Labour MP Jess Phillips has spoken of her determination to see Labour win the 2020 general election, saying she would knife Jeremy Corbyn “in the front, not the back” if it looks like he is damaging the party’s chances of electoral success.
“At the moment I would say we wouldn’t win the general election, if the general election was called today,” said Phillips, who was elected as MP for Birmingham Yardley in May’s general election.
“A week is a long time in politics and four years is an even longer time, but at the moment I can’t see that the result would be any different [from May] – if not potentially worse – if the general election was called today.”
Phillips has only been in parliament for seven months, but she has quickly established herself as one of her party’s most outspoken backbenchers.
It was widely reported in September that she told the shadow international development secretary, Diane Abbott, to “fuck off” when Phillips confronted the Labour leadership team about the lack of women in senior positions. She also spoke out against a call from Conservative backbencher Philip Davies for a debate in parliament to mark International Men’s Day.
Asked, in an interview with Guardian columnist Owen Jones, if she would want to change the leader of the Labour party, Phillips said: “I would do anything that I felt was going to make the Labour party win the general election because if I don’t have that attitude then all I’m doing is colluding with the Tories.
“If that means making Jeremy better, I’ll roll my sleeves up. If that’s not going to happen – and I’ve said [this] to him and to his staff to their faces: ‘The day that ... you are hurting us more than you are helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I’ll knife you in the front.’”
Phillips said that the general public still didn’t trust the Labour party on the economy and “rightly or wrongly” they were starting not to trust the party on issues of national security. Phillips, who ran women’s aid refuges before standing for parliament, said that Corbyn’s opposition to the policy of shoot to kill was “pernicious”.
“It was just the timing,” she said. “There’s a broader debate to be had about shoot to kill. Birmingham has suffered some terrible terrorism over the years, but [the public] wanted to hear, just after Paris, that basically if a man walks down your street with a big gun and he’s going to kill you and he’s got a bomb strapped to him, we will shoot him in the head, immediately, 10 times.”
Phillips said she was frustrated with the party talking to itself. “It’s all too easy to dismiss the idea of good communication and good messaging, [associating it] with Blairite years of spin,” she said. “It’s OK to want to be clear with the country about what you think is best for them and it’s OK for some of those people to have voted Tory in the past.”
She added: “I would do whatever I could to make Jeremy Corbyn more electable, but you’ve got to give me something to work with, mate.”
Corbyn’s office said it would not be commenting on Phillips’s remarks, but longtime Corbyn critic John Mann MP said she would make “an ideal Labour leader”. He said she had been a “breath of fresh air ever since she arrived and an antidote to the internalised battle between New Labour and Momentum”.
John Woodcock, another Labour critic of the party leader, said: “A test for the new politics Jeremy says he wants to build will be how his supporters respond to this leftwing, straight-talking new MP speaking honestly about the situation the party is in.”
Responding to criticism that her language had been inappropriate after the interview was first posted online on Monday morning, Phillips Tweeted: “I am no more going to actually knife Jeremy Corbyn than I am actually a breath of fresh air, or a pain in the arse.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010