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Keir Starmer ignores Rosie Duffield at his peril

Rosie Duffield has been sidelined within Keir Starmer's Labour Party

May 24, 2024 - 1:15pm

That didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours into this general election campaign, having chosen Kent as the location for his launch, Sir Keir Starmer snubbed the only elected Labour MP in the county. Gillingham is less than 30 miles from Rosie Duffield’s Canterbury constituency, but the Leader of the Opposition didn’t invite her. She wasn’t even informed about the event, finding out about it from social media.

Can he really be so inept? Or does he think his frequently discussed “woman problem” doesn’t matter in a general election where the polls put Labour so far ahead? Either way, Starmer’s willingness to blank a prominent female MP — a candidate, it should be stressed — has confirmed the fears of many left-of-centre women.

It’s also puzzling in pragmatic terms, because it’s one of the few issues where the Tories, despite their own imperfect record, are more in tune with public opinion than Labour. Yet Starmer is leading the party into an election with policy commitments that could have been dictated by Stonewall.

The party’s Chair, Anneliese Dodds, claimed this week that Labour merely wants to “modernise” the process of getting a gender recognition certificate, but what she’s proposing looks more like a move towards self-ID. “Stripping out the futile and dehumanising parts of the process” is gobbledegook for allowing a single “expert”, possibly a GP with no specialist knowledge, to sign off someone’s request to change their legal gender.

Labour is also committed to removing the “spousal exit clause” that prevents a man obtaining a full GRC before his wife has had a chance to get a divorce, as though there’s anything “progressive” about forcing a woman into a same-sex marriage. And the party is still tied to a ban on “conversion therapy” that will criminalise parents, teachers and counsellors who follow the advice of the Cass Review.

That’s why so many women, myself included, felt a sense of foreboding as a rain-soaked Prime Minister stood in Downing Street on Wednesday evening. In WhatsApp groups and on social media, we agonised over whether we could bring ourselves to vote for a Labour Party that’s almost as in hock to identify politics as the SNP — and look where that ended up. It’s a sobering thought that longstanding Labour supporters may have as big a fight on our hands if Starmer wins the election.

Party strategists suggest sex and gender are not doorstep issues, but we need to prove them wrong. When a Labour canvasser knocks on the door, the very first questions should be “What is a woman?” and “Do you support single-sex spaces?” One of the reasons this orthodoxy has spread is the way true believers have shut down discussion in party meetings and forums, but they can’t avoid it so easily during an election.

Astonishingly, violence against women has not traditionally been a doorstep issue either, even as the statistics on rape and domestic violence approach record levels. Yet the two things, transgender ideology and the safety of women, are inextricably linked. Identity politics demands the dismantling of the few safeguards left to women, from single-sex spaces to the right to accurately name someone’s sex.

Some Labour MPs, such as Duffield, understand this. Too many have pronouns in their social media bios and parade their credentials as “trans allies”. Starmer’s discourtesy yesterday towards a widely-admired Labour figure told us where he stands. This needs to be the election where an army of awkward women refuses to be silenced.


Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
30 days ago

If voters quiz Labour canvassers on this issue at the doorstep, those canvassers can just report said voters to the police for Hate Crimes. Problem solved!

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
30 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

The idea is to ‘canvass’ for votes, not ensure you don’t vote for the party the canvasser belongs to, along with their friends and families.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
30 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Voters know that they have to tread very carefully on this issue in work and in public or risk social stigma, if not more severe sanctions. They know also that many Labour activists are very radical on this issue and wouldn’t appreciate feedback (and indeed have been quick to denounce political opponents as “Transphobic”, including to the police). And they know that Labour will soon be the party of government. This may all contribute to why voters have been slow to raise the issue on the doorsteps.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
30 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Yes, all that’s well-established. However, reporting individuals/households to the police during an election campaign, far from being “problem solved” could turn an entire local electorate against a particular candidate. I’d suggest canvassers will be advised to tread rather more carefully.
Remember what happened to Gordon Brown as a result of his infamous “bigoted” remark during the 2010 campaign?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
30 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

You’re forgetting what happened to Gordon Brown’s 2010 campaign when he maligned a working class woman in public.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
30 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Not in this election in England and Wales they can’t. But come 2029 after Starmer introduces a load of hate speech laws worse than Yousef did to Scotland and worse than Ireland there won’t be any debate allowed on any issue that really concerns anybody.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
30 days ago

With a majority of only 1,836, Duffield was always going to struggle to keep Canterbury from going back to the Tories at an Election after the end of the university year. But even had it been held in term, there was no Green candidate last time, but there is apparently going to be one this time, and the number of student votes against her on the trans issue would have been well over 1,837. Duffield is right about one issue. But she is no dazzling star. From Jeremy Corbyn, to whose youth appeal she owes her seat, to Keir Starmer, who made her a whip for six weeks and that was it, neither a very left-wing nor a very right-wing Leader has been able to think of a use for her. Perhaps she is just not very good?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
30 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

She has the bottle to stand up in the parliamentary bearpit and speak up for what she believes to be right. Can we ask much more of an MP? Have you forgotten what MPs are for? Those who stand for parliament just to seek the ministerial gravy train tend not to rock the boat.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
30 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

She complains enough about her lack of promotion. She has done it on here, as I recall. It is obviously what she wants. She is right about one issue. But most of the problem is with the people who control the charity sector, the cultural sector, and the humanities side of academia. Those are people like her: middle-aged, middle-class, Labour Rightish women. Like Joan Smith, in fact. Like a lot of them. Those centrist mums and centrist aunties need to have a word with their own peers.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
30 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

I think you’ll find that many British people have an aversion to a particular demographic being stereotyped in the way you seem to be doing. It’s actually just doing what those whose views you oppose do to others!

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
30 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Rosie Duffield is far, far better than many MPs, including many Labour MPs – I hope she gets re-elected.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
30 days ago
Reply to  Graeme Kemp

That is a low bar, although with the rolling tally of retirements to be replaced by the party machines at short notice, we have seen nothing yet. Any and everyone is going to get in this time.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
30 days ago

The way it’s looking, as a woman you’d have to be crackers to vote for Labour. You’d be like a chicken voting for KFC.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
30 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

As a woman“?

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
30 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Most feminists naturally sit on the left of politics and therefore would have voted Labour all their adult lives. What are they going to do now? The other choices would be the (il)Liberal (un)Democrats who are just a woke as Labour and whilst they will undoubtedly take seats from the Tories, they won’t be in power. Or do you expect them to hold their nose and vote Tory when “it’s one of the few issues where the Tories, despite their own imperfect record, are more in tune with public opinion than Labour (a clear sign of the authors inherent political leaning).

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
30 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I suspect more than a few spoiled ballots. Fulfils a perceived duty to turn out, but signifies “none of the above”.

Christiane F Hankinson
Christiane F Hankinson
29 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

It’s infuriating. In my constituency, a very safe labour seat in university town, I can’t and don’t wish to vote for the sitting incumbent as he has publicly announced that people who raise the issue of women’s rights and their worries about self ID are bigots. (Alex Sobel).
I will turn up and see if there is an interesting independent and if not refuse to vote. And say so.
Because the Greens and Lib Dem’s have made their position clear and for broad historic socialist reasons I can’t see myself putting a cross next to the Conservatives … There’s usually a green socialist whose deposit I might help save. There are weeks ahead and I love election times where they have to fight for our votes. But mine is very limited.
It is so important because I can’t support the lily livered, cowardly, non thinking can’t be arsed, sham progressive attitudes of Labour, Lib Dem’s and Greens. Empowering gender ideology further is a great betrayal of women as a sex.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
30 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I’m thinking of becoming a woman myself so I can lend you my support

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
30 days ago

Then look at where individual candidates for Parliament stand on this issue and vote accordingly. Avoid voting for fans of Gender Ideology. The organisation Sex Matters is already campaigning on this issue of defending single-sex spaces…

AC Harper
AC Harper
30 days ago

It seems to me that Labour has always ‘picked up’ a category of people to champion, and then ‘dropped’ them later. The working man, Jews, gays, feminists, Muslims have all had their turn and now, briefly, it is the Trans.
As a consequence Labour always leaves a trail of disappointed people behind them. They still vote Labour, mostly, but their reliability is no longer as certain as it once was.
One of the problems of ‘identity politics’ is that it becomes personal.

Sim Bun
Sim Bun
30 days ago

It is certainly my first question – sadly I don’t seem to get my door knocked on by any of the parties.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
30 days ago

Unherd’s resident anti trans extremist goes on another unhinged rant. Nobody cares, least of all Keir Starmer!

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
30 days ago

Get lost. Trans activists are misogynistic and homophobic. That this pasty faced dullard (who will only win by default) and goofy dodds want to make life easier for those perverts is alarming for women and same-sex attracted people, to say nothing of concerned parents. You really are a piece of work. Why do you subscribe to UnHerd? We’re annoyed enough with much other media without having to endure your crass comments.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
30 days ago

“the Tories, despite their own imperfect record, are more in tune with public opinion than Labour”
This delusional bigot thinks that the public are in tune with her anti-trans rantings.
Maybe here in the Unherd echo chamber – but not in the real world…

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
29 days ago

I suspect Starmer’s calculation that this won’t be a big enough issue on the doorstep to risk confrontation within his party is, unfortunately, correct.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
29 days ago

The older male gay vote is Tory too. So if Labour wanted to grab back such metropolitan types then they should take on the rainbow mafia, the alphabet types who have made it all go wrong with their T in LGB and all the subsequent letters for Californian non-binary culture.
Labour’s support for this issue is wrong in every way other than for their student base. And I say base, because it’s largely a question of their ethos rather than population demographics being that they are a party still founded on a philosophy of student protest.

Mark Cornish
Mark Cornish
29 days ago

Spot on article. Rosie Duffield has real guts and a sound moral compass; unlike many in the labour Party who are in denial about the hugely important issue of safeguarding women and girls. I will never vote Labour unless they swear on oath not to be in hock to the doctrines of gender ideologists. They are treating the electorate like fools and I hope this issue comes back to bite them.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
29 days ago

I cannot understand why people intend to vote Labour. We’ll be entering into a world of make-believe and we are not going to like it.

Janet G
Janet G
28 days ago

Kellie-Jay Keen’s Party of Women is planning to put women’s rights firmly on the agenda for election discussions.

Mike Starkey
Mike Starkey
26 days ago

Good article. I hadn’t made the connection that Labour’s support for a ‘conversion therapy ban’ will criminalise those who follow the Cass Review.
Meanwhile, the Tories have become the Keystone Cops; the Greens have become one of those horror films with creepy clowns; and the Lib Dems dropped a close friend of mine as a parliamentary candidate when they discovered he was a practising Christian.
What a time to be alive.