve never tried before. I’m not pregnant, or in recovery. I am just on a health kick, which was in no small part inspired by the sudden death of my mother-in-law. I wasn’t relishing the idea of conference without the wine.

But so far, so good, mainly because for the first time in a long time the Labour Party conference is largely a place of unity. It feels like we have a purpose for our future. We sang the national anthem and people cheered for fiscal responsibility without even a murmur of dissent, despite the suggestion that some Labour members might shiver at the sound of such policies. Turns out they’re grown-ups. Page well and truly turned.

When Keir Starmer became leader, our party had recently suffered a historic defeat. The idea that we only had four years to turn it around and work towards building a government seemed as impossible as climbing Mount Everest in a pair of flip-flops. But in Liverpool, just over two years later, it is possible.

Labour’s fighting force

I don’t know why this is, but Starmer does not get anywhere near enough credit for turning around a huge leaking oil tanker. The progress of Labour under him is phenomenal. Anyone else who had managed such a feat would be presented as some sort of political magician. That he is considered and thoughtful, and not a joke-cracking charlatan or a lunatic trying to debase our currency, is presented, for some reason, as a negative. It’s not fair and it’s not accurate.

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[See also: What we learned from Labour conference]

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As I sat in the bar at midnight in a Liverpool hotel I wondered: why doesn’t he get plaudits for changing everything? Perhaps I had given it less thought before because I would usually be a few wines down.

No number of cocktails in the world has ever made me feel as much like dancing as the idea that Labour is, for the first time in my political career, now a fighting force. Three cheers to that.

Kwarteng’s trickle treat

The week has largely existed in the shadow of the Chancellor’s mini-Budget. The good people of my constituency, Birmingham Yardley, were delighted to hear that Kwasi Kwarteng’s plans mean that millionaires will be given a tax cut worth more than most of them earn in a year. As the markets reacted to the tumbling pound, the Chancellor managed to make oil and gas, which is traded in US dollars, even more expensive for the UK to import. The likelihood that mortgages will swiftly rise (which will also cause rent inflation for those not fortunate enough to own their home) is really some cracking tackling of the cost-of-living crisis.

Perhaps all the millionaires in Birmingham Yardley could give some of their £50k tax break to the families who will now suffer. Oh, but there aren’t many, if any, millionaires in Birmingham Yardley. The trickles will have to flow uphill from the south-east. I’ll put out a bucket and see what we can catch.

Siblings by association

“MP’s brother to open ‘safe houses’ for addict students,” read the headline in the Times on 26 September. I’m sure my brother, a recovered drug addict who is part of a team that has set up a drug recovery centre at the University of Birmingham, is thrilled that, once again, he has been labelled as just my brother. I’m not stupid; I know that I’m the news hook that means his project gets attention, and I’m pleased to help in this small way.

My kids often joke that they look forward to the day that I am described as their mom, rather than them being referred to as “Jess Phillips’ son”. I, on the other hand, look forward to the day when I read a headline that refers to me as the sister of a pioneering drug recovery chief. My brother saves people’s lives, even if he did make mine pretty tough at times. I’m proud to be known as his sister.

The bittersweet return of Strictly

As Strictly Come Dancing comes back to the BBC this year, I will be following it with a tinge of sadness. I used to watch it religiously with my lovely late mother-in-law, Diana. This is the first year she won’t be by my side since the show started in 2004.

But I will push on and delight in the sequins and fake tan. After the last couple of weeks and, frankly, the last couple of years, Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake Off are like group therapy for the nation.

[See also: Behind Keir Starmer’s plan for a national green energy firm]

This article appears in the 28 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Truss Delusion