Good question. In a week when we’ve learnt that a Met officer known as “Bastard Dave” by his colleagues was left uninvestigated on 9 separate occasions when allegations were made, why did those colleagues and his bosses do nothing and say nothing? How is it possible that people turn a blind eye to what is being said and done in front of them, the nature of the people they associate with, listen to and, all too often, enable? By their silence – as much as anything else. If the saying (attributed to Burke) – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – is not at the heart of any training on the topic, it ought to be.
It is not just the police who should be asked this. It needs asking of Labour – after the behaviour of Lloyd Russell-Mole in Parliament and he and others in a demo outside. And of the SNP. (And, frankly, of the Tories on everything Boris-related. But I make no apologies for focusing today on women.)
Let’s take the police. Recent revelations have triggered a wealth of material by female police officers, partners and children of police officers about appalling misconduct. What is particularly shocking is not just the misconduct but how those women were treated: ignored, disbelieved, criticised, made to feel at fault, blamed, shunned, threatened, called names, retaliated against etc.,. You can have the most perfectly drafted whistleblowing policy and procedures in the world. No-one will use it if the reality is “message ignored; messengers shot”. Nor will they use it if the leaders give every impression of not caring about the issue – other than, at best, grudgingly and for PR reasons. As for Mark Rowley, the current Met commissioner appointed in July 2022, it has taken him 5 months to realise he has a problem with misogyny in his force. He bewails that he cannot sack poor police officers, something which has been known for years. A demand for the powers to do so should have been his first demand on Day 1. He could even try ensuring that all applicants are actually interviewed, it generally being better not to hire rogues than try to kick them out after harm has been done. He is there for 5 years. A little more urgency would be welcome.
It’s not just women police officers and the partners of police offers suffering this misogyny. Victims of sexual offences – according to this recent survey – are viewed as responsible for the violence suffered. “We massively prejudge the credibility of the victim. We investigate the victim more than the offence itself.” Some 40 years after the seminal Roger Graef documentary – “A Complaint of Rape” – showing male policemen treating a female rape victim with harsh dismissiveness, how much have police attitudes really changed?
So to Labour and the SNP. During the debate on the S.35 Order preventing the GRR Bill gaining Royal Assent, male Labour and SNP MPs distinguished themselves by barracking those women MPs, both Labour and Tory, who spoke of their concerns about the Bill’s possible effects. Russell-Moyle embarked on a spit-flecked, finger-jabbing rant at Miriam Cates (who described the intimidation she felt when a male stranger entered a female space she was in), followed by crossing the floor to sit close to her and stare at her. One of her colleagues, Paul Bristow, was so concerned by this, he moved to sit next to her. Later Russell-Moyle, Olivia Blake, Nadia Whittome and Zarah Sultana attended a rally in support of their “trans siblings”. The “trans sibling” standing next to them was Sarah-Jane Baker, a man transitioned to a woman who has spent decades in jail for torture, kidnap and attempted murder. When this was pointed out, the MPs said – in what must now be termed a Zahawi-style lie – they had not listened to her, closely followed by a video showing them doing exactly that. Mothers (those on Mumsnet anyway) were also told their views were unwelcome.
Meanwhile In Scotland at a rally attended by 3 SNP MPs, 1 SNP MSP, 2 Green MSPs and 1 LD MSP a placard was held up in full view showing a guillotine and the phrase “Execute TERFS”. No-one saw anything or objected at the time. Police Scotland are now investigating. Reports show this placard earlier at a bar where people had been preparing banners for this pro-trans rally. No-one seems to have thought such a banner…. what’s the word? Ah yes……inappropriate. These are not isolated incidents. Threats of violence, both ordinary & sexual – in banners, shouted or sprayed on the ground – are all too common when women gather to speak on this topic.
It is possible that women’s fears about these changes are – and will prove to be – unfounded. That would be a happy outcome. But, naïve as this may be, one way to demonstrate this (not just assert it) is not to display exactly the sort of behaviour women are telling you they’re worried about. It is not to stand in solidarity with a violent trans person then lie about it. SNP MSPs should not be applauding a group of GRR supporters in Holyrood’s public gallery who had earlier sent out messages on social media glorying in the violence they would use on women opposing them. The use of violence and violent language by a sub-set of (usually) male supporters against women, with little or no criticism from the legislators supporting this change should trouble its advocates more than it appears to. It is worrying that it appears to appeal to some of its supporters because of the opportunities for violence against women, rather than in spite of it. There is an important difference between passionate support and violent language and actions. Legislators should – more than anyone – understand this, not pander to it or exhibit it.
What of the Labour leader? He has been silent. Rosie Duffield has written here about her experiences. She now feels that she cannot say that Labour is not a sexist party.
Why is Starmer silent?
- Cowardice? This – more than anything else – is what allows bad actors to get away with it.
- An unwillingness to confront his activists? Few people want a confrontation. Even fewer are good at doing it effectively. It is an essential quality of leadership. Its absence, and over what, speaks volumes about what is – or is not – important to that leader.
- Does he perhaps, deep down, not believe this behaviour is wrong? Does he not realise why women might be concerned and view with scepticism the gap between placatory words and intimidating action and language?
- Dislike of Rosie Duffield and other female Labour MPs with concerns?
- Does he think that it’s only the disliked Tories raising this so he need not take it seriously?
- Or a cynical calculation that he does not need the votes and this issue will not determine any election, let alone a general one?
- Or does he, unlikely as this seems, perhaps approve the behaviour?
Whatever the reason there is a Corbynite whiff of what did not happen when Jewish female MPs were being attacked. Nor is it the first time Starmer has remained silent when female MPs have been attacked on this issue.
Also in Parliament this week, Yvette Cooper castigated the Home Secretary over the Met and promised change. But if Starmer cannot – or won’t – deal with misogyny in his own party, why believe that he can or will deal with misogyny anywhere else.