James Kirkup

In defence of Laura Pidcock

In defence of Laura Pidcock
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Oh, Laura Pidcock. The former Labour MP for North West Durham, former shadow cabinet member, and former leadership hope of the Corbynite left may be gone from parliament but she has not left the political stage.

Pidcock, it seems to fair to say, is on the left of politics. A proud socialist who said she could never be friends with a Tory, she was seen by some as the future of the left. Even in defeat, she has been feted: the Canary recently ran a column saying she 'captures the spirit left-wingers need to have' after the election loss.

I rehearse Pidcock’s left-wing credentials here because they’re important to understand what follows.

Pidcock has been writing about the election defeat and its lessons for the left in Tribune magazine. Her most recent essay is long, almost 2,000 words in all. But just 18 of them have caused some of Pidcock’s fellow socialists to declare war on her.

Here are those incendiary words:

'The women’s movement needs the space to talk about sex and gender, without fear of being "no platformed".'

Now, that might sound innocuous and even dull. But to people schooled in the sex and gender debate, especially on the left, it is quite significant, and entirely unacceptable.

According to a group called Socialists Against Transphobia, Pidcock has revealed herself as a TERF or a 'trans-exclusionary radical feminist'. A quick look at Corbynite Twitter today shows that Pidcock is now being accused of transphobia by some of her fellow left-wingers, simply for suggesting that women be allowed to talk about things. Just look at the replies to Tribune's tweet of the article.

Speaking of TERFs. We warned about Laura Pidcock before and here she is again. “The women’s movement needs the space to talk about sex and gender, without fear of being ‘no platformed’. WPUK are not the sum total of the women’s movement. https://t.co/CzTQF3W2nv

— SocialistsAgainstTransphobia (@SocialistswithT) February 6, 2020

In a sense, there is nothing new or unusual about this. The trans debate is full of instances where women who suggest they should be allowed to talk about the way law and policy might affect them are being told to shut up - often in violent and grotesque terms.

But when one of those women is such a prominent and committed left-winger, it’s worth reflecting on the significance of the response she gets.

In the last couple of years, many of those who have struggled to bring to public attention the effect of trans policies on women’s right have been left-wingers.

The Women’s Place UK movement, which organises public meetings to discuss the Gender Recognition Act and related matters, was founded by trade unionists and has been quietly backed by some very senior figures in the Labour party and trade union movement.

WPUK meetings have been subject to abuse and intimidation. In one case, police investigated a bomb threat. Some of the worst abuse came in Brighton last year, on the fringe of the Labour party conference.

That experience illustrates that women on the left who question transgender orthodoxy are just as likely to face abuse as any other women - and perhaps even more so. Consider the case of Linda Bellos, for instance.

I have a theory about why some abusive trans activists are so keen to silence women on the left over the trans issue. Simply, their existence spoils the narrative that concerns about trans issues are a right-wing, social conservative thing. It is common for people who raise this matter to be accused of right-wing bigotry and possibly being affiliated to (or even paid by) 'the American Christian right'.

This is, of course, nonsense. The trans issue isn’t about left or right. It’s not even about social liberalism vs conservatism. It’s about democracy and the way we do politics and policy.

Politicians, largely by neglecting the issue, have allowed a set of policies and practices to grow up, partly driven by a small number of activist-lobbyists, in the name of trans rights. Some of those policies will potentially impact the lives and rights of other people, especially women.

This impact should be debated and considered. The women who worry about the impact should be able to raise their concerns without fear of abuse or worse, and they should be listened to by their representatives.

The position I’ve just set out should not be controversial or even require a description since it is just the normal functioning of democratic politics and governance in Britain. That is not left-wing. It is not liberal. It is not conservative and it is not right-wing. And Laura Pidcock proves it.

Written byJames Kirkup

James Kirkup is the Director of the Social Market Foundation and a former political editor of The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph

Topics in this articlePoliticslaura pidcock