Over the last week, readers of ConservativeHome may have noticed that an internal dispute within the Labour Party has reached a critical point. Tensions have been brewing between members of the party and Rosie Duffield, the MP for Canterbury, over the abuse she has received for making comments on transgender issues, and the party’s apparent reluctance to defend her.
Duffield, who was elected in 2017 and Labour’s only such representative in Kent, has been one of the most active MPs in voicing concern around the protection of women’s spaces. She believes, in short, that anyone born male should not be allowed into domestic violence refuges and prisons allocated for women, and is against people being able to self-identify as trans to use those spaces. Her view is characterised as “gender critical”.
I am aware of yet more personal, libellous, nasty and fictional crap being published about me again today. All published/written by ex and current @UKLabour members who are clearly absolutely obsessed by my private life for some reason. I have been subjected to this rubbish…
— Rosie Duffield MP 🦕💜🦖 (@RosieDuffield1) January 30, 2022
For expressing this position, as well as liking a tweet saying that women were people with cervixes, Duffield has attracted both fans and opponents, but the latter are causing her considerable alarm. Last year she did not attend the Labour Party Conference, due to concerns about safety after finding herself the subject of intense criticism.
Duffield has since said that she will be considering her future in the party – blaming “obsessive harassment”. She believes she is being targeted in multiple ways for her views; for instance, a blog recently accused her of living in Wrexham (aka not her own constituency) with her partner, in what she called “personal, libellous, nasty and fictional crap”.
Tweeting about the ongoing dispute, Duffield said that “Neither the Labour party or either the former or current Leader or the Whips’ Office have done anything at all to stop it, to offer me any support, help or legal assistance. I am financially unable to pursue a libel action”. She has subsequently been in talks with senior officials about her position, and last week, there was even speculation over whether she will defect.
What is one to make of this debacle? Keir Starmer, and senior officials, have repeatedly been accused of failing to protect Duffield. Will this change any time soon?
One imagines not, for a number of reasons. First is that Labour doesn’t seem to have a clear position on this subject. That much was obvious at the party’s conference last year, where Starmer seemed completely taken offguard when Andrew Marr grilled him on whether only women have a cervix. Questions around the cervix became a common theme at the conference, exposing that the party has huge internal disagreements over the matter.
When Starmer did work out his reply to Marr, he chose to side with activists than Duffield, saying that it was “not right” to say that only women have a cervix. Whether this makes him popular with most members of the public, one isn’t so sure. In the past, he has backed what looks fashionable, according to social media activists, only for voters to tell him otherwise (see: the second referendum).
Perhaps, however, Starmer has simply concluded that with the Tory Party in such disarray, he can continue with constructive ambiguity on women’s spaces. After all, why put out a clear statement, either way, on whether Duffield is right or wrong, when voters are more interested in Boris Johnson’s party antics. Duffield’s misfortune here is timing, given the other distractions going on. But as soon as Conservatives get their act together, Starmer will be under pressure here, and may yet again find himself on a losing path.