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Artillery Row

The thorn in Starmer’s side

Why does Rosie Duffield scare the Labour leadership?

According to current opinion polls, Sir Keir Starmer seems poised to be elected as the next Prime Minister of the UK, with the Labour Party attaining either a very large, or possibly just a handsome, majority. In media interviews he is rightly keen to focus on the economy, immigration, the NHS and the many other policy areas where he feels a Labour government would be able to lift the country from its current state of political stagnation.

Yet, despite these important aims, so many of the key interviews lead him sternly by the nose into the “woman question” where sharp-witted interviewers attempt to find out what he believes a woman is — an understanding of which he appears to change frequently according to the success of his answer in subsequent public feedback. Inevitably, as part of this deeply uncomfortable process, he is asked about just one of his 205 MPs. That woman is Rosie Duffield, the Member for Canterbury since 2017.

This part of the political probe reveals a Starmer who has little patience; spluttering and exasperated. He looks a sweaty mixture of angry, fearful and confused as soon as he hears Rosie’s name. He must know it’s coming by now, since he responds almost instantaneously with the word “toxic”. He does this so often that an audience is led to suspect that Rosie Duffield must be drifting through the corridors of Westminster blatantly dropping arsenic in parliamentary cups of tea as she goes. She sounds like a dreadful woman, doesn’t she?

The Labour Peer Lord Cashman recently declared that she was “frit or lazy” for announcing she would not attend an election husting in her constituency, and was then unable to say her name when forced into a bungled, petulant, sort-of-apology.  She says things that are “not right” and “shouldn’t be said”, according to Keir Starmer. Rosie Duffield, a lazy, cowardly, poisoner of things, who is always saying the wrong thing? She sounds an impossible human, like a baddie from one of the Harry Potter books. 

A Manchester man named Glenn Mullen was recently found guilty of threatening to kill Ms Duffield along with the best-selling author J K Rowling. In the House of Commons, Duffield’s own Labour colleagues whisper “fucking TERFs” as she walks past. She is called “a transphobic bigot” many times a day online. Many of her colleagues in the Labour Party seem to wish she wasn’t there, saying very little in support of her and not very much to her. 

So why is she such an important and constant thorn in Starmer’s side and why can’t he just pull her out? Calls for him to remove the whip from her are as frequent as the calls for her expulsion. She is unable to go where other Labour MPs are expected to be, like the Labour Party Conference, because of the attention it would attract; some of that “attention” as Glenn Mullen has shown, could be murderous. 

At last week’s final “Leaders Debate” the all-too recurrent question was raised as to what each would do to protect women’s single-sex “spaces”. Starmer and Sunak danced around the issue of clarifying the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that meaning as to sex was clear. Sunak was unconvincing and repetitive in his opportunist reliance on the term “biological sex” as a weapon. Starmer dodged the specifics of his position (which is that he will not make meaning as to sex explicit in the Act) with talk of “bringing people together”. Until, like clockwork, the ominous spectre of Rosie Duffield appeared, rising like Banquo’s ghost to unsettle Starmer as he tries to take his seat on the right side of the House of Commons. Sunak brought her onstage when he said, “when one of his own female MPs made that point (about biological sex) he said that she was wrong”. Starmer looked uncomfortable and shook his head in denial of a statement many women observed with astonishment in September 2021. Starmer was unable to say her name when pressed by Mishal Hussain. He pivoted the discussion back into the Equality Act, which he insincerely pretended is already clear, and brought the questioning to an abrupt close.

Why is Rosie Duffield so terrifying to Keir Starmer that he cannot say her name, cannot speak with her, cannot answer questions about her directly in interviews? He would have to do just one thing; he would have to say that she is not wrong. He would have to tell the Party he agrees with her views, which he does when they are expressed by Tony Blair, and that would be it. The thorn would be out and the painful interrogations over.

We have been demonised, ostracised, harassed and silenced

The fact that he cannot do this is, I believe, very much to do with his real, and legitimate fear of what would come next. This would be the point where he would have to admit the root of the “toxicity” he is so keen to point to whenever Duffield is mentioned. If Starmer stood up against the misogynist, trans activist bullies in the Labour Party and backed Rosie Duffield, a rage would be unleashed that would tear his leadership to shreds. Women know this because it has happened to us as individuals and collectively in groups. We have been demonised, ostracised, harassed and silenced. Starmer knows this and he rightly fears it more than he fears the much more reasonable feminist women. 

Facing down the calls of women’s groups is significantly safer to do than facing the vicious trans juggernaut and trying to stop it rolling over you. Starmer has consistently chosen the easiest path, throwing breadcrumbs to left-wing women desperate for a Labour Government and unwilling to abandon a Party that seems as though it might deliver it for them at long last. 

Many women’s groups have battled for many years now to keep the issue of women’s rights and the trans issue under politician’s noses, yet Starmer’s performances and statements following the Labour manifesto release show that he does not see them as a significant threat to his vote share. He has barely cocked his head in the direction of their demands. 

This week however, he was forced to stoop a little lower to hear the mood of women. Rosie Duffield rattles him, but another woman knocked him off his feet. J.K. Rowling announced in an article that she would “struggle” to vote Labour and suddenly there was a loud intake of socialist breath. An unedifying PR scrum began.

Rachel Reeves said the Labour Party would be willing to meet with Rowling. They have been unable or unwilling to meet with women’s groups campaigning for years, but suddenly it seems, money and status have the ear of the Party rather than violent bullies. Some are more equal than others it would appear. Rowling slapped the grasping hand of the Party away, saying that there were groups of women she would need to see listened to by Starmer, before her. In her eyes there was a legitimate queue, and she would take her place at the back now that she had successfully banged hard on the Labour door. 

Rosie Duffield is not poisonous or dreadful. She is anything but. She is a softly-spoken, erudite, principled woman, who works hard to give a voice to her Canterbury constituents on the issues that matter to them. Alongside this, she also represents the voices of the many female survivors of male violence when she speaks of her personal experience in parliament. She has declared herself unwilling to allow the erosion of rights which protect women. 

Rowling meanwhile has been criticised by some women for going up against Labour on this issue when other issues are also at stake. These women see her recent statements as prioritising a “luxury belief”. Some feel both Duffield and Rowling should be quieter so that Labour can be safely elected but Rowling has achieved what those women have not thus far, despite their tremendous efforts, she has made Labour afraid. 

In response to someone telling her she didn’t have to do what she was doing, Rowling posted on X this week:

It’s far deeper than that. I was one of the women most affected by this ideology, and if I was still there (poor reliant on state-run single sex spaces), I’d look at Now Me and think “Why the fuck aren’t you speaking? Why are you letting us fight alone?

Never underestimate the power of a really determined witch. Let’s see what magic she works now she has Labour’s attention.

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