After a week in which:
- the UK entered into an arms alliance with the US and Australia, promptly decried in lurid terms by China and France:
- energy prices went up with one energy company going bust and the prospect of more to come;
- food companies warned of shortages of frozen food; and
- the PM had a reshuffle to deliver the much promised “Levelling Up”
the Sunday Times’s front page had 3 stories:-
- Gove ordered to sort out leaseholders’ post-Grenfell problems;
- Prince Charles’s relationship with fixers selling access to him; and
- the Speaker condemning attacks on Rosie Duffield MP (for saying only women have cervixes), which have forced her to stay away from Labour Conference.
Royalty and housing are perennial stories; women’s internal organs less so. But of these three, this is the most important, less for what it says about Ms Duffield but more for what it says about Starmer’s qualities as leader and the party he leads. And those of another woman MP – of which more later.
But first let’s deal shortly with the Lib Dems. On the very day that a report came out urging the police to take violence against women more seriously, Ed Davey – in response to a question from Justin Webb on the Today programme about whether there was anywhere biological males should not go – replied “No, no”. In effect, he stated that there should be no women-only spaces, completely ignoring both the reason why such spaces are needed (male violence against women) and the provisions of the Equality Act which permit these. Presumably, abolishing single-sex exemptions is now Lib Dem policy. At any event, its leader seems to think that women should not be able to be safe from men.
Meanwhile it has taken Lindsay Hoyle to say – publicly and clearly – what Starmer has been unable to: that MPs should not be attacked or threatened for doing their job, even if people disagree with what they say. That this should need saying is worrying. That a Labour leader feels unable to say it when one of his female MPs is attacked for saying what is a biological fact is even more so. How hard can this be for Starmer? After all, it’s not as if attacks on female MPs, female Labour MPs are unprecedented. Jo Cox. Louise Ellmann. Ruth Smeeth. Margaret Hodge. Luciana Berger. In Ms Berger’s case, Corbyn made some public statements about “gentler, kinder politics” but did not speak to her at all for 18 months while she faced abuse. Starmer’s only difference from Corbyn is to have sent a private text while maintaining public silence.
What does this say about him? And Labour?
A lack of courage. Cowardice in the face of bullies, bullies who seek to distort and prevent proper debate and MPs discussing, debating and considering all issues, including difficult ones where people will disagree. Or ones which are unpopular with activists. If they cannot do this, what sort of democracy can we realistically have? If Starmer cannot deal with this, how does he expect to persuade voters that he can handle the sorts of difficult issues a PM faces daily? And even if he eventually comes out with some fine words, his actions – or rather his failure to act – show that he does not really take threats of violence against women seriously.
Why has Labour got itself into this mess? Some thoughts:-
- They can only think, in a somewhat shallow and unthinking way, in terms of “rights” and “equality” without analysing what these mean. Not every demand is a “right”, no matter how loudly it is shouted. There are no legal rights which other groups have which people with gender dysphoria do not have, for instance. But if every issue is shoehorned into predetermined categories chanted as slogans clear thinking becomes hard, if not impossible.
- An assumption that all legal rights can only enlarge freedoms not reduce them. This may have been the case in the past – marriage for gay people does not remove marriage for those who are not. But sometimes rights clash. This is not new. Rights for potential migrants clash with the rights of existing citizens to control who comes into their country. Rights to practise one’s religion can clash with the rights of others to free speech or to be free to express their sexuality or to receive a full education – see, for instance, the arguments about teaching in predominantly Muslim schools. If men can go into female spaces, then females have lost the right to such spaces. Claiming that a man is a woman does not solve the issue. All it does is infuriate those who do not like being told to believe an untruth or have their worries ignored. (The Tories had no need for experts. Now Labour has no need for scientific facts. Quite why this should be seen as a good thing is unclear.) Labour has refused to think clearly about how to address such clashes, preferring to pretend – naively and disingenuously – that they either don’t exist or by refusing to engage with the concerns and attacking, often in vicious terms, those raising them. Disagreements automatically become phobias; those not subscribing to current orthodoxy must be prejudiced bigots. A party unable to find a way to debate clashes of rights, of priorities, differing views has no business being in politics at all.
- A failure to understand the importance of identity. It failed to understand the concerns of many of its own former voters over the European question and Brexit, not seeing how this went to how people saw themselves and their country. It is now doing the same with women – again not seeing that women do not consider womanhood an attitude or a feeling or some sort of image to be adopted just like that, let along something to be recategorized out of existence to assuage the feelings of some men. It is a reality, inextricably linked to the female sex, leading to experiences which are not shared in the same way – or at all – by those of the male sex. First Red Wall voters were called racists; now women are transphobic bigots. The common thread is a party ignoring and/or insulting its voters, who pretty soon will become ex-voters.
So much for Starmer.
What of the future leader? Well she is in Cabinet – as Foreign Secretary now – as well as Minister for Women. And it was in this last capacity that Liz Truss came up with proposals on the GRA which sought to avoid the toxic arguments which are bedevilling Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and even the SNP. Cleverly, she did so in a quiet unshowy way, not making a big noise about her decisions. But they have been noticed. And now – without very much effort – the Tories are standing back, not interrupting their opponents while they noisily make mistakes. While a number of left-wing feminists are wondering – much to their surprise (and in a “land of the blind” sort of way) – why it is now the Tories who seem to stand for the rights of women. The same Ms Truss also let it be known that she did not agree with the recent decision to raise taxes on working people. There is a certain ruthless cunning in a politician who has lasted as a Minister as long as she has, rising the ranks, with a number of achievements to her name, while carefully disassociating herself from the more unpopular decisions.
There is currently no vacancy for Tory leader. But when there is, do not be surprised if the party once again chooses a blond woman. And one who believes in rights for women. It would serve Labour right if all those scorned women led to it being defeated by such a leader.