Does the Labour Party Really Hate Women?
In November of 2017, Lily Madigan, a nineteen year old self identified trans woman was elected, with some fanfare, as Women’s Officer for the Constituency Labour Party of Rochester and Strood. Many Labour councillors rushed to hail her appointment as a progressive move forward for the party, batting away as irrelevant and bigoted, concerns raised by some as to Madigan’s youth and lack of lived experience as a woman. The new Women’s Officer would work to ensure that women were fully involved in the work of the local party, they said, as well as taking a leading role in making sure that the campaigning work of the constituency reached out and engaged with women voters. Madigan herself stated in an interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 news that: “Looking at other women’s officers that I very much disagreed with, kind of really pushed me into applying for the role.”
However it has recently come to light that while in post, a blacklist has been drawn up of women in the Labour Party who do not share Madigan’s beliefs regarding gender: specifically that a woman is not defined by her biology, but rather her gender identity. Under this definition, anybody claiming a female gender identity can be considered a woman on the basis of that say so, regardless of their legal and physiological sex, or whether any steps towards transition have been taken. Women in the Labour Party who have publically stated their opposition to this new definition have had evidence of their disquiet collated and kept in files by a secret group calling themselves Labour Against Transphobia, of which Madigan and known associates would appear to be members. This evidence, consisting mostly of screenshots of social media activity, has in some cases also included women’s Labour Party numbers and CLP’s, constituting a potentially illegal breach of data security. Astonishingly, some of the women listed are not, in fact, Labour Party members at all, and such spurious reasons for gathering information are shown to include things like who an individual chooses to follow on Twitter. In other words, women are being watched and targeted, simply for expressing (or even being suspected of having) certain political beliefs.
On 20th January, the Labour Women’s Network held a conference dedicated to fighting sexism in politics. A power pledge was produced listing a number of noble aims, one of which stated a commitment to rejecting all forms of harassment and intimidation, both online and in person. In this McCarthyite climate that sees women placed on covert blacklists due to a perfectly reasonable belief that they exist as a biological category, and that the sex based protections within the Equality Act that specifically recognise this fact ought to be upheld, what action does the Labour Party now propose to take against those who organise secret groups with the express purpose of harassing these female members with whom they disagree?
As a single parent living in a rented home on a council estate, I presume myself to be the kind of woman the Labour Party is committed to representing. Austerity, as we know, hits women and children the hardest, and the women in my community are no exception. We are crying out for the kind of increased funding of public services, better opportunities, and fairer distribution of wealth that ought traditionally to come with a Labour government. We are women who have experienced first hand what it is to have our tax credits inexplicably stopped when our children need new shoes. We are the ones have been reliant on initiatives such as Sure Start to improve the quality of our lives. Many of us have weathered the kind of abandonment by male partners that sees mothers left alone to bring up kids in poverty and isolation, and until recently I believed that a Labour government was, for us, not just a matter of ideology or principle, but of self preservation; of survival. I never imagined I would come to look at a party I once considered a beacon of hope, and see only betrayal.
Women of a low socio-economic status are among those who must overcome the most barriers to achievement, success, and political representation. All women shortlists are designed to go some way towards redressing the balance; to provide an acknowledgement that women, by virtue of our biology and the expectations and limitations placed on us because of it, are still disadvantaged and discriminated against. Women wishing to preserve this redress are not hateful or bigoted, and crucially do not seek to undermine the representation of any other group. We speak only from a lived experience that has seen opportunities already too scant, and wish only to maintain our rights as they currently and lawfully exist.
If trusted members of the Labour party are collecting women’s personal and sometimes private information for the purposes of public exposure and intimidation, and to argue for their expulsion from the party, when these women’s only crime has been to make clear that gender identity is not equivalent to sex, and that they wish to see the equality act upheld, then Labour has a misogynistic witch hunt on its hands. For a Women’s Officer to be engaged in such behaviour would be nothing short of a scandal that risks alienating many current and potential voters.
As usual, it is the women that Labour most seeks to lift up: the poor women, the women of colour, the lone mothers, and all that live on the margins deserving better, who will be the ones to bear the brunt of Labours failure.