Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Remembering Lily Jayne Summers

I wrote an unexpected obituary earlier this year for a comrade, and it saddens me to be doing so again. Stoke and Swansea Labour Party activist Lily Jayne Summers has passed away after a short illness. She was 23. To lose a sparring partner, a comrade, and a friend is always difficult. But at such a young age, it's horrifying.

I got to know Lily through social media about three years ago, and we'd occasionally meet up over tea and cake. As a self-described liberal socialist, Lily wore that badge not so much as a tilt to the right or nod to LibDem friendliness, but as a label rejecting unthinking, dogmatic politics. I remember the first time we met - it was like a grilling as she machine gunned questions at me about this or that aspect of socialist politics, Marxism, class, the Labour Party. Her mind was endlessly inquiring, but it wasn't out of a rarefied academic passion for ideas. Her curiosity was allied to finding the best way forward for our kind of politics. It might have took her into some strange places - she was one of the few leftwingers I knew who would spend a lot of time debating and discussing with liberals, Tories and the occasional kipper on social media. But what she had was that rarest of political skills. She knew how to listen.

For instance, earlier this year we were out campaigning in Silverdale. As it was Labour's second summer of anything-but-love, the leadership election was the hot topic. Lily initially welcomed Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, but changed her mind as disillusionment set in - she became an early backer of Owen Smith's. As readers know, I didn't support him originally but about-turned under the circumstances of the no confidence vote and leadership challenge. Inbetween knocking on doors we debated our respective positions and stuck to our guns. It was almost like a Twitter exchange without the insults. Yet when we met up again a few days later for, yes, more tea and cake, she had clearly been thinking through the possibility Corbynism was more than a few clapped out/naive lefties flocking to the party and represented a real movement in society. Even if that was the case though, she wasn't sure what should be done next (are any of us?), and that made me think more deeply about my views. And that's what she did. As she thought, she expected others to think as well. No formulas, no faith fortified her scepticism.

It was her ability to listen that made Lily an ideal canvasser. Whenever she was back in Stoke, she'd turn out for door knocking sessions and party events. She was a regular round Stoke North MP Ruth Smeeth's office, helping out where she could. And it came as no surprise when Lily announced she'd put herself forward and got selected for a seat on Swansea council. She would have made an exceptional councillor. She never mentioned to me whether she had further political ambitions, whether as an AM or a MP, but she would have excelled there as well. And if she did harbour such thoughts, it wasn't because of a desire for a cushy number or a large salary. Lily was in Labour because she cared. She was a proper party person.

We had arranged to meet up over Christmas for another gossip and argument, and it's awful knowing that can't happen. Lily was more than just smart and passionately committed to politics. She was a wonderful human being. Someone who was lovely, kind, understanding, supportive. She wasn't with us very long, but the party - and politics - is the poorer without her. It's difficult to believe she's gone, that we won't ever see that sceptical, quizzical look again. And we will mourn every time we hit the campaign trail, knowing that someone who should be here with the clipboard and bags of leaflets, isn't.

A couple of years ago, Lily volunteered to be a victim for one of my (then) regular Saturday Interviews. After her selection for council candidate, she asked me to take it down in an attempt to scrub up her search engine results. I joked that I would keep it on file just in case I needed to use it against her. Sadly, I didn't know we'd ever need it to help remember her. Please find it reproduced below.

Lily is survived by her mum, Deborah. All the condolences, best wishes, and solidarity to you.

Saturday Interview: Lily Jayne Summers

Lily Jayne Summers is a founder and editor of The Columnist, a cross-party e-zine that blogs on current affairs and entertainment news. Lily is also a member of the Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent North, and has been known to tweet compulsively.

- Why do you blog?

Because, it's a way for me to express my political views and to challenge other people's notions or assumptions about an opinion or a political debate. Quite frankly, blogging is the best way to express yourself and the best way to be engage in politics. The only way to engage properly is to put your opinions across vigorously and blogging can be a medium for this.

- What has been your best blogging experience?

Hmm. Although I have't been able to interview way more influential politicians than me, I think the best blogging experience is where late at night, I'm finally able to pen my thoughts on a particular subject or to think of something to write about is the best blogging experience I have. There is nothing better than finally finishing an article!

- What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger?

Just have fun. Quite simple. Don't worry about being perfect in writing your thoughts, or worry about whether you're particularly good. When I started I was awful and I'm sure many people think I'm still awful now. But having fun is the only thing you need to blog. Everything else is irrelevant.

- Is blogging different now from when you first started following blogs?

Not really. Beside the growth of smaller political websites and magazines i.e. The website I co-edit, not much has really changed since November 2012 when I penned my first blog post.

- Why do you tweet?

I actually love engaging with Tories and Lib Dems. It's amazing to be able to argue, discuss and express your opinion with someone with a different opinion. Especially when I know quite a few amazingly intelligent, lovely Tories for instance and libertarians where I can have a convivial chat on why Ed Miliband is awful, or why David Cameron has a long nose, etc, etc.

- Who are your intellectual heroes?

John Maynard Keynes. John Stuart Mill. Karl Marx. Friedrich Hayek. Christopher Hitchens.

- What are you reading at the moment?

God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

- What was the last film you saw?

Apollo 13.

- Do you have a favourite novel?

1984 by George Orwell.

- Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

Votes for 16 and 17 year olds. Before I was opposed or ambivalent on the issue.

- How many political organisations have you been a member of?

The Labour Party, Republic and the Fabian society. Also hopefully CND in the near future!

- What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

The case for nuclear disarmament. Drugs legalisation. LGBTQI* equality. An elected head of state. And finally, an economy that works for everyone, that doesn't lead to rising inequality and inexorable unsustainable growth. One that isn't subjected to the kind of neo-liberal economic thinking we've seen since Callaghan.

- What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

Free-market economic thinking. Not because it's immoral, like advocating the death penalty for instance. But it touches on the basic argument on what kind of economy do we want to enjoy. An economy that only works for the most opulent, that sees rising inequality, unsustainable growth or an economy that fit for generations that can work for everyone and allows prosperity for all.

- Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?

John Stuart Mill - On Liberty

- Who are your political heroes?

Clement Attlee. Willy Brandt. John F Kennedy. FDR.

But the one who always stands out is Tony Benn. There has been no greater man of intellectual capacity, personality, honesty and conviction than Tony Benn. If I ever have the unique opportunity of fully going into politics, it would be an honour to follow the same model Tony Benn displayed in honesty, fighting for what you believe in and sticking up for the most vulnerable in society.

- How about political villains?

Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan. Any politician who advocates social conservatism, the war on drugs, and free-marketeer is a villain to me!

- What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

At the moment the economy. We have an economy where the working class are not feeling the effects of growth. We have an economy which has a housing boom. We have an economy which is £500bn more in debt than compared to May 2010. We have an economy which is growing more unbalanced and a balance of payments deficit which is increasing. We need a new model for our economy and hopefully Ed Miliband can be the nucleus of that.

- If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?

Only one?! You're a very cruel interviewer. To remove the UK's nuclear weapons. The end of the monarchy. The end to war on drugs. Hmmmmm. Probably the end of the monarchy and an elected head of state. Simply because it's so difficult to do. (The Queen won't sign Royal Assent to her being sacked)

- What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

The growth of artificial intelligence. See this, for instance.

- What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Always live life to the full. Be happy. Fight for what you truly believe in.

- What is your favourite song?

Two Steps From Hell

- What do you consider the most important personal quality?

Honesty. It doesn't matter if you disagree, but if you can honest about what you fight for an believe in, then you have my respect.

- What personal fault do you most dislike?


- What, if anything, do you worry about?

The Tories winning the next General Election in 2015.

- What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Fight for the person you truly are. Avoid self-harming. Be confident in yourself.

- What do you like doing in your spare time?

Chess. I'm slightly addicted to that game at the moment!

- What is your most treasured possession?

My cat, Mr Whiskers.

- Do you have any guilty pleasures?

If I had pleasures that were guilty, why would I reveal them?!

- What talent would you most like to have?

To fly!

- How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?

Nothing. :)

- If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

Hayek, Marx and Keynes. That would be rather ... interesting.

- Socialism. Will you live to see it?

Possibly. It depends on capitalism's response to the challenges of inequality, global warming, poverty and the end of inexorable economic growth across the world. If they can change capitalism again like they did away with the type of capitalism in Marx's day, then I doubt it. But if they cannot offer a new model then socialism could be the new, sustainable, renewable economic model of the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a pity. I remember reading the interview on here at the time. I didn't agree with everything Lily Jane said but her enthusiasm impressed me, and it was clear that she wasn't just committed, she still had an open and inquiring political mind. UK politics could do with more people like that and less of the shallow stuff. RIP, and condolences to Lily Jane's mum.