Labour party conference not a ‘safe space’ for women

While Keir Starmer can’t say who has a cervix, one of his MPs is receiving death threats for defending women’s rights.

Proletarian writers

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First they came for the anti-zionists, then they came for the women’s rights activists. Whilst the Labour party’s implosion continues apace, party grandees and the corporate media issue flat-out denials of reality.

Proletarian writers

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Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury and a former party whip who had to stand down after she broke lockdown rules, announced in September that she would not be attending her party’s conference this year, citing security issues.

Ms Duffield has been receiving death threats from trans and ‘queer’ activists ever since she began to speak out in support of women’s rights, particularly the right to single-sex spaces, putting her in opposition to Labour’s planned policy of gender self-ID.

The extremely controversial stance being promoted by the Labour front bench endorses the idea that any person should be able to change their officially registered gender by a process of simple declaration – essentially giving any man the right to declare himself a woman and then to claim access to women-only spaces. This absurd position recently led Labour leader Keir Starmer to tie himself in knots over basic biological facts. When BBC TV host Andrew Marr asked him if it was transphobic to say only women have a cervix, Starmer replied: “Well, it is something that shouldn’t be said. It is not right.”

The question of gender ideology and the philosophical idealism that underpins this irrational position has been covered in detail in our party’s Transgender Trend pamphlet, as well as in speeches and resolutions at our eighth party congress. This article is not going to address the specific concerns about gender ideology, rather the hypocrisy of the Labour party and much of the establishment media in dealing with the issue.

The hypocrisy of the ‘safe space’ debate

We are constantly bombarded with news articles and media stories about the dangers faced by trans people and their need for ‘safe spaces’. In many parts of the world we have seen cases of children being removed from their parents’ care for the sole reason that failing to affirming their child’s chosen gender makes the home environment ‘unsafe’ and ‘dangerous’ for the self-proclaimed (and officially endorsed) ‘trans child’.

Women have been banned from meetings and from social media, and have been fired from their jobs because their ‘gender-critical’ views (no matter how rationally or politely expressed) are said to make trans people feel ‘unsafe’. Meanwhile, we are repeatedly told that this policing of debate is necessary in order for our society to be ‘inclusive’ – a perfect example of how so many words have become devoid of any real meaning in this decadent and decaying ‘postmodern’ world.

Even if we can accept the premise that society needs to create safe spaces (by excluding some) so others can be free from danger and harm (to be inclusive), surely a Labour MP is entitled to a ‘safe space’ at her own party’s conference? Apparently not.

At the 2019 Labour party conference, Women’s Place UK (WPUK, which describes itself as “a group of people from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS, united by our belief that women’s hard-won rights must be defended”) hosted a fringe event. The meeting was advertised as a discussion of women’s sex-based rights, including their right to single-sex spaces and provisions: female-only prisons, bathrooms and rape shelters, for example.

That meeting was protested by trans and queer activists, who called the event “transphobic” and labelled the discussion there as “hate speech”. These activists not only intimidated and threatened women as they entered the building, but continued shouting and banging on windows throughout the meeting to drown out the voices of the speakers and create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.

One attendee told the Mail online: “They were banging on panes of glass, it was hideous and the police didn’t stop them. The policing was a joke. We also had some of our attendees have liquid thrown in their face. It felt very much like we were under siege.” The activists defended their behaviour, claiming these women had “appropriated feminism and were using the Labour party conference to spread a transphobic message”.

It seems that only some people deserve to ‘feel safe’, although clearly the protesters felt safe enough to protest the meeting and confront the attendees face to face. It seems we all respond to ‘fear’ in different ways …

Both the 2019 Women’s Place meeting and Ms Duffield’s decision not to attend her party conference have been similarly misrepresented by the majority of the corporate media (the Times being a notable exception), which have totally obscured the reality of Duffield’s position. She has been labelled a transphobe who is “under pressure” from trans and queer activists, whereas, in reality, she has fairly standard feminist views and has been repeatedly threatened with extreme violence.

The language used by most media continues to distort the position of women who support sex-based rights in order to push forward the bourgeois ideologies of postmodernism and idealism. This is done to confuse the workers and turn them against each other, creating a system in which workers are constantly policing one another’s language to see who is the least bigoted and most virtuous.

As a result of these attacks, women are now spending more time and energy agitating to preserve basic rights that had in recent times been taken for granted. The continuing attack on women’s rights by trans activists, supported by the liberal media, has pushed many women further towards radical feminism, with its narrow focus on women’s issues and men as the enemy, and away from the understanding that they need to unite with male workers in a working-class movement that can achieve real liberation for all workers.

Another Labour witch-hunt

The witch-hunt of supposedly ‘transphobic’ women in the Labour party is reminiscent of the charges of ‘antisemitism’ that were used to justify the hounding and expulsion of Jeremy Corbyn, Chris Williamson and so many ordinary Labour members – charges that were amplified by the party machinery as well as by the mainstream media.

These campaigns are both being waged on the premise that if you support one thing (eg, women’s rights or the people of Palestine), you must necessarily ‘hate’ or condemn its perceived opposite (ie, trans people or people of the jewish faith). This false premise exemplifies the total lack of intellectual honesty amongst our rulers generally and the Labour party in particular.

Concrete analysis of material reality is thus thrown out of the window, to be replaced by abstract pronouncements and dogmatic attacks against those who try to deal honestly with the facts as they really are. Those who try to reflect objective reality in their treatment of this topic are being responded to as if they were putting forward subjective and personal opinions – and bigoted opinions to boot.

Shamefully enough, Rosie Duffield was one of those who signed a joint statement opposing the readmittance of Chris Williamson to the Labour party after his suspension, tweeting: “His values are not those of @UKLabour.” She also called on former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to resign after the 2019 election and consistently undermined him throughout his term as leader, preferring to work closely with Margaret Hodge MP, one of the ‘Labour grandees’ who was in the forefront of pushing false charges of antisemitism to undermine Mr Corbyn’s leadership. 

In stark contrast to Rosie Duffield’s approach to party solidarity, Jeremy Corbyn came out in support of her right to attend the Labour conference without fear. In this he was perfectly correct. One can but hope the double irony of her position is not lost on Ms Duffield.

The Labour party now finds itself in the position of trying to appease both sides of the trans rights v women’s rights contradiction, and in doing so it has pleased no-one. Trans activists are unhappy that Duffield hasn’t been removed from her position and condemned by the leadership, while women’s rights activists are unhappy that she is being slandered as transphobic and faces threats to her safety while the party leadership says nothing.

These contradictions are bound to appear in a party whose whole existence rests on saying one thing and doing another: a party that purports to be the party of the working class but is a bourgeois party serving imperialist interests.

As communists, we welcome the disintegration of the imperialist Labour party and urge all workers to make a final break from giving any kind of support to an organisation that has fooled them for too long.

We welcome also the exposure of the corporate media as willing tools of the ruling class in obscuring truths, spreading misinformation and stirring up division.

At the same time, we will stand in solidarity with any woman who faces censorship, termination of her employment or threats to her physical safety simply because she dares to put forward basic demands for women’s rights and equality and to defend the small gains women have been able to make within the limits of capitalist society.