At this year’s Labour Party conference there was more discussion of cervixes than in a maternity ward. MPs fell over themselves to explain at length why sex-based rights aren’t political, and why men might indeed have cervixes.
The issue was prompted by the absence of Rosie Duffield MP from the conference. When the member for Canterbury tweeted in August 2020 that “only women have a cervix” she was hounded on social media by trans activists, some of whom were Labour Party members. The abuse has been so vicious and unrelenting, Duffield felt unable to attend this year’s conference.
At the start of the five-day event Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer rebuked Duffield for her comment about only women having cervixes, explaining to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, “It is something that shouldn’t be said. It is not right.” Starmer then added, “I spoke to Rosie earlier this week and told her conference is a safe place for her to come.”
During the event itself some delegates called for the whip to be removed from Duffield, a move which would see her effectively kicked out of the Labour Party in Parliament. Two male Labour Party members who identify as women claimed to have been subjected to transphobic abuse when entering the women’s lavatories. Numerous motions were proposed to tackle ‘transphobia’ within the Labour Party.
Duffield did attend an unofficial fringe event organised by the group Labour Women’s Declaration, as did the Labour MP for Gower Antonia Antoniazzi. Duffield is reported to have pledged to continue her fight for women’s rights even if it means she loses support and financial backing as an MP.
“We won’t give permission for the word ‘women’ simply to be thrown in the bin,” she told the meeting.
Speaking from the podium at the main conference, Labour Women’s Declaration member Bronwen Davies from Cardiff North addressed delegates:
“Over the past year one of our women MPs has been subjected to a vile campaign of abuse. I stand with Rosie Duffield and I will defend to the death her right to express her views.”
Her contribution was met with both boos and applause, though she was told by organisers that she had gone over her allotted time and left the stage.
Despite grassroots organising, when questioned, most Labour MPs have steadfastly refused to see the political fight to retain sex-based rights as anything beyond a niche cause. Throughout the conference, a number of Labour frontbenchers were quizzed on basic biology and found wanting.
Duffield is reported to have pledged to continue her fight for women’s rights even if it means she loses support and financial backing as an MP. “We won’t give permission for the word ‘women’ simply to be thrown in the bin,” she told the meeting.
Speaking on BBC 5 Live to Rachel Burdon, shadow justice secretary David Lammy dismissed the concerns about gender self-identification as “identity politics” and “not an issue that’s being raised.” He explained, without any apparent irony, that this was his view “as a black man” and made the unevidenced claim that “one in four trans people commit suicide.” Towards the end of what became a heated interview, he declared himself a “feminist” who “wasn’t going to take lectures on rights” from the female journalist asking him questions of national importance. Black, lesbian barrister Allison Bailey hit back on Twitter:
“As a Black woman, and the descendent of slaves, I’m not going to take lectures from a Black man or anyone else about my rights!!!”
In previous interviews Lammy referred disparagingly to women’s rights campaigners within his own party as “dinosaurs” who were seeking to “hoard rights”. It seems fair to assume that Lammy has not researched the matter in any depth, as he told Nick Ferrari on LBC that “it’s probably the case that transwomen don’t have ovaries, but a cervix is something I understand you can have following various procedures and hormone treatment.”
Ferrari also asked Rachel Reeves MP ‘the cervix question’. After much stuttering and squirming about women’s sex-based rights being an “unhelpful” issue upon which to focus, the shadow chancellor half-heartedly suggested she didn’t think it was transphobic to point out that only women have a cervix. The experienced politician then complained that she “didn’t feel comfortable talking about women’s bodies.”
By the time the BBC’s Politics Live rolled round shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry MP had clearly had time to read her brief, confidently telling journalist Helen Lewis and presenter Jo Coburn, “It’s factually inaccurate, there are men with cervixes.”
One of the most darkly entertaining moments was the exchange outside the conference hall between lesbian feminist activist Dr Julia Long and self-identified “gobby feminist” Jess Phillips MP. Holding a flag bearing the words ‘Woman: adult human female’ Long asked the member for Birmingham Yardley, “Do you think that only women have cervixes?”.
In response, Phillips referenced her reading out the names of women murdered by men each year, telling Long, “I’ve been talking about dead women for ages.” It seems she was unaware that Long was the lead author and researcher on the Femicide Census, the document listing the very same names as read out by Phillips in Parliament each year. When she left, Phillips did at least confirm that she believed Duffield should have been able to attend the conference without fear. Duffield later expressed her support for Phillips on social media.
Within the conference hall, members of Labour Women’s Declaration from David Lammy MP’s own Tottenham constituency proposed an emergency motion. The text called on delegates to support women’s right to assemble and express gender critical views without harassment. The motion was not tabled as party apparatchiks declared it “did not meet the criteria”, other similar motions were also rejected.
Concerningly a motion purportedly in support of LGBT+ rights did pass. The text sought to ban conversion therapy on the basis of gender identity. Many clinicians, as well as LGB campaigners, have long opposed this, arguing it would lead to therapists refusing to work with people suffering from gender dysphoria lest they be criminalised for seeking to reconcile them with their sexed bodies. As children who grow up to be same-sex attracted are more likely to suffer from gender dysphoria, there is a real risk that if acted upon a ban on ‘gender identity’ conversion therapy could lead to the sterilisation of LGB youth. The motion, which was proposed by Pendle CLP, further suggested that ‘conversion therapy’ performed on minors be classified as child abuse. The lengthy document also commits to the end of women only refuges and rape crisis centres.
Since the conference opened, the hashtags #labourlosingwomen and #istandwithrosie have been trending across social media. At a time of fuel shortages and cuts to benefits, questions about cervixes seem faintly ludicrous. But underlying journalistic point scoring is a weightier matter. Women’s human rights have long been treated as a peripheral luxury by the mainstream Left; had the Labour Party recognised the importance of single-sex services and spaces, had they not attempted to quash debate, the question of who has a cervix would not need to be asked. Eyes will be on the Tory Party next week, one wonders whether they will have the ovaries to admit that only women have cervixes?
Photo: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo