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Artillery Row

A Labour of unrequited love

It will take more than vague apologetic gestures to redeem the Labour Party

For many years now, women have appealed to the Labour Party to try to understand the fundamental clash between women’s rights and the unfair demands of the trans activist movement, which would erode those rights. They have done it as individuals, in organised groups such as Labour Women’s Declaration, and as Labour MPs in the case of Rosie Duffield or Tonia Antonazzi. All of these women have been ignored by Labour at best — and allegedly bullied at worst. 

The approaches have mostly been patient and calm — for example in the case of Woman’s Place UK, where women thought evidence-based, intelligent presentation of their case via organised meetings would eventually be considered thoughtfully by the Labour Party leadership.  These were, after all, women of the Left and many stayed within the party. Instead, these women were called a “trans exclusionary hate group” in a charter signed by Angela Rayner, the Deputy Leader of the Party in 2020. 

Many feminist women who have stayed loyal to the Labour Party (despite leadership refusal to debate with, or give them any semblance of fair hearing on, the trans issue), have done so because they know that a Labour Party in government is crucial to provide the public services and social care so vital to the most vulnerable people in society, particularly women and children. It has been an act of sacrifice for the greater good, which, it seems, has largely been taken for granted by Labour leaders. Women have remained hopeful that eventually sense would prevail, even in moments when that common sense seemed in short supply, such as when Keir Starmer effectively said that 1 in a 1000 women might have a penis.  

Many, however, did leave the Labour Party in protest and have since declared themselves politically homeless. They had been pushed beyond their political limits by a Labour Party which could, in the case of Lisa Nandy, say that men should be placed in women’s prisons because “trans women are women”. Some women were unfairly expelled for their stance on women’s rights, some refused entry, and others are being investigated by the party at present. 

When the Cass Review was released last week, there was a sense of vindication for all of the groups of women mentioned above. Everything they had warned of regarding the lack of safeguarding of children within the NHS, seemed to be confirmed by Dr Hilary Cass’s findings, and if women could be so right about this, possibly they were about to be considered right about many other worrying issues in a similar theme. This was surely just the beginning of the collapse of the ideological house of cards. No one could morally look away from these findings, and it was a searing torchlight indeed which shone upon the current Westminster cohort who have long ignored women’s pleas, including, but not limited to leading Labour MPs and ministers. 

But there was intense anger in some quarters too. Why had it taken the release of this report for women to be believed about the harms being done to children and why were so many in Labour still saying so little about such a devastating set of findings? 

There should have been a queue of top Labour politicians prostrating themselves at the feet of women to apologise for their refusal to listen. Instead, there appears to be just Wes Streeting making some apologetic noises, if not actual apology, as he did to The Sun:

To the extent that – and I say this with some self-criticism and reflection – if you’d asked me that a few years ago, on this topic, I would have said trans men are men, trans women are women. Some people are trans get over it. Let’s move on. This is all blown out of proportion. And now I sort of sit and reflect and think actually, there are lots of complexities. I take the criticism on the chin. And at the same time. I also think that there’s been some absolutely ugly rhetoric directed towards trans people who are at the wrong end of all of statistics on hate crime, on self-harm, suicide, mental health.

This statement is a half-apology, and conjures up the image of fence-sitting, but because women have been looking so hard for signs they have been listened to, this sounded like a positive move in their direction. Some women are keen to allow this sort of backtracking to pass uncriticised — even welcoming it, because in their view there had to be a starting point for Labour to change their minds. Other women still carry a level of fury at how long it has taken Labour leaders to yield so slightly, to give so little, and only at the point that they are forced to because presented with such horrendous, evidence-based research in the form of the Cass Report. 

The feminist journalist Julie Bindel was keen to pin Streeting down further and offered him the chance to apologise personally to her for how he had treated her in the past, outlining the harm it had done to her reputation:

I am open to accepting an apology from you. In 2008, when you were NUS President, I was no-platformed, alongside 5 fascist groups, for ‘transphobia’. I contacted you and asked for your help. You gave none. I asked you to condemn those that had orchestrated the no-platforming, and you refused. Have you any idea of the reputational damage this caused me? How it gave others permission to no-platform, denounce and defame me? How it meant that I could be slandered by other organisations, and so many, many universities around the UK and elsewhere? If this sounds bitter then good, because I am.

Rosie Duffield unleashed a furious Twitter thread about unnamed colleagues who have treated her appallingly for years:

Some MPs’ cowardice, or a genuine lack of knowledge about what was happening is one thing. But pretending you got it, were against the ideology all along and were too scared to speak up while others were being bullied for doing so makes you lower than a snake’s belly. If voters want to ask me by DM where their MP stood, how they behaved when presented with the evidence, or heard colleagues at least suggest we pause and consider whether children were too young to consent to irreversible treatment, I will tell you the truth. If they say one thing on your doorstep or in the newspapers, words like “women should always be able to speak freely on their views”, “Rosie deserves an apology”, “this is a terrible scandal”, you deserve to know whether they even speak to me, or have shown any support at all. Or, if those now claiming to support the #CassReview or years knocking on the door of @UKLabour’s Chief Whip demanding that I be thrown out of the Party. Cowardice is one thing, so are genuine mistakes, but lying retrospectively is something else entirely.

Why should these women, or any woman, restrain their anger or sweeten their bitterness? Children have been seriously harmed because those same women were ignored — granted not only by Labour politicians, but the women in those parties are right to expect that theirs are the politicians who should most apologise, because they turned a blind eye and a cold shoulder to the left-wing women who still did not desert them for doing so.

I think any request for women to restrain such angry outbursts shows a level of class prejudice and snobbery. Working class women, for example, are often categorised as not being very clever or strategic when they express anger, as though they are too lacking in intelligence to restrain themselves. The suggestion being that spontaneous anger is a limited and limiting response. It is unfair to say women are right to be angry about what has happened but “not that angry” or “not like that.” 

Isn’t it the case that incandescent rage splattered over social media gathers the attention of politicians in a way that a privately furrowed brow and a stern letter does not? Likewise, feeling hopeful and grateful at the first sign of political breadcrumbs scattered in the direction of women, is not the same as dragging them into the open and making them apologise and commit to firm and concrete reparation of harms done. Honest righteous anger yields better results sometimes, than quiet, patient strategic waiting, which might not. Some women won’t accept breadcrumbing, until they are sure the Labour loaf won’t be mouldy come the General Election. Permit them their rage.

Joan Smith, who lost her job as co-chair of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls board for her views on women’s rights, is another Labour woman who has not been shy about expressing her anger at Labour’s determined ignorance on the trans issue. She told me:

Leading figures in the Labour Party can’t just expect us to forgive and forget. They denied biology, failed to condemn the misogyny of trans activists and looked the other way when we were abused. Trust has to be rebuilt and we are nowhere near that yet.

I think the reason that some of her fellow MPs have, quite shockingly, called Rosie Duffield and women like her “f*ckin TERFs” — as she revealed today — is because she is embarrassing them by exposing their ridiculous adherence to a cult whose time is long since up, and she has refused to be bullied away from her stance. Every woman on the Labour Party front bench knows what it is to be a woman, because they had to fight the grassroots misogyny embedded in their local wards, and then fight it again at each rung on the Party ladder they climbed. I wonder if they would dare whisper that insult in Rosie’s earshot today now that she’s made it plain that she will reveal their disgusting passive-aggressive attacks. 

Standing up to bullies makes bullies fearful, and some in Labour must be feeling very, very uncomfortable just now. Let’s hope at least some of them are somewhere in the House of Commons corridors, scribbling out their unreserved apologies to deliver to the press and that Keir Starmer’s scrap of paper says: 

I apologise. I haven’t found a penis on a woman yet and let’s be absolutely clear, it’s not for want of looking.

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