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4 comments

On the face of it, Rosie Duffield MP does not look like the kind of dangerous insurgent that moderate Labour leaders need to worry about. In an alternative universe, where Brexit was not the divisive issue it has become, the Canterbury MP would be exactly the kind of face the party should want to present to a country dubious about the wisdom of electing a Labour government: reassuringly articulate, sensible and an effective campaigner.

Unfortunately, her determination that Britain should rejoin the EU as soon as possible, her stated belief that most of her parliamentary colleagues feel the same way, and her resignation as a whip following the revelation that she broke Covid rules during lockdown, have devalued her political capital. For now, anyway.

Nevertheless, Duffield represents the mainstream of the Parliamentary Labour Party and much of the country. So it was remarkable (if “remarkable” can be used to describe something that very few people have so far remarked upon) that yesterday she publicly threw down the gauntlet to her leader’s authority.

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The journalist Adam Cailler asked Starmer’s official spokesman about abuse that Duffield has sustained after she stated that “only women have a cervix”. Cailler reported that in response, the spokesman had said: “the party always makes an effort to support members of the PLP” but (according to Cailler) wouldn’t give any further detail.

Duffield herself then Tweeted: “Apparently not this member of the PLP Adam…!”

Such challenges to Starmer’s authority – and that’s what this is – are expected from the Corbynite Left on a daily basis. For someone like Duffield to go public with her complaint that she has, apparently, received no such support from her party, says a great deal about where this fraught debate over trans rights – and perhaps other explosive cultural issues – are taking the party.

Fresh from a humiliating defeat in the formerly safe seat of Hartlepool, Starmer’s shadow cabinet have been busy leading the troops in the defence of Batley and Spen where, reports suggest, another defeat is at least possible. A second by-election defeat at the hands of the governing party would be unprecedented in British political history, but it wouldn’t necessarily spell the end for Starmer’s leadership, whatever hopes his far Left detractors might harbour.

The truth is that whoever leads the party, there is a fundamental flaw in its internal culture that can’t be easily fixed. Part of the problem is the length of time Starmer has taken to shake off the legacy of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn (and the list of policy pledges he had to make in order to win the support of former Corbyn supporters is a big part of that).

But the party’s position on a variety of cultural issues looks set to put the party on the defensive over the summer, making Labour’s eventual recovery even more problematic.

Earlier today, the debate on trans rights took another turn as Maya Forstater won her appeal against an earlier tribunal ruling in which her dismissal from her job as a tax specialist was ruled legal because Forstater was “absolutist in her view of sex”, such views being “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. Today it was ruled that those holding so-called “gender critical” views – like Forstater, JK Rowling and Duffield – could not be dismissed because of them.

None of which makes life any easier for Starmer. First, he must address the issue of why one of his MPs has received no support from him or the party at a time when she has been subjected to the most horrendous and hostile abuse. Are some forms of abuse more acceptable than others, depending on the victim’s “crime”?

Starmer, it is to be hoped, will recall the abject failure of Corbyn to offer support to Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth when she was publicly vilified by a friend of Corbyn’s at the launch (ironically) of the party’s report into anti-Semitism in the party.

Will the support offered to Duffield be similar (ie, non-existent)?

From a policy perspective, Starmer will now be under pressure from the many trans ideologues in his party to promise, once in government, to change the law to make it possible to sack gender critical individuals – those who observe the facts and science of sex and biology and who have the guts to say so.

Outraged activists have already demanded that Starmer prove his LGBTQ+ credentials by depriving Duffield of the party whip, thus ending her parliamentary career. But the views she expressed are hardly minority ones. How would the ongoing campaign in Batley and Spen be advanced were Starmer to announce before polling day that anyone who thinks biological sex is real and important should be dismissed by their employers?

Duffield has every right to feel isolated. Those parliamentary colleagues who support her have said very little publicly. She held on to her traditional Tory seat against the odds at a time when the party was shedding seats across the rest of the country. Now she has been victimised and abused simply for stating what the vast majority of people already think.

Her tweet may have been more of an arch observation than a cry for help. But Starmer should take it seriously. He has a duty of care for the MPs who serve under him. If he abandons Duffield to the mob he will send out a very unappetising message to the rest of the country. And we will draw our own conclusions from his inaction.

[–] Triselly 4 points (+4|-0)

I don't know but I'm at the point where I reckon any male who supports the trans agenda should have his search history investigated.

[–] womenopausal witch babe 2 points (+2|-0)

Starmer is so disappointing. But all the other candidates were even more TWAW than he was. Labour is done.

As a woman from a solid working class, socialist, Labour-voting background, I hate having no party to represent me.