I was in tears yesterday evening. Maybe they were tears of utter relief.
The Northumbrian Collective team had just agreed some wording for this website, in which we try to explain how our shared values allow us to have real and adventurous conversational journeys. It is possible to be fully open because we are also committed to disagree with each other kindly and respectfully. Over the previous 24 hours we had been together in Northumbria doing just that. It is always an affirming experience to be in a safe place with good friends.
Then last night I listened to an interview with Jess Phillips on the News Agents podcast. It made me cry:
“I saw the Labour Party over the last four weeks in difficulty, sometimes in pain, but never in anger or aggression…. it is complicated and difficult, but largely we agree with each other….One of the hardest thoughts about doing this is that I get pitted against some of my colleagues who made different decisions… We just disagreed on small margins.”
These real conversations on the conflict in Gaza were made possible because those with power had set a healthy and respectful example:
“Keir acted sympathetically… the Labour Party whip’s office deserve all the credit in the world. They certainly won’t be feeling that themselves this morning… because essentially… there is only one test for how well they operate, but they have acted with kindness, understanding, not even cajoling, [real] conversations.”
Which enabled Jess as a local MP to engage openly and honestly with those she represents. She talks about “constituents having meaningful, often lengthy, upset, sad, sorrowful conversations with me.”
And, let’s face it, the consequences of listening well, thinking deeply and living authentically can be painful: “We ended up in a difficult position for both of us… I wish to be an asset to Keir Starmer… Some people are treating me as if I have died.”
My intention is not to be party-political, so I will not contrast Jess Phillips’ words with a certain letter sent to Rishi Sunak the previous week. But the contrast is striking.
Honest conversations require us to care deeply. Care about truth and integrity. Care about people who agree with us and those who don’t. Care not about ourselves and what others think, but what we leave behind and the mark we make.
I close with one more quote from Jess:
“I don’t need a job title… Bad leadership is, if you remove one person from a situation, the cause they care about dies… If I only stood up for things in politics that I was 100% going to get, I probably would have spent just one day in Parliament last year. I spend my entire life hoping for things… I have to use my voice to… move a dial.”