Where Are They Now? James Frith
James Frith, Labour MP for Bury North 2017 – 2019
James Frith compares the way he entered Parliament to the way he was booted out of it: suddenly. “It was hugely volatile... 2017 election, snap general election; 2019 election, snap general election. A handful of us came in and came out in that one tide,” he says.
Bury North, a bellwether seat, is now the most marginal constituency in Great Britain: Tory incumbent James Daly has a majority of just 105 votes. “The national tide was too strong for us. Try as we might, we couldn’t overcome it. We came bloody close, though,” Frith notes.
“Events determine your tenure in Parliament, though you try as best you can to avoid simply being a passenger”
“There’s no soundproofing in the constituency of Bury North. Literally everything you handle, you do so with a sensitivity to people changing their minds at each election. The swing voter is a very real, tangible experience in Bury North.”
The Labour MP had just two and a half years to make his mark, and this brief tenure coincided with a chaotic parliamentary period dominated by Brexit wars. He had to figure out how to make an impact fast, and soon learnt the value of cross-party collaboration.
“Achieving anything usually requires you to work with people who you have little in common with in the first instance,” he says. “It is very easy when you get there to think ‘us/them’ or ‘government/opposition’. In fact, my proudest achievements all include working with good people in the opposing parties. That really is how things do get done.”
Frith teamed up with colleagues from across the House to pull off his biggest successes: helping to secure NHS funding for cystic fibrosis treatment, inspired by the story of constituent Claire from his very first advice surgery; and leading the fight for a review of special educational needs support in mainstream schools.
“Very often politics never gets the credit or association for that sort of work because it goes on largely under the radar,” Frith observes. “Events determine your tenure in Parliament, though you try as best you can to avoid simply being a passenger.
“To have had a box seat for Brexit and been part of that Parliament, I feel very honoured, but I also feel unsatisfied for only serving half a full term because of the volatility of British politics.”
It was not only a tumultuous time for politics broadly during those years, but also specifically the Labour Party, which was mired in an all-consuming anti-Semitism crisis. Frith’s wife is Jewish, and neighbouring seat Bury South has a large Jewish population. Of Labour anti-Semitism, he says: “It was abhorrent. To date it’s Keir [Starmer]’s biggest success, stamping that out.”
Despite such difficulties, Frith’s belief in parliamentary politics as the best vehicle for achieving social good remains intact. He describes winning in 2017 as “stunning, in every sense of the word” and a victory that led to “the best experience of my life”.
The ex-MP is now senior counsel at Atticus Communications, where he is working with the socialist government of Gibraltar and supporting Auditory Verbal UK, a charity for deaf children. “I’m not living in the future. I’m very much enjoying the current, proud of the past and planning for the future.”
While relishing his current job, he is intent on returning to Parliament and is once again vying for selection as Labour’s Bury North candidate. “Politics is often the cause of a great many injustices, but it is also always the answer,” Frith says.
“To have the chance, with great humility, to represent my family’s hometown in Parliament was a huge privilege and something I feel determined to do again. I was somewhat interrupted previously.”
Words by Sienna Rodgers and Georgina Bailey
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