31 January 2022

A safe space for women? It’s little wonder Rosie Duffield is contemplating leaving Labour


Rosie Duffield is a petite, almost fragile-looking woman. Sometimes her voice quivers when she talks – unusually for an MP, she isn’t brimming with confidence.

Yet in 2019 she found the courage to give a vivid and heart-rending account of what it was like being the victim of domestic abuse, which brought Parliament to its feet in a standing ovation. ‘You are expected to do what you are told,’ she said as she described what it was like living with someone who told her he loved her yet demanded complete control. ‘Reward, punishment, promise of happily ever after alternated with menace, rage, the silent treatment and coercive control.’

Perhaps it’s this experience of escaping a coercive relationship that means she refuses to cave in to men – and it is often men – who still want to control her.

The only time I’ve seen her speak in person was at a Jewish Labour Movement conference in 2018. She was a rare Labour MP who was willing to stand with the Jewish community against Corbyn’s antisemitism. She admitted this had led to her being attacked by activists in her own local party. The message she conveyed was spoken quietly but her words were as strong as a lion’s; the daughter of a police man, she would not cave when saw something that was so blatantly wrong.

She has had death threats and poisonous hate mail as a result of her stance on both women’s rights and antisemitism – a position that has left her completely isolated in the Labour Party. She is labelled a bigot and a transphobe, with activists determined to oust Kent’s only Labour MP. She was so afraid for her safety that she did not attend her own party’s conference.

So it’s no surprise that she has snapped, saying that she is contemplating her future in the party. The final straw appears to have been a blog post alleging she had moved out of her constituency to live with her partner who is working in Wrexham. It was poisonous cant, and while she is getting help from the police over the ‘obsessive harassment’ she’s experienced, her party is doing nothing to help her fight the lies being told.

I’ve got lots of friends who are active in Labour and I do often wonder what keeps them there. Seeing the bullying so many of them go through, particularly for people who speak up for the Jewish community and for women, it feels like an abusive relationship. So I am not surprised that she would consider finally leaving.

Rosie is far from the only woman to be attacked and bullied by the self-righteous and self-defined pure squad of witch-hunters who believe that anyone who doesn’t think like them has to be hounded out. These people genuinely think they are on the side of the angels – and that’s what makes them dangerous.

Look at the fox-bashing QC Jolyon Maugham who decided to pile on with incendiary claim after incendiary claim. Yesterday he tweeted: ‘Rosie Duffield has harmed trans people by choosing to spread provocative and damaging misinformation about treatment options for young people with gender dysphoria. There should be no place in progressive politics for her’.

As the journalist Sonia Sodha rightly said, it’s staggering that someone with a large public following would tweet something so inflammatory the day that Duffield had spoken about being the subject of harassment. If Maugham had an ounce of humanity, he would be utterly ashamed of himself.

Rosie Duffield undoubtedly needs more support from her colleagues. But the man who should feel most ashamed is Keir Starmer. I’d normally say the Labour leader was better at talk than action – but when it comes to the trans issue he has remarkably little of substance to say.

As a senior figure who has already seen several MPs bullied out of his party because of their stance on antisemitism, as a lawyer who should understand the importance of words and, more cynically, as someone who wants to win an election in which 51% of the electorate are women, he simply has to do better on this.

What little he has said has been deeply disappointing. He notably refused to back Rosie Duffield when she came under fire for liking a Piers Morgan tweet, in which he’d written ‘Do you mean women?’ in response to an article about ‘individuals with a cervix’. Instead, Starmer said the idea that only women have a cervix is ‘not right’ and ‘something that shouldn’t be said’.

Even worse was his Shadow Cabinet colleague David Lammy, who erroneously claimed that ‘a cervix is something you can have following various treatments and hormone treatment’. He added that women who wanted to protect safe spaces for females were ‘dinosaurs who want to hoard rights’. In a back-handed homage to Lammy’s remarks, the women’s rights movement has since ironically reclaimed the dinosaur as an emblem.

The closest anyone on the Labour front bench has come to acknowledging the tension between trans rights and women’s rights is Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, who said recently that trying to shut down the opinions of women like Rosie and JK Rowling was wrong and there needed to be more ‘empathy and understanding’ about the points they were making.

All Rosie has done is voiced what many of us are thinking – that, whatever your feelings may be, there is a difference between people with female bodies and people with male bodies. We don’t have any problem with trans people, but we also don’t want words like women, girls and mothers erased. And we don’t feel comfortable about rules that mean any man can simply say they are a woman and be allowed into places like refuges and changing rooms.

Misogyny is alive and well within the only mainstream UK party to never have had a female leader. Women being hounded out of the party because they have mainstream views about gender is not a good look. And it would be extremely stupid of Labour if they thought women in the country hadn’t noticed.

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Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.