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Phillips enters race to succeed Corbyn with call for ‘different kind of leader’

Jess Phillips has warned Labour is in ‘big trouble’ if it cannot win back the trust of its working-class base.

Jess Phillips has formally entered the Labour leadership race (Yui Mok/PA)
Jess Phillips has formally entered the Labour leadership race (Yui Mok/PA)

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Outspoken and prominent Labour backbencher Jess Phillips has confirmed her bid to succeed Jeremy Corbyn with a call to elect “a different kind of leader”.

The Birmingham Yardley MP warned on Friday that the party will see more crushing defeats like the last general election if it does not recognise politics has changed in a “fundamental way”.

The long-term Corbyn critic also warned that Labour is in “big trouble” if it cannot win back the trust of its working-class base.

Ms Phillips became the third candidate to formally announce their bid to lead the party after it suffered its worst general election since 1935.

In a statement, the Remain-backing MP warned that voters have lost trust in the Labour Party and stressed the need for the Prime Minister to be challenged with “passion, heart and precision”.

Among her criticisms of the current leadership were the “woeful response” to anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks and for Mr Corbyn’s ambiguity on Brexit.

“We have got to be brave and bold and bring people with us, not try and look all ways. Trying to please everyone usually means we have pleased no one,” she said.

“Now is not the time to be meek. Boris Johnson needs to be challenged, with passion, heart and precision. We can beat him. We need to speak to people’s hearts, and people need to believe we really mean it when we do.

“Now is not the time to play it safe. What I’ve heard so far in this debate is totally inadequate to the scale of the problem. Voters have changed.

“We need to recognise that politics has changed in a fundamental way by electing a different kind of leader. More of the same will lead to more of the same result.”

The MP, who supported victims of domestic abuse for Women’s Aid before entering Parliament in 2015, said only “when we are clear and straightforward” will voters again back labour.

“We’re a party named after the working class who has lost huge parts of its working class base. Unless we address that, we are in big trouble,” she added.

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(PA Graphics)

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Ms Phillips said she regretted her use of language about Mr Corbyn when in December 2015 she said: “I won’t knife you in the back, I will knife you in the front.”

Responding, she said: “One of the reasons that people in the country actually like people like me is because I talk a little bit like them. And that means I will make mistakes.

“And that means I will admit when I make mistakes as well. So, yes, if I could turn back time, I would say ‘I won’t speak behind Jeremy Corbyn’s back, I will always tell him to his face’.”

On Saturday she will meet with former Labour voters in the Bury North constituency which the party lost to the Tories.

Ms Phillips also announced her candidacy on social media with a video in which she visited the North Wales constituency of Delyn that Labour lost to the Tories for the first time since 1987.

She joins shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis as those to have formally declared their bids.

Others are also expected to announce their intentions soon, with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, close Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy considering challenges.

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Sir Keir Starmer could enter the contest (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Ms Phillips would appear to be a relatively popular choice with the Labour members who will help select the leader.

She came third in a YouGov survey of the membership behind both Sir Keir and shadow business secretary Ms Long-Bailey.

Sir Keir would beat Ms Long-Bailey, who is the favoured candidate of key figures in the current leadership, in a run-off 61% to 39%, according to the early survey.

But the other candidates will be hoping to boost their profiles with the race not expected to formally get under way until Tuesday and a new leader not expected until the end of March.

Labour’s disastrous election performance that helped Boris Johnson’s Tories win an 80-strong majority has been the subject of an intense post-mortem examination.

The party’s Brexit position, Mr Corbyn’s unpopularity and his ambitious left-wing programme have all been the subject of scrutiny.

PA

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