Speaking truth to power?

Why did Jess Philips revoke her support for a gender critical article?

Artillery Row

Yesterday, Labour MP Jess Phillips dared to tread into a conversation where many within her party are too scared — or unwilling — to venture. She retweeted an article published in the Guardian by Susanna Rustin that discussed protests made against philosophy professor Kathleen Stock and the Rustin’s hope that we may reach a point of open dialogue between trans activists and gender critical feminists. Phillips wrote that the piece was “worth a read” and described it as “thoughtful and gentle”. But today, sadly, we see it has been deleted, leading many to ask why.

Of course, Phillips is free to manage her Twitter feed as she sees fit. But I am particularly disappointed by it as I — and many others — viewed this tacit support as a potential breakthrough for a Labour Party which has been so hostile to gender critical voices. At last, I thought, a woman is putting her head above the parapet and is brave enough to welcome open and honest discussion. However, I can see now that such hopes were futile; the heavy hand of self-censorship strikes again.

Many — including myself — have asked Phillips why she made this decision. She has since stated: “Not under pressure at all, just couldn’t bear being endlessly copied in to people rowing, which I guess is a pressure of sorts, but not from any particular source”, and that she “couldn’t bear people being dreadful to each other and including me”.

I am concerned for any woman who feels that she cannot express her views freely

We have to take this explanation at face value. Of course, due to her own party’s treatment of gender critical MPs, it should surprise no one that Phillips may feel pressure to conform with the current stance Labour takes on this issue. We already know that some of these MPs are silenced, meet in secrecy, and aren’t supported when they receive threats to their safety because of their opinions (which, I might add, are protected in law).

Maybe Phillips just couldn’t be bothered to engage and found it too difficult to deal with all the ensuing fuss; but in that case she should be reminded of what her job entails. Disputes exist, which is why politicians are necessary. They are here to recognise conflict and to find a way through discord to achieve progress. How can we ever find a way out of this online toxicity if our own MPs are forced to backtrack and revoke their support?

Phillips’s record of campaigning for women’s rights is admirable — but that doesn’t mean that her actions can’t or shouldn’t be scrutinised. She could have chosen to mute this conversation if it was causing her bother but, instead, she chose to remove herself from the debate altogether.

I am concerned for any woman who feels that she cannot express her views freely. Just when you think there is someone who has courage within the Labour Party, we are reminded that we were fools for getting our hopes up.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover