No-platforming and the so-called Left: a speech by Esther Giles

Esther Giles, who was due to appear at last weekend’s Labour Lockout event but was no-platformed, spoke today at Labour Against the Witchhunt’s Building the Campaign for Free Speech event. This is the text of her speech:

No-Platforming and the so-called Left: The Supposed “Right of Intolerance”

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This quote, wrongly attributed to Voltaire, was actually written by (would you believe it) a woman, Beatrice Evelyn Hall in a book published in 1906 which she wrote about Voltaire. And who, of course wrote under a pseudonym because she was a woman.  And, yes, I have met people who will not read anything written by a woman.

Here’s something that Voltaire did write once, in his 1763 Treatise on Toleration:

“The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.”

I am going to talk to you about:
* My recent no-platforming experience and the fall-out;
* Why we must fight for free speech and thought; and
* The new no-platforming

No-Platforming: the Antithesis of Free Speech

Last Sunday evening there was an event about democracy and free speech. This event was put on in defence of CLP officers suspended for disobeying the diktats of Labour’s General Secretary by allowing members to debate and/or vote on topics he had forbidden.  The organisers  of this event no-platformed someone (me) because someone had lobbied one or more of the speakers. One of the speakers (who is a prospective candidate for Mayor of Liverpool) told the organisers that they would withdraw unless I was removed from the platform. The organisers feared that her withdrawal would spark further speakers pulling out and asked me to withdraw for fear of the whole event collapsing. I pulled out. The event went ahead using a webinar with the chat disabled. The organising group knew that their decision to no-platform one of the advertised speakers would be a controversial one and seen as hypocritical, but they felt either that the event was more important than the principle (of free speech), or  that what I was accused of genuinely made me a “persona non grata”. I think that the organising committee was divided on the issue. It has certainly, in the fall-out, revealed deep rifts in groups and campaigns. Importantly, when this happens to you, you will find out how people and groups respond to the white-hot flame of the witchhunt. Some melt away like snowflakes. Some swivel round and stand by the side of the witch-hunters. Some run for shelter, and some stand in the flames by your side (including people you have never met before) and become an even more valuable gold.

I want to put this no-platforming in the context of free speech, and explore what no-platforming has now become.

Why Free Speech?

What does free speech do? It shines a light on bad arguments and hate, rather than letting it fester in dark corners- for example, arguably, the BNP collapsed following Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time in 2009. Free speech allows debate when there is disagreement about ideas and ideologies. It helps us to find the truth by dialectic. It promotes trust, honesty and respect where differing points of view are listened to. It requires confidence to challenge and that the challenge is respectful. It requires time to think and debate.

That’s why, in the Labour Party (for those of us who still have meetings or can go to them), we have the process of motions submitted in good time, and time allotted for debate in a comradely fashion

The ability to debate competing viewpoints is one of the foundations of democratic society. If dissent is seen as offence, and is then elevated to hate speech, the consequences for democracy are alarming- and that is what I think we are seeing now.

What are the limits on free speech? It should not (in my view) promote acts of violence. If someone says something a reasonable person would believe to be “something so appalling that it should not be said”, they should be called out. We should refuse and reject the rhetoric of violence.

Yesterday, somebody who has been posting smears against me on social media for the past two years justified their smearing (and my no-platforming) by saying: “You are standing with people who really have been unfairly smeared and are completely innocent of all accusations”. This person was saying that they were the arbiter of free speech and that anyone with whom they did not agree should be silenced.

The New No-Platforming

“No-platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists – the National Front or the EDL – and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is particularly being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views (many second wave feminists and other sisters and brothers) have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. But they are called transphobes and whorephobes: it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety. And so comrades are prevented from speaking by the opinions of the ideological thugs (in my case it seems to have been the LGBT+ group, though I cannot be sure). And we know, of course, that critics of Israel suffer the same fate. As someone said to me this week “attacks on free speech and thought about Israel come from without, but the gender debate results in the left eating itself.”

This new no-platforming approach results in people sometimes being disgraced and defamed for the rest of their lives for one comment or incident taken out of context- or even for just having been accused of something. Universities (like the Labour Party) appear to be a mecca for no-platformers – which doesn’t augur well for the future if we don’t address it now. The social justice warriors in today’s universities seem to wage war to out-compete each other in their successes in no-platforming people. There is a growing list of people who have been “no-platformed” and we are hearing about some of them today – including Ken Loach this week. The Union of Jewish Students and the Board of Deputies called for his no-platforming because he had repeatedly been accused of, and been an apologist for antisemitism. Did you see what they did there? They said he should be no-platformed because he had been accused of something. And the event had nothing to do with what he was being accused of. This is another feature of the New No-Platforming. Anyway, the College (unlike the Labour Party and the Organising Group of the “Stand up for Democracy Event”) stood firm and said that “no-platforming is not… the way to pursue the goals of a free and open academic community (substitute Labour Party community)”. The event went ahead. Hurrah for St. Peter’s College.

Again at Oxford University this week, John McDonnell has been urged by the Labour Society not to share a platform with a woman they call a “known transphobe”, Professor Selina Todd, who writes and teaches about class, inequality, working-class history, feminism and women’s lives. The attackers say “the content of the event is irrelevant to the issue at hand, namely that McDonnell is lending his social and political capital to a person whose views actively harm the trans community”. As one of the twitter comments says: “I thought universities were about debate not censorship”.

So the defamation escalates. First you call someone a ‘transphobe’. Then next time you can call them a ‘known transphobe’. Next, when you’ve called them a known transphobe often enough, you become a  ‘notorious transphobe’. All without saying a single word, and just because your attackers say it and say it again and again.

So, individuals are being no-platformed not because of what they actually say, but because of what people think they think- because they are not ideologically pure according to a particular group with influence. And at the same time other people are blackmailed into withdrawing or requiring withdrawal (of the heretic) for fear of guilt by association and worse.

Conclusion

What does this mean then? It means that if we allow them to, those groups with influence control the narrative. They control what people say, and thus begin to control what people think. It means that people walk and think in fear that they might say something that will damage them for the rest of their lives. It means that ideas cannot be debated in public.

These ideas now include:
*Palestine
* Israel as an apartheid state founded on murder and exile
* Women’s rights (has anyone EVER been no-platformed for wanting to debate trans rights?)
* Class analysis (talk about IdPol as much as you like)

It means that people are not allowed to think and have a say unless within the agreed political narrative. It means that democracy dies.

And remember. First they came for the TERFs and then the so-called antisemites. And next they will come for you.

Free Speech and Democracy for All. Solidarity

Free Speech for Women at a Free Speech Rally

#StopTheLabourLockout

Women's Rights, Free Speech, Sex-Based Rights, Sex Matters

LWD signatory Esther Giles has been no platformed at a free speech rally  organised today by a coalition of left groups in support of suspended members.

We are asking all those who support free speech to insist that Esther is reinstated as a speaker, and if this doesn’t happen to withdraw from the rally.

Here is Esther’s statement

Nick Rogers, suspended Chair of Tottenham CLP, has withdrawn from the rally and has made this statement in support of Esther.

Labour In Exile, Labour Left Alliance and Labour Against the Witchhunt have also issued a joint statement in support of Esther.

A group of Tottenham CLP members have written this letter to the organisers of the rally.

“We are not going to attend the Stand Up For Labour Party Democracy #StopTheLabourLockout rally because of the purging of Esther Giles from the speakers list under pressure from sectarians, who are determined to silence and drive out people on the left who support women’s rights. Anybody who does attend should challenge the hypocrisy.

The awful irony of no platforming someone persecuted by the Labour Party leadership at a rally meant to oppose that seems to be lost on the organisers.

To persecute those who hold that gender and sex are not the same and that people born biologically female who have lived all their lives as women in a patriarchal society have a distinct experience is unacceptable. Whether born female or male, it is not transphobic to hold that view. To regard it as anathema is wrongheaded and will do huge damage to the left.”

LWD Response to NEC Statement On Women’s Representation

With Women’s Conference deadlines announced and delegations soon to be made, with Scottish Labour MSP selections looming, women members all over the country will be seeking advice from the official Labour Party site. Labour Women’s Declaration working group is dismayed by the NEC out of date statement on All Women Shortlists, women’s officers and minimum quotas for women. https://labour.org.uk/about/how-we-work/nec-statement-women-shortlists-womens-officers-minimum-quotas-women/ It is the text of the NEC statement from 22nd May 2018. 

It is true that Labour had (past tense) a proud record of championing for women. This derived from a materialist understanding of women’s disadvantages within this culture, of the way discrimination works and how socialisation results in women’s and girls’ much lower expectations and ambitions.

The inclusion of self-identified transwomen makes a mockery of all the reasons behind these policies. It destroys affirmative action for women if any male person identifying as female is included in a group whose experience of discrimination is specific and different from that of trans-identifying people. This version of the policy has never been discussed or agreed democratically in the Party. To say that the Party will ‘deal with’ anyone subverting the intention of All Women Shortlists, women’s officers or minimum quotas for women is absurd when it is the Party itself which is subverting that intention.

We do not accept the claim that such policies are consistent with the letter and spirit of the Equality Act 2010, which quite explicitly speaks of the exceptions permitting single-sex provision as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Given the aim of building the Party’s empowerment of women in Party rôles and as MPs, it is not hard to see why the exceptions should be used.

We entirely agree that discussions should never take the form of abuse or intimidation. Sadly, the Labour Party has been entirely unwilling to act on any of the hundreds of abusive and intimidatory responses, in meetings and in online Labour forums, towards those who assert the need for women’s rights to be upheld.

The final part of the statement referring to reform not only of the Gender Recognition Act but of the Equality Act 2010 is misleading. It is not Labour Party policy. The 2019 manifesto stated the intention to “Ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.” It was that commitment that helped us to ensure that women did not leave Labour, seeing this as a clear commitment to our rights. 

How is it possible to prevent the subversion of All Women Shortlists and have a policy that anyone can self-identify as a woman? When did it become Labour Party policy to reform the Equality Act 2010, which already protects trans people on the basis of sex as well as for gender reassignment and protects women on the basis of sex? The 2019 manifesto commitment was for the single-sex exceptions in the EA2010 to be “understood and fully enforced in service provision”. We don’t need reform, we need clarity and proper implementation of current law. 

What is the NEC playing at? Surely this is out of date information (published in May 2018) and since superceded by the 2019 Manifesto. It should have been amended and not feature on the Labour Party website as a statement of current policy. It most certainly should not be foregrounded with the current Leader’s photo as some sort of ironic ‘Welcome’ statement, aimed at undermining women’s rights. In a week where Scottish Labour is producing  zipped lists that are important for female representation in politics, it is important that old policy does not remain on the official Labour Party website. We demand that the website is updated to reflect 2019 Manifesto. 

 

 

Open letter to Sir Keir Starmer MP

 

Open letter to: Sir Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Opposition

Cc: Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader

Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Secretary, Women and Equalities

From: Labour Women's Declaration

 23rd November 2020

Dear Keir,

OBJECTION TO YOUR TWEET OF INACCURATE AND OFFENSIVE VIDEO

The Labour Women’s Declaration Working Group, on behalf of over 5000 Labour Party members and supporters, objects to the video tweeted by you and also the Labour Party on 20th November, Transgender Day of Remembrance, featuring Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, incorrectly implying that trans people suffer disproportionate murder and hate crime rates in the UK.

No trans person has been murdered here in the past two years. 82% of the 350 murders mentioned were in Latin America and none were from the UK. The homicide and femicide rates in Brazil, and in particular of women and trans people driven into prostitution through poverty, are appalling and of course each victim deserves remembrance, but by presenting those figures as if they were UK based you do further disservice to those very real issues, and expose an alarming level of ignorance about them.

Angela’s video is also misleading on the issue of hate crime and fails to distinguish between hate crime and hate incidents. We would suggest the Labour Party and your Policy Officers inform themselves about the law and relevant guidance.

20th November was International Children’s Day. There are 4.2 million children in UK living in poverty (30% of our children) yet no video for them; nor were there videos on Lesbian Visibility Day, World Toilet Day, International Day for Tolerance nor National Anti-Bullying Week.

Meanwhile, the Femicide Census 2009-2018 records that 1,425 women have been murdered by men in the UK. This represents one woman every three days since 2009. This year alone, as of April, 90 deaths of women as a result of male violence have been recorded by Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of Nia  and founder of “Counting Dead Women”. The names of these women are read out in Parliament every year by one of your MPs. (We note that this is the same Karen Ingala Smith, who was rejected as a Labour Party member in February 2020, ostensibly because of hostility to “gender identity”, an expression with no definition in law.)

This Wednesday, 25th November 2020, will be International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Via @countingdeadwomen Karen will be naming every UK woman killed by a man (that she is aware of) since IDEVAW last year, 108 women so far. She will start at 8am and tweet about one woman every 5 minutes.  

Can we expect the Labour Party to release a video drawing attention to those 1425+ women who have been murdered in the UK in the last 10 years, and highlighting the urgent need for women’s refuges to be adequately funded?

Your fear-mongering and virtue-signalling are failing both trans people and women. In addition to stoking anxieties for trans people, the unfounded claims in your video have real and increasingly dangerous consequences for women. You can see clear evidence of this in the comments below your tweets which have incited those who are already bullying MP Rosie Duffield (and party members like us) to further excesses and silencing tactics of threat and hatred.

 You and the Party are failing in your Public Sector Equality Duty to foster good relations between groups protected under the Equality Act, and in your duty to safeguard your own female MPs and party members, many of whom tell us they feel unable to speak freely about women’s sex-based rights, despite the manifesto commitment to them. Here’s just another example – read what happened in a Portsmouth CLP meeting last week over a motion focussed on women’s right to speak. It is an account that clearly demonstrates that women members in our Party are actively being denied their democratic right to speak and be heard. Keir, the Labour Party has a problem that won’t go away just because you’re trying to ignore it.

For the many women members who are questioning their allegiance to the Labour Party because women’s rights appear so low on your agenda, Angela’s video, falsely identifying transgender people in the UK as being more at risk than any other group and exposing women in your party who speak up about it to yet more abuse, is chilling.

How can it be that leadership of a party with such a history of advancing and defending women’s rights can exhibit so little understanding of the issues we face? If you continue to refuse to listen to women who have offered to explain and discuss with you the conflict of rights referred to in the Equality Act, you will continue to blunder into promoting inaccurate propaganda like Friday’s video. You called for ‘more light, less heat’ but have done nothing to allow light to shine, and your video has fanned the flames of the heat.

We look forward to your response to the many requests from women’s groups like ours, including Woman’s Place UK, for a meeting with you. We also look forward to hearing you and the Deputy Leader stand up for the manifesto’s commitment to the enforcement of sex-based rights, and for women’s rights, including MPs’ rights, to discuss issues which affect us.

Nothing about us, without us. Women’s voices matter.

Yours sincerely,

Labour Women’s Declaration Working Group

LWD Webinar Video Now Available

We are pleased to announce that the video of our webinar held on 20th 0ctober 2020 is now available to watch on our YouTube channel.  Click on the link below.

Labour Women’s Declaration – Standing up for women’s rights in the Labour Party

We have also uploaded transcripts of speeches.  Please click on the links below.

How 50 years of women’s liberation led to the Labour Women’s Declaration

LWD reflect on a year of the women’s movement

A Materialist Feminist Perspective on Women’s Rights

How we can help you at constituency level

Labour Women’s Declaration Cymru – An overview of grassroots organising in Wales 

 

 

Cambridge Labour Councillor Resigns

Cambridge Labour councillor, Kevin Price resigned live during a full Cambridge Council meeting on 23rd October 2020 in protest at a motion affecting women’s rights on which women had not been consulted.

See pages 15 – 17 of the Council  Information pack for the motion being  discussed.

The amendments proposed by Labour to the LibDem motion were accepted by a vote of 30 in favour, 4 abstentions, 0 against,  1 council resignation. The amended motion was then passed by a vote of 31 in favour, 3 abstentions, 0 against, 1 council resignation.

Labour Women’s Declaration working group extends a very big thank you to Kevin Price for standing with women and defending our right to speak around sex-based rights and policies which affect us.

As one of our Labour Women’s Declaration supporters said “It is distressing to see a good socialist Labour councillor brought to the point when he can no longer tolerate the cloth-eared attitude and open misogyny espoused by a small but noisy group within the party. All power to Kevin for standing up.”

Full text of Kevin’s speech:

Trans rights are human rights.  Of course that is indisputable.  The Equality Act 2010, enacted by a Labour government, was a major step in enshrining and promoting the rights of all nine protected characteristics and no-one should have a problem in committing to defending and upholding those.  I certainly don’t.

But it is foolish to pretend that there are not widely differing views in the current debate or that many people, especially women, are concerned about the impact on women’s sex based rights from changes both legislatively and within society and who fear, not only that those rights are under threat but that they are unable to raise legitimate questions and concerns without a hostile response. The treatment of Rosie Duffield and JK Rowling has made clear that those concerns are well founded.

Indeed, I was astounded that the public information pack produced for this motion stated, in my view unbelievably for a local council document, that the council should use its own communication channels to counter ‘transphobic reporting’ in the national media. Coverage of government consultations, responses and issues around potential legislation is not transphobia but the role of journalism.

There is much in the amendment to be commended, including the commitment by the Executive Councillor to meet with women’s organisations and activists in the same way she has met with trans rights organisations and activists and I hope that she will do that as soon as possible.

Despite that, the inclusion of the first three sentences of this motion, will send a chill down the spines of the many women who believe there is a conflict of rights and who want to be be able to discuss those in a calm and evidenced based way, as indeed was shown by World Rugby in its recent decision to exclude transgender women in those areas of the sport which it controls on the grounds of safety and fairness for women.

I have been a Labour councillor for 10 years – this time around on the council – and have always thought that representing Kings Hedges, my home ward, is a privilege, along with fighting for the right of all its residents to live a life with respect and dignity in two tier Cambridge. A great part of that has been fighting for the provision of new council housing and, after the debacle of the Liberal Democrat administration dispossessing tenants and selling off council land, to lead the renewal of council house development by the City Council remains a source of great pride.

In those ten years I have never once voted against a Labour motion on this council, because I am on this council as a member of Labour Group. That is not a principle which I intend to break now.

But there are also times when principle – or conscience if you prefer – must be weighed against the pull of party. In all conscience I cannot vote for this motion or this amendment.  I have therefore decided that I am standing down as a Cambridge City Labour Councillor with immediate effect and will email the Chief Executive to confirm that on my departure from this meeting at the conclusion of these remarks.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve the people of Cambridge.

Thank you.

Watch Kevin speak here.