Where Are They Now? Former Labour MP Phil Wilson
Phil Wilson, then-Labour MP for Sedgefield, and Sarah Wollaston, then-Conservative MP for Totnes at a People's Vote rally in 2018 | Alamy
Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield 2007 - 2019
When Phil Wilson lost Sedgefield in 2019 it made headlines, not because of him but his predecessor: former prime minister Tony Blair. Wilson says his old seat, where he has lived his whole life, has become a “bellwether” for Labour’s electoral fortunes.
“If we win seats like this, then we’re obviously in the ball park of winning [a general election]. I think we can win back Sedgefield,” says Wilson. “But we need the right candidates, we need the right platform, and we need to have a vision of the future, not of the past. What you had in 2019 was a conflicting vision of the past, not of the future. It was based on nostalgia; and the Tory version of nostalgia won in 2019.”
At 62, Wilson says he has no desire to return to Westminster; he’d been thinking about retiring in 2022 anyway. He particularly feels for his younger colleagues who lost in 2019, who would have hoped to have longer in Parliament. “It’s been a great career. Politics is like a drug – once it’s in your bloodstream, you can’t get it out, it’s almost as if it’s in your DNA, and you’re born with it. You just love it. But you’ve got to know when to step back.”
Wilson is still involved in bits and pieces of work for the Labour Party and writes a monthly column for his local paper. However, he is enjoying the much-improved work-life balance, including family time, embracing his passion for jazz, and hiking – he has lost 10 kilos since leaving Parliament.
Politics is like a drug – once it’s in your bloodstream, you can’t get it out
While he misses the people in Parliament and the “excitement of the chamber” when he sees it on the news, Wilson rarely catches PMQs on a Wednesday now: that is when he goes on his weekly 20km hike with friends.
“When Keir Starmer was doing his speech at Conference, I was actually walking over the Pennines and so I watched it on my phone. The speech was a bit long… It was a great speech, don’t get me wrong. But there was a race to the line between the battery running out and the end of his speech. I got to the end with 10 per cent to spare.”
At age 23, Wilson was one of the “famous five” in Sedgefield CLP who pushed for Blair’s selection as a candidate ahead of the 1983 general election. “It’s been an amazing journey to be part of that,” Wilson says. He sees plenty of young talent coming through the Parliamentary Labour Party. Although he’s certain he has forgotten people, he lists Bridget Phillipson, Wes Streeting, Holly Lynch, Conor McGinn, Darren Jones, and Jess Phillips as leadership material, as well as some faces that have been around longer like Liz Kendall and Pat McFadden.
Peter Kyle, the MP for Hove, is also one to watch, says Wilson; the two worked closely on the Kyle-Wilson amendment in 2019 which would have subjected any Brexit deal to a confirmatory referendum. While he regrets not moving the amendment sooner, Wilson says he only voted against Brexit once, in the 2016 referendum. Everything he did after that was an attempt to resolve the issue. However, it was a point of division between him and his constituents, 59 per cent of whom voted Leave. “Get Brexit Done was such a great slogan because everybody did want Brexit done. But the point we’re trying to make is that Brexit isn’t done. It’s going to go on for years,” says Wilson. Like many Labour MPs who lost their seats in 2019, Wilson believes a large part of the blame lies with Jeremy Corbyn and what he perceives as the failures of his leadership.
Despite the outcome, Wilson still thinks sticking by one’s values is the best advice for anyone who wants to be an MP.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make a stand on what you think is important. I can’t see the point of being in politics if you’re not prepared to do that.
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