Annie Nehmad remembers Danny Phillips (1944-2021), a lifelong socialist and a much-missed friend and comrade.
Danny was a socialist, and a fighter on behalf of working people, all his adult life.
His parents were working-class East End Jews (made good, suburb-dwelling and Tory-voting). His mother at the age of 14 had won a scholarship to attend an independent school (there was no free schooling after that age), but was unable to take up the place as the family needed her income. Danny went to grammar school and Oxford University.
In his early 20’s he considered himself a Trotskyist, unattached to any grouping. He was in the Labour Party, as that was the party of the working class. By the age of 28 he was a Councillor for Church Street in Marylebone, a working class ward within the (very Tory) City of Westminster, and was involved in a national campaign for fair rents.
His growing disillusionment with the Labour Party, and a year reading Socialist Worker, led to him leaving the Labour Party in 1973 and joining the International Socialists (later renamed Socialist Workers Party). He was an active member until 2013, when he left and joined rs21.
As a solicitor, he was committed to representing working class people. He worked initially for a firm specialising in Trade Union law, and later at Lambeth Community Law Centre.
In 1984, during the miners’ strike, he moved to Mansfield, to work for the local National Union of Mineworkers. When this work ended, he remained in Mansfield as he had met Maggie Kind, the love of his life. He set up a law practice with Mark Marriott, and they built a branch of the SWP.
An atheist since his teens, Danny felt a strong bond in terms of culture and identity with the Jewish culture of his upbringing.
So he was amused and proud to share top billing with Tony Cliff, in a leaflet produced by the fascist National Front in the late 1970’s. Danny and Cliff (and, for the record, Paul Holborow) were supposedly the three Jews who ran the IS/SWP. (This showed the fascists’ low level of intelligence, in both senses of the word, as Danny was never in a leadership position).
In 1993/94 the hatred he attracted as a socialist and a Jew was no longer a laughing matter. Fascists harassed him for months. He and his family received phone calls threatening to burn their house down, a rock was thrown through their window, and BNP stickers were placed over his office. Danny and his family courageously refused to move away. Four fascists attacked him in Mansfield town centre. They were charged with Affray, and received Community Service Orders and fines.
Once, a magistrate refused to allow Danny to defend a miner in court because he was not wearing a tie. Danny promptly removed his belt, and put it around his neck with a tie knot. The case was heard.
Danny was confident about arguing his politics, but he always built bridges rather than walls in relation to socialists, trade unionists and campaigners who did not share his exact views – even when his non-sectarian approach was not reciprocated.
He was involved in every struggle and campaign, including Liverpool dockers, Poll Tax, and Stop the War.
About ten years ago he had a kidney stone. The ambulance driver recognised him, as he had often been on their picket lines during their strike some 20 years earlier.
The National Union of Miners made him an honorary member, and at their request the union banner was draped over Danny’s coffin at his funeral on 1st February.
As well being a good comrade and campaigner, he was a lovely human being – gentle, caring, funny, clever, loyal, and generous.
His family has been inundated with tributes and stories, ranging from two High Court Judges, to individuals grateful to him for having ‘got me out of a scrape’ in their youth, or remembering him buying a family-sized bag of crisps and sharing it with a homeless man.
His funeral would have been attended by many of the left and the good, as well as friends and relatives.
Instead, because of Covid, on Monday 1 February only his immediate family was present: wife and comrade Maggie, daughter Lindsey, son Reece, daughter-in-law Jo, and grandsons Josh and Fin.
Rest In Power, Danny.