Talking poo, Gaza and child poverty with Jess Phillips as polling day looms

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It's rare to find someone whose energy surpasses that of bouncy Brummie politician Jess Phillips, but former post-punk frontman turned water pollution activist Feargal Sharkey manages it. He's been on a tour of sewage blackspots around the country amid reports of thousands of overspills a year dumping poo into our brooks and rivers.

"I used to be asked all about my music," says the ex Undertones singer. "Now everyone who stops me want to talk to me about sh**e. That's because we are now at a point where every river in this country is polluted, and a large source of that is our own water industry," says Sharkey.

He was in Birmingham as part of a pre-election road trip to the constituencies of Labour candidates who share his distaste for number twos ending up floating in our water courses - and Phillips is one of them. The Labour party intend to empower water regulator Ofwat to ban the payment of bonuses to water bosses who are found to pump significant levels of raw sewage into rivers, lakes and seas as part of wider plans to clean up pollution.

READ MORE: The election warning from Edgbaston as city prepares to go to the polls

But once Phillips has talked poo, thoughts turn to the imminent election and the challenge she is facing to keep her seat. She is standing in Birmingham Yardley, the seat she first won in 2015 and now holds with a majority of 10,659.

She is hopeful her personal popularity, the desire to keep the Conservatives out and the offer of change and renewal that she says the Labour party are offering to voters will be sufficient to see off any challengers.

Says Phillips: "I am confident I will win but that is not to undermine the threat of lost Labour votes and the loss of trust that has been part of this election story. But really, who knows, until the votes are counted I'm taking nothing for granted."

She faces a stiff challenge from local Lib Dem Roger Harmer, though all the noise has come from challenger in chief Jody McIntyre, a disabled activist who is standing on a Workers Party ticket, backed by Rochdale MP George Galloway. A long-time Palestinian activist, he has taken the fight to Phillips on Gaza, while also highlighting the poor record of the Labour-run city council in protecting services across the constituency.

On the Israel-Hamas war, he says Phillips remaining in the Labour Party is grounds enough to get her out of office. The party has 'sat back' and failed to protest about the Netanyahu government committing 'genocide' in Gaza, he says. It failed to back a ceasefire call from the start; and failed to commit to ending foreign arms sales. Labour leader Keir Starmer, in a now infamous LBC interview, said Israel had a right to defend itself by withholding aid, food and medicine to the beleaguered Gazan occupants, and that should have prompted resignations.

But Phillips says she stands on her record on Palestine and Gaza, without hesitation. She lost her role in the shadow cabinet after defying party orders and voting with an SNP/Lib Dem amendment for a ceasefire, she said. "I gave up what would have been very likely a job at the heart of Government (if Labour are elected) that I was committed to (on domestic violence and safeguarding) on the basis of my principles over Gaza. Most constituents know that and support me.

"Just as I have campaigned long and hard for years about the exempt supported housing issue, I have equally fought long and hard over Palestine." She said her rival was however spreading 'misinformation' that alleged she was in the Labour Friends of Israel, based on a solitary meeting she had with the group in 2016 after becoming an MP, while failing to acknowledge she was actually in Labour Friends of Palestine.

But she said she had done more than cast votes - she has also actively helped Palestinians with Birmingham links to escape conflict, and met with Palestinian women's groups to provide support, and has raised tens of thousands of pounds for aid to Gaza. Last month she was a key player in the rescue of a Palestinian boy left orphaned in an Israeli bomb blast, reported by Channel 4 News.

On child poverty and social care

Child poverty has rocketed across Birmingham since 2010, with more families than ever raising youngsters in deprived households. Labour has plans to introduce free breakfast clubs in primary schools, introduce mental health counsellors in the classroom and raise living standards through its plans to grow the economy, alongside pledges on job creation, skills and wage levels.

But there seems to be little sign of a quick fix - something that poverty campaigners believe could happen if the next Government lifts the two child benefit cap that blights larger families. Says Phillips: "The 1997 Labour government didn't pledge to end child poverty either in its manifesto, but they did (in part through a network of sure start centres). I want to see the end of the two child benefit cap (among other things), though I have to say nobody affected has ever lobbied me to deliver on that directly...what they most worry about is housing standards.

"The single biggest problem for them is poor housing, overcrowding and lack of homes. At one local school, me and my team run a monthly housing surgery because the issue is so big. That is just for the parents of one school, it's crazy. Fix that, and we go a way to fixing child poverty."

Here's a full list of all the candidates standing in Birmingham Yardley:

  • Jess Phillips - Labour

  • Yvonne Beverley Clements - Conservative

  • Roxanne Green - Green Party

  • Roger Harmer - Liberal Democrats

  • Nora Kamberi - Reform UK

  • Jody McIntyre - Workers Party of Britain

You can find out about sewage overflows affecting your local area via this link to a map created by the Rivers Trust spotlighting the known spills.