A book you have been waiting for!
A book that joins the dots between neoliberalism and sexism, between equal pay, war zones, the veil, The Wire, the web and welfare states…a new way of thinking about where we’re at.
A book you have been waiting for!
A book that joins the dots between neoliberalism and sexism, between equal pay, war zones, the veil, The Wire, the web and welfare states…a new way of thinking about where we’re at.
Here is a letter I’ve sent to Peter Tatchell following his bitter tirade against feminists.
I should explain: We had been in email conversation for a while, after I’d asked him, as a human rights activist, to sign (with about 200 of us) a letter to The Observer protesting against the harassment and censorship of women participating in the government’s consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. No, he didn’t want to sign it unless it specified trans rights. It was not about trans rights, It was about women’s rights to speak and organise. No, he didn’t want to sign it.
I admit, many friends and colleagues wondered, why bother? This is why: he is an emblematic figure in gay and human rights politics. That made it worth it.
He ended that dialogue when I challenged him about support for feminist campaigner Julie Bindel after the Truth to Power Cafe at the Roundhouse in October – an event to which he had been invited to participate – disinvited her. He discontinued our conversation. But he continued his public convos on Twitter, and the more he says the worse it gets.
I sent him this letter following his embarrasingly poor responses to challenges to his 1997 interview with a 14-year-old boy, ‘Lee’, and what he calls the child’s ‘affair’ and involvement in ‘the rent scene’ – what most of us would call abuse – and to his argument about consent and what he calls “sex education.”
Just let’s think abut another conversation Tatchell could have had with ‘Lee’: a boy exploited through prostitution; he could have said, ‘I’m sorry I encouraged you inappropriately, to talk about sex; I’m not qualified to do this, and I did it to service my own agenda; I should have put you in contact with someone who could have protected you; I’m sorry I didn’t. I won’t talk to a young person like this, ever again.’
He could have said, ‘i understand your difficulties, but this does not decribe being gay, it tells me that no one has taken care of you, you need a rest. Trust me, you need to be protected. Then, who knows… you might decide you are gay, wonderful; you might descide you are straight, and that’s wonderul, too. But you did not learn about being gay, or not being gay, by being abused.’
Peter did not do that, as far as we know, and that is very worrying.
Of course, Twitter doesn’t hack it, so here is an edited version of my letter – introducing the tweets and links – to Peter Tatchell.
Peter replied on 12 November – it is published below.
Of course, the hardest word is sorry, but it would be a relief – for him and the rest of us – if he could say it, and then be quiet for a while:
11 November 2018
Oh Peter, what have you done!
I’m afraid you will rue the day when you re-wrote, misquoted and misrepresented your own words after you were confronted with your opinions on adult-child sex and your tirade against feminists.
You will of course deny sexism and support for paedophilia. But feminists of many hues, ethnicities, ages and orientations will have read your tweets with horror and sorrow.
Here is your tweet against ‘white feminists’
It is you who are so wrong.
Among my most vivid political memories is a massive public meeting in Croydon in defence of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose case had been taken up in 1989 by Southall Black Sisters, who were supported by Justice for Women. She had been brutalised by her husband and then imprisoned for killing him. We heard her taped voice from prison. It was searing. The meeting was attended by black and white feminists. I know because I was one of the speakers.
Justice for Women, founded by Harriet Wistrich (Liberty lawyer of the year) and Julie Bindel – both white lesbians – has always campaigned with and for black women. Clearly, you appear to be unaware that Southall Black Sisters and Justice for Women – among the most robust and innovative organisations to emerge from the Women’s Liberation Movement – have worked together for decades.
Or more recently, perhaps, do you know that black and white women have worked together to drag the criminal justice, and social services systems to support girls enduring abuse and exploitation by both black and white men. Rhetorical question – I don’t think you do.
You complain that white feminists weren’t on your demos or at your meetings – that’s hardly surprising and it is of no significance. The point is you weren’t with them.
I don’t want to enter a defence of ‘white women’ in response to your slurs. Racism – like sexism – is ubiquitous. But I suggest that you need to check your history and your motives.
Your misanthropy is compounded by vanity, the litany of complaint, sometimes aired minute by minute in your tweets, that your words get edited and therefore do not express what you wanted to say.
But then you edited yourself. Your trail of tweets accusing feminists of ‘too busy demonising trans people as a threat to women. So wrong!’ had gone too far. So, you cut out the nasty smear in subsequent tweets on the same theme using the same photograph.
However, be assured – we saw it, we read it and we remember it. That sentiment was in your head. I believe that it expresses what you feel and think. Show us if we are wrong, but it appears that condemning feminism in your defence of trans rights has become de rigeur.
By the way, the feminists who are your targets have not and do not oppose trans rights. We are not anti-trans. We are feminists trying to clarify the muddle and rubbish about sex/gender, and we are merely trying to defend the Equality Act’s provisions/protections and sex-segregated spaces/resources, e.g. women’s prisons, women’s refuges and abuse services, women’s short-lists, women’s representation.
I asked you if you would stand up for Julie Bindel after she was ‘dis-invited’ by the organiser of the Truth to Power Café at the Roundhouse. You didn’t defend her and you didn’t reply to me: I fact you accused me of making false allegations and then decided to end the conversation.
Abuse and exploitation
Women and men will read with similar horror and sorrow your rather deceptive re-writing of your own words on paedophilia (not a term I use – it softens the intentions and impact of abusers).
You are now caught in an inescapable convergence, your reputation is in grave danger. It may already have been lost.
In the renewed flurry of concern about your defence of child-adult sex over many years, you have edited what you wrote in the 1990s. There is something unseemly in your brittle rebuke to feminists reminding you – in the hope that you might show that you have learned something – of your tolerance of adults’ sexual relationships with children.
You invoke in your defence, your letter to The Guardian in the 1990s rebuking Ros Coward for her critique of the pro-paedophile book Dares to Speak. What you now claim is that what you then wrote was: ‘it is “impossible to condone paedophilia”.’
But that is a con.
What you actually wrote on 26 June 1997 was, ‘it may be impossible to condone paedophilia’.
On 1 July 1997 what you claimed you had written was that ‘paedophilia “is impossible to condone”.’
Why change it ‘may be’ to it ‘is’?
This is sneaky semantics: you change the words and relocate the direct quotation marks, and what this achieves is to declare certainty where you had expressed ambivalence.
For a forensic chronicle of the episode check out yourself – and your critics – in the indispensable Spotlight on Abuse: https://spotlightonabuse.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/peter-tatchell-and-dares-to-speak/
It is chastening read.
Then, in the letter to The Guardian, you go on to defend sexual relationships between children and adults by arguing that the children liked it, found joy, and said they weren’t harmed. So, which is it – possible, or impossible to condone sex between adults and children?
The interview with ‘Lee”
Now, to your purported ‘interview in 1997 with the boy called ‘Lee’, which is still up on your website. You have not reflected upon it or repudiated it. It is a culpable accommodation of abuse. Here is a child, involved in sex at eight years old, in care and, by his own account, involved in prolific sexual activity, including anal penetration, and being exploited by adult men through prostitution – you call it the ‘rent scene’.
There is no word in that interview that conveys the shudder many of us have felt reading it. Nothing to indicate that you were worried that this boy was in danger, or that you sought to get him professional assistance and protection. We are left with the inevitable inference that you regarded his way of life as a ‘life-style choice’ – the term used by the authorities in Rotherham and other cities in the last decade to judge girls who were being snared, abused and exploited by gangs of men.
What is the difference between those girls and ‘Lee’? What is the difference between your thinking then and now? There has been a mighty body of research and literature since the 1970s exposing how children’s perceptions of adults’ sexual interest in them is framed by adults’ agenda. You don’t acknowledge it.
Part of our shared history (gay men and gay women, aka lesbians, women and men generally of a certain age) is the moment when child abuse and exploitation was put back on the political agenda in the 1980s.
Why is this important now? Because gays have always been vilified and traduced as paedophiles.
Some men in churches and children’s homes mobilised a gay alibi to cover child sexual abuse. Historically, that alibi completely compromised male homosexuality, and even now it is a smear to which some gay men’s ideologies lend currency. That’s why many of us are so worried by what you have written.
I’m not suggesting, in any way at all, that you have a sexual interest in children. But there is a but: You do not seem to appreciate why you are discredited by this advocacy. The alibi has been explicitly condemned by independent experts and by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – go along to IICSA some time, Peter, listen and learn from the narratives of horrible childhoods in the 1980s and 1990s.
Following your letter to the Guardian in the 1990s, there was a raft of responses that anyone else might have taken very seriously: the child abuse lawyer Richard Scorer, a key figure in the current Independent Inquiry, Valerie Howarth, director of Childline; Marjorie Orr, whose monitoring of the terrain, Accuracy About Abuse, was a key resource throughout the 1990s.
You seem to have ignored them. That’s why people who prioritise children’s safety and wellbeing are not reassured by your blether about ‘I campaign against child abuse’. Give us the evidence.
When you have been reproached by feminists – and Julie Bindel has been challenging you for years – you re-iterate a narcissistic bleat that your letters/comments/positions have been edited and that you have been misrepresented.
The vital thing in all of this is power: that’s the word that is missing from your children-and-sex commentaries.
And if you want to know why feminists (and indeed many men) keep reminding you of your position it is because they know something about child sexual abuse – as an abuse of power – and you seem not to. You proclaim your own sex education work (about which many of us have some concerns) whilst you ignore the campaign to reform sex and relationship education by a consortium of more than 50 women’s organisations, co-ordinated by End Violence Against Women.
Just so that you know, this is not to accuse you of paedophilia, it is, however, to say that won’t let go of a discredited libertarian tolerance that places you in proximity to advocates of paedophilia.
Of course, the hardest word is sorry, but it would be a relief – for you and the rest of us – if you could say it, and then be quiet for a while.
12 November 2018
Peter Tatchell sent this response:
Thank you. And yes, of course, would welcome any discussion or debate.
These are some of the thoughts I shared with a splendid gathering in Melbourne, We Revolt At Dawn, organised by the Search Foundation and the Victoria Women’s Trust, on 9 November
Let’s begin with bodies…we wake, we are ashamed and afraid; it feels awkward, creepie in a way, to be in our skin, we don’t belong to ourselves. Humans never do, of course, we belong to air and the soil, and if we are lucky we are held by love. But for some of us, sometimes day in day out, we are entombed in the memory of that man.
There are 1.3 million people in the UK who emerged from childhood having been sexually abused by the time they reach 18, according to the Children’s Commissioner’s Report, Protecting Children from Harm.
Abuse and harassment is always on the horizon.
Then there are the people who go to work expecting to work, only to find themselves snared, by a man, that man.
A man, perhaps a man like Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, wakes and he knows what he wants: you! He plans his position, his props, the environment. He anticipates the predicable pleasures: he loses some, he wins some, it doesn’t matter which because he enjoys the choreography, the risk, the anticipation and finally the look on a your face when he opens the door, when you see him and shock is written all over your face.
I’m guessing this, because I don’t know what’s in his head.
He never needs to tell us, and no doubt he never will.
One morning, however, this corporate prince discovers that he is accused, and he uses his vast resources to do what powerful men have done forever, find a way of making a woman (or a child) suffer in silence, to make her feel shame and to shut up. Shame, we know, is the greatest gag. Most of the time he wins.
When a corporate prince finds himself accused – this, it is reported, is what Weinstein did – he employs the best sleuths he can afford to find out everything about the women who are talking about him, to make them shut up
He doesn’t just threaten them, slap an injunction on them, terrify them, he makes them spend money they haven’t got to defend themselves. He might even pay out to pay off. But it’s never enough.
He does more, he finds out about them, he delves into their lives, he wants to know all about them in order to control them.
The first strategy is to make their bodies serve his and become subordinate to his, in a context, a space, that is controlled by him, or a space that is what Prof Liz Kelly calls conducive context.
That manoeuvre is compounded by another: to stealth bomb their lives, leaving people unable to trust anyone, to spy, know stuff that’s none of his business; all a way to have them, control them, to silence them.
The hacking scandal exposed the way the Murdoch press seized control of private lives by knowing stuff and leaking stuff that wasn’t secret, it was just private.
On both of these fronts we were witnessing corporate patriarchy at work
But one dawn a woman called Rose McGowan woke ready for revolutionary action. She did that most radical thing: not shut up, tell her story and call a corporate king to account.
The effect has been electrifying: women, and now some men, have taken control of the body discourse. The old story told by so many men for so long is exposed and all over the world sexual harassment is broadcast as no joke but as a strategy of bodily dominion.
I was sitting in an airport the other day, on my way to Australia, talking about all this with a bloke who sat next to me. In his seemingly genial way he started a conversation. What was I doing in Oz, he said, I was doing a talking tour, I explained, about feminism, and socialism.
‘I’m a feminist, I love women,’ he said.
‘But you know some of those women knew what they were doing,’ he said, ‘didn’t they, I mean they went into those rooms, they agreed, surely they knew….’
‘Did they?’ I asked. ‘What could they have known? And doing what they had to do was not the same as doing what they wanted to do. Did any of them want to do what he demanded?’
As feminism would have it, you can’t consent to something unless you can withhold your consent.
Why, I wondered, was this the first thing he had to say about the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey?
The last thing I want to say – for the moment – is this: I don’t know any women who have not been sexually harassed. We know that the culture industries harbour harassment, they have been conducive contexts. Now they’re saying they’re not. Just like that.
But patriarchies solicit women’s subordination and participation, and of course interpret women’s submission as consent.
So, the question is: how do the cultural industry institutions know that they are no longer conducive contexts? What have they done? Have they created a conducive context for women to share their secrets, to describe how all this stuff happens, to name the guilty men to someone, and for the guilty men to disclose their Modus Operandi? And how do these agencies know, all of a sudden, that the men who are sexually harassing women right now – or allowing men to do it – will stop?
I think the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport should find out.
Would anyone think it was a question worth asking, whether the Prime Minister is a boy job or a girl job after Britain’s experience of Margaret Thatcher?
Her premiership bewitched and bothered her many critics, they couldn’t resist representing her premiership as manly – Fluck and Law’s great puppet satire, Spitting Image clothed her in a man’s suit and even went so far as to have her in a men’s urinal.
Entertaining, of course. But it missed the ghastly genius of Thatcher: it was to eschew the very word equality. She did gender, of course, but she didn’t like talking about it, and she refused to do feminism.
She could go to war, mount a tank wearing handbag and chiffon scarf; she could be the domestic bursar, clean out the cupboards, make a fry-up for her colleagues – things no male Prime Minister had been seen doing.
Her frocks and bows, headscarves and handbags were the feminine props of a patriarchal political discourse that launched accelerating inequalities, year on year, thereafter.
It was a modus operandi that liberated Thatcher from the personal politics of equality and engaging with the great women’s movements that helped her get the top job.
How? Because she performed femininity and more-than masculinity. Although Thatcher is no model for May, the apparent paradox of Thatcher’s thoroughly gendered premiership works well for her.
What we know is that Thatcher didn’t really do housework. The Thatchers had a housekeeper. Her relationship to her children was somewhat regal – they were allowed into her presence during afternoons at home; and then they were packed off to boarding school.
What did May think she was doing on the BBC’s One Show this week? In the guaranteed absence of any challenge to her political agenda, it was undoubtedly designed to humanise May before the June general election by bringing on her husband and delving into private pleasure and power, gender and domestic divisions of labour.
Phillip May was asked if she was a tough negotiator over domestic tasks – no doubt implying that he might be up against a brick wall; after all she seeks our mandate as a hard-as-hulk Brexit negotiator.
He revealed that he got to decide when not if he put the bins out. So, not much wriggle room.
Then Theresa May helpfully reminded us: ‘there’s boy jobs and girl jobs, you see’. He said he did the traditional boy jobs. So what are May’s girl jobs? Everything else? She didn’t say.
Phillip explained that a man who expected his tea on the table might be a ‘little disappointed’ by Theresa. But he isn’t, he appeared devoted. However, his bins vignette showed him to be not New Man but Old Man.
Time Use surveys show that over the last three decades British men’s contribution to the domestic division of labour has changed significantly, more men do more than boy jobs, and men generally do more: from 20 minutes a day to 53 minutes a day.(See my book End of Equality)
Phillip May doesn’t even seem do that.
Women do much more than men – 146 minutes a day. Theresa May didn’t reveal how much time she spends on domestic labour, but you can bet it won’t be 146 minutes.
May’s silence about the girl jobs was indicative – it was what she didn’t say that revealed as much as her one silly sentence.
Like most top-earner couples, the Mays probably don’t actually do much domestic labour at all. The highest-paid may still do boy jobs and girl jobs but they depend on a third category: the help who does most of the jobs.
Ms May still needs to answer the question: is being Prime Minister a boy job or a girl job? And if it is neither, how come the Mays can’t manage in private what she can manage in public?
Why didn’t they be normal – rather than pretending normal – and help the feminist conversation by sharing the sheer difficulty of getting even the most devoted of men to do domestic democracy?
The pity is that Theresa May, who says she is a feminist seems unable to show it.
I’m writing to you to support the Library’s invitation to Julie Bindel to speak about being a young working class lesbian. It was a smart and bold invitation, and I’m aware that you have attracted a great deal of hostility as a result. You may feel taken aback and shocked, but you should be aware that for every protest there are likely to be many more people supporting your invitation.
You will know, I’m sure, that good, calm, stalwart and unobtrusive stewarding is the key to contexts like this, to protect everyone’s safety and good manners, and to ensure that everyone who wants to participate peacefully is able to do so.
May I share some of my own experience with you — in the hope that it might encourage you to withstand the hostility.
I have been involved in working class, progressive politics all my adult life and I have received many awards and honours for my writing. I came out as gay in my early 20s — in the 1970s — and like many other gay people I have felt over the past few years that what was once an open, inclusive, exhilarating politics, which has been spectacularly successful in advancing gay rights, has become overwhelmed by a toxic element of trans activism, a campaign of authoritarian silencing in the name of ’safe space’. Many gay activists, particularly women, are now deeply alienated. Some years ago I wrote an article in the Guardian opposing the NUS no-platforming of Julie Bindel.
I should say that she is a friend, I’ve known her since the 1980s when I made a TV documentary on battered women who kill their assailants, and since Justice for Women and Southall Black Sisters campaigned successfully for the release of Kiranjit Aluwhalia.
Julie Bindel is one of the founders of Justice for Women, a pathbreaking movement supporting women who live with violence, and an enduring campaigner against violence and sexual exploitation of women, and for gay rights.
We have disagreed about many things — not least the Green Party, for whom I’ve been a local and Parliamentary candidate. But I would go to great lengths to defend her right to write and speak and, just as important, for people’s opportunity to hear her in person and to challenge her. She is always interesting, adroit and sometimes very witty and, yes, offensive.
I support the Index on Censorship approach to this: there is no right to not be offended.
During the 2010 General Election, trans gender friends in the Green Party alerted me to some trans activist threats to picket me at hustings — they offered to attend the hustings in the event of trouble. There was no trouble, those making the threat never turned up.
In the last couple of years the movement to no-platform people who are against the sexual exploitation of women, who support the ’Nordic model’, or who have a critique of some trans positions on gender, have also found themselves being subjected to harassment.
It was in response to this that myself and Prof Deborah Cameron (also a working class lesbian, by the way) organised a letter to The Observer opposing no platforming. The 130+ signatories included people who are transgender, and who have been involved in prostitution.
This was repudiated by another letter the following week, initiated by Sara Ahmed.
I suggested to a couple of publications — a progressive Oxbridge journal, and a lesbian magazine — that they host a round table to air the issues. My contact on the Oxbridge journal rejected the idea on the grounds that it was universities’ duty to provide students with a safe space, a ‘home’ away from home. The lesbian magazine editor rejected the proposal — the editor, very committed to trans people, admitted to me that she was afraid.
I also wrote a couple of letters to the London Review of Books in response to a long feature by Jacqueline Rose which had failed to address these controversies, and which did not engage with trans activists who do not support no platforming, and who have a critique of some trans people’s theories of gender:
Here is another link that includes references to some other very interesting contributions:
You may, of course, not be interested in all of this. You may disagree with me.
But whatever your position on trans gender debates might be, there are vital ethical and political issues at stake here for all of us:
The claim that critique or analysis or debate amount to ‘killing’ is an abuse of language.
And what is being suppressed by no-platforming is not only the right to speak, but other people’s right to listen, to participate and to challenge.
It has taken centuries of heroic effort for oppressed and marginalised people to find their voices; Julie Bindel is one of those voices; the Library is a monument to those efforts and to its founders, Ruth and Eddie Frows’ commitment to honouring them.
Please don’t be afraid. Be brave, be normal, keep on doing what you do so well — showing the richness of working class life and struggles.
Yours in solidarity
What would it take for the biggest political party in Western Europe to be accorded a bit of respect?
Will the mass media reports from the Labour Party conference be the same when the membership tops 750,000? Or a million?
What does the Labour Party have to do to get taken itself taken seriously?
And what has happened to our political discourse that when democracy is exercised it is traduced as a kind of dictatorship?
In an otherwise thoughtful column by The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley describes the outcome of Labour’s second leadership election campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s increased share of and increased vote as a coronation.
It wasn’t a coronation, it was an election.
He was not crowned, he was elected.
No sooner had he won overwhelmingly, than a queue of discontented MPs were lined up to protest.
This is an example of what the political and cultural scholar, Prof Jeremy Gilbert describes as the ‘anti-democratic discourse’ of what passes for political commentary.
Hilary Benn recycled his anti-Corbyn plea for military intervention in the Middle East – as if staking out a lonely pitch for himself as a Churchillian anti-appeasement, anti-fascist leader in waiting;
Anti Corbyn Louise Ellman was everywhere; Chukka Umanna re-iterated his cautions against de-selection of MPs…same old voices, same old complaints…endless laments that Corbyn is unelectable…
Will they still be rehearsing these lines if and when Labour Party membership – excited by the prospect of a social democratic political project for the first time in three decades – hits 1 million?
Will they rebuke the party members if and when they mobilise actual, active resistance to the Tories’ neo-liberal strategy?
Why? Because they can’t stop themselves: they are fighting for their political lives. Not because they are menaced by a de-selecting mob, but because most of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been shaped by New Labour and it our doesn’t know what else to do. It has been chosen and trained by New Labour; it has been disciplined by New Labour, and by its biblical belief that there is no alternative, that Labour’s adoption of the neo-liberal global settlement is not only Peter Mandelson’s failed Third Way, it is the Only Way.
The surprising dullness of candidates challenging Corbyn during the first leadership election campaign, and their performance since then, is indicative — it is a kind of mute inability to connect with the impact of 2008 and the neo-liberal implosion; it renders them the living dead.
The decline and fall of political journalism, its cloistered internment on Westminster Green, its symbiotic dependence upon the tenants of the raggy palace across the road, produces gossip as a proxy for analysis.
It worked well with a party leadership that controlled the commentariat much as it controlled the party. But it doesn’t work when the membership itself is taking everyone — including itself — by surprise.
I once described New Labour as a kind of anti-party party — an organisation run by people who didn’t like its members, a project that preferred an audience to a membership. That era has been extinguished by the rush to join up and join in.
Hence Corbyn’s critics’ strange obsession with the new mass membership as a ‘movement’ rather than a ‘party’. Prof Jeremy Gilbert has written an adroit critique of this polarisation.
Movement and party are not irreconcilable — exemplified by the Green Party which is both a movement and a party. The rise of radical anti-austerity movements across Europe and Scandinavia, Podemos, Syriza and the pirate parties, are simultaneously movements and parties.
You can have effective movements that aren’t political parties — feminism is the exemplar: movements, ideas, campaigns that don’t have an address, a political energy and imagination that is not tethered to a place or time.
Civil rights movements in the US, Northern Ireland and South Africa operated within and beyond the boundaries of parties.
But as Labour needs to know by now: you can’t have successful mass parties that aren’t also movements.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, transgender debates have got — if not worse exactly, then — nastier.
The description ’transphobic’ has been thrown at the Morning Star newspaper for running debates on transgender themes.
Actually, the paper is with the zeitgeist, consistently publishing positive reports on transgender people’s rights — as well as trans and feminist debates and differences. It is hard to imagine a ‘straight’ paper less deserving of the slur.
It is an index of just how hot this is that a mighty 300 people have signed a letter supporting the paper and repudiating the ‘phobe’ attack.
Transgender campaigns for recognition have been stunningly successful. Laws have been changed, minds and bodies and cultures are being changed; characters appear in successful TV series, from Coronation Street to Orange is the New Black….and transwomen have become stars:
Bruce Jenner’s re-incarnation as Caitlyn Jenner gets a Vanity Fair cover and an American Glamour Women of the Year award.
I’m not talking to you
And yet, and yet…. amidst these triumphs there is a wave of bullying that, in the name of of sympathy for trans people’s suffering and struggles out of marginalisation, seeks to whip, so to say, public debate into submission.
In this context, Miranda Yardley is a rare voice: a regular contributor to the great convo, including in the Morning Star, and a robust and rigorous advocate of feminism and the specifics of transsexualism, with much to say about the state of transgender politics.
She has exposed how the no-platforming of feminists alleged to be ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’ is bleeding into the transgender community itself.
Paris Lees has one of the highest profiles in the transgender pantheon. Here are some of Paris Lees’ contributions to these great debates.
Murder, mayhem and minding your words
Prof. Sarah Ahmed is an exponent of the ‘you are killing me/us…’ discourse.
And here is her passionate no platforming piece.
In May the New Statesman and the London Review of Books published two long, wide and deeply thoughtful pieces on transgender themes by two smart public intellectuals and writers on gender, Sarah Ditum and Jacqueline Rose:
Sarah Ditum, the Staggers’ witty, always reflective columnist.
Jacqueline Rose, an LRB regular, Professor of Humanities at Birkbeck, a questing, often elegantly ambivalent writer.
My own participation is concerned with censorship, no platforming and the silencing of debate and dissent.
No to no-platforming
This is my response to comments on no platforming in the otherwise subtle essay by Jacqueline Rose:
‘I am pretty sure that, were I transsexual, I wouldn’t want [Germaine] Greer on any platform of mine,’ Jacqueline Rose writes (LRB, 5 May). But she isn’t transsexual and public platforms don’t belong to her, or to transsexuals or to anyone else: they belong to the collective we – the public. Public platforms aren’t places for chats between pals. They exist in a forum where we, the public, get to hear people, be in their presence, listen, learn, call them to account; a forum where we get to join in public conversation, where we do politics.
Rose understands that of course, and she states her position: ‘I tend to be opposed to no-platforming.’ But she sets Greer up as the demonic person who goes too far, who breaches Rose’s own tendency and warrants banishment. Greer is an easy target. Her opinions on transgender issues are described as ‘hateful’. ‘Hate’ and ‘phobia’ are part of the hyperbolic lexicon of trans debates. Another pioneering feminist activist, Julie Bindel, has been declared ‘vile’ and no-platformed in resolutions affirming trans rights passed by conferences of the National Union of Students. Bindel is cheeky, irreverent and occasionally offensive. She is also an adroit campaigner for justice for the most marginalised and maligned women. But the NUS does not allow students to hear her in person, or to be heard by her.
That is why the no-platforming of feminists in the name of trans sensibilities is so toxic: it not only silences some feminist voices and purges legitimate feminist discourse from some public platforms, it excludes students themselves from active participation, from challenging and changing their own and other people’s minds. I once invited an NUS women’s officer to debate that ban in public. No, she said. So, a feminist is consigned to the NUS proscribed list, along with neo-fascists.
More recently I suggested that one of Britain’s leading gay journals – I won’t name and shame – host a round-table. No, they said. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Are you frightened?’ Yes, they said. I suggested the same thing to an Oxbridge political journal. No, they didn’t think they would or could, they said, because university must be a safe space, like home. As if every home is safe! As if debate is dangerous.
I should declare an interest: Jacqueline and I are old friends, we have enjoyed agreeing and disagreeing with each other for years. But I find myself foxed: why in 15,000 words is Greer’s purported hatefulness flagged, but not the bullying that flays feminism? The sexual revolution wrought by feminist and gay activism has, of course, changed the political landscape in which trans lives can be lived. It co-exists with the commodification of gender archetypes and the reinstatement of seemingly polarised and parodic masculinities and femininities. All of this can be aired in feminist forums and, say, Mumsnet, but not in trans/feminist discourse in the NUS.
As I write, up pops the following notification from ‘youngradfems’:
Unfortunately we’ve had to take down the post ‘how I became a cis-privileged shitlord’ because the author was scared of being outed as a DISGUSTING TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] BITCH if her fellow students found out about her radical feminist views. Yet another example of radical feminist young women being bullied into silence.
The NUS impulse to no-platform feminists who problematise transsexualism or prostitution, who attract the abusive designation ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’ (they often go together), has migrated to other venues and organisations.
In February 2015 Deborah Cameron and I gathered more than 130 signatures to a letter published in the Observer opposing no-platforming and the stifling of debate. Rose was not one of them. It was provoked by the Bindel ban, new purges, and threats to feminist students and to the comedian Kate Smurthwaite at Goldsmiths (she has expressed support for the ‘Nordic model’ – criminalising the purchase of sex); it also referred to the Germaine Greer kerfuffle, and the ugly harassment of the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read. He’d written a philosophical essay on transgender and feminist issues in 2013 but two years later he was subjected to a public thrashing. People threatened to picket his election appearances as a Green Party candidate. ‘There are few things more conservative,’ Sarah Brown, a transgender former LibDem councillor in Cambridge, wrote about Read, ‘than the view that trans people are dirty perverts who shouldn’t be indulged in our supposed delusion, that sex workers are wanton harlots who are certainly to be discouraged, and that masturbation is some kind of social ill that needs eradicating.’
Read, of course, held no such opinions. But that didn’t matter. Following relentless attacks on social media, including death threats, and with the Green Party itself thoroughly spooked, Read had to ‘retract’ things that he had never said in the first place. Brown, a leading trans activist, had form, a talent for spite. In a public riposte to a fellow Cambridge councillor, she wrote: ‘I invite you to suck my formaldehyde pickled balls.’ This field is bloodied with ‘hatefulness’.
Our ‘no to no-platforming’ Observer letter said: ‘You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.’ The signatories included scholars and activists, transsexuals, people for and against prostitution united by commitment to democratic debate and opposition to no-platforming.
One of the signatories was Mary Beard. She – like Deborah and I – didn’t know what all the signatories thought about the contested issues, but the day after the letter appeared she wrote on her blog that they included ‘many I am proud to be next to: Nimko Ali, Peter Tatchell, Lisa Appignanesi, Melissa Benn, Caroline Criado-Perez, Catherine Hall, Gia Milinovich, Sophie Scott, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, and loads more. Hardly the forces of gender darkness, unless you are a real reactionary.’ Yet, she continued,
since the letter was posted on the Guardian website … I have been bombard[ed] by tweets … I got sixty tweets in the space of about an hour from one person alone … Last night I went to bed wanting to weep … It wasn’t the force of any remark, it was the relentless pummelling of attack on the basis of extraordinary loaded, sometimes quite wrong, readings of the letter … You can see why a lot of women (and there is a gender issue here) might choose not to put their heads above the parapet.
Peter Tatchell was also bombarded – all the more galling for him because he is a strong advocate of trans people and sex workers. Many responses, he wrote, ‘were hateful and abusive: homo, foreigner, misogynist, paedophile, nutter and so on. Others were threatening: “I would like to tweet about your murder you f*cking parasite.”’ The pioneering trans campaigner Stephen Whittle blogged: ‘I was astonished to discover that those social justice campaigners, Peter Tatchell and Mary Beard, among others, had become the latest attack of the twittering trans-sirens.’ Was this ‘vicious streak’, he wondered, the ‘death of the inclusive, tolerant trans community’? The answer seems to be yes.
Sara Ahmed, professor in race and cultural studies at Goldsmiths, is adamant: ‘There cannot be a dialogue when some at the table are in effect or intent arguing for the elimination of others at the table.’ But speaking is not the same as pointing a gun, as Whittle reminds us. Ahmed organised a group response to our Observer letter, published in the paper a week later: ‘We do not agree that freedom of speech is freedom to speak unaccountably.’ But NUS no-platforming does, precisely, prevent speaking accountably: it not only proscribes speech but students’ active participation – in hearing and, crucially, being heard.
Feminism is nothing if not a politics that problematises gender and the construction of masculinities and femininities; it is bound to get into ‘gender trouble’. Who knows whether ‘What is a woman?’ is a feminist question or a patriarchal conundrum? Transsexuals, including Kate Bornstein and Miranda Yardley, for example, have put these questions on the trans agenda.
If feminism can’t make gender trouble then it can’t talk about anything, indeed it is silenced by Ahmed’s authoritarian notion of ‘dialogue’: language loses meaning and politics is shot.
Beverley, East Riding
Vera Baird begins her rather remarkable book about her first term as Northumbria’s elected Police and Crime Commissioner with a story about rape.
That is unusual enough — policing sexual violence is rarely the priority in populist narratives about law and order.
But Baird is not the usual police commissioner.
The job was invented by the Conservatives to replace elected police authorities. Labour reluctantly participated in the 2010 election of Police and Crime Commissioners in 41 constabularies: six women were elected and 35 men, and Baird was one of them (on a slightly higher than the average low 15 per cent average turnout).
Whilst not necessarily a believer in the new system — it was a manoeuvre to further eviscerate local government — she is recognised as one of the most focused, novel and effective: an exemplar of how to be a Police Commissioner.
What she doesn’t deliver in this really useful little book is a gung ho account of crime figures going up, or down. What she does do, however, is place gendered violence at the centre of policing priorities for community law and order, peace and security.
Tyneside police were scalded by the public response to the fate of the young woman raped that night in 2013 in the midst of Newcastle’s fabled party culture.
Baird reports how a club doorman walked a very drunk teenager to a taxi after she’d been excluded from the club; she’d lost her pals, she was stranded, and she was so intoxicated that the doorman accepted the help of a man passing by.
He left her with this man without making sure that she was safe. She wasn’t. Some taxis refused to take her, the man raped her in a corner — noticed by other people out on the town that night — and then toured round the city passing her around other men until, writes Baird, ‘she finally “came to” in a car park with someone on top of her and fled to a club where a couple called the police.’
The girl’s fate and the response of the club door staff provoked outrage in the city. It changed things.
It was Newcastle’s good fortune to have vigorous feminist networks who launched a public protest and, unusually, two women heading up policing: Vera Baird and Chief Constable Sue Sim. Both understood not only the danger of sexual crime but its implications for crime and public safety generally.
Newcastle is a fabled party city; communities of razzlers and revellers are the new ‘flaneurs’ who hit the streets and lubricate the city centre’s flouring night time economy.
But that night in 2013, writes Baird, ‘the shocking persistence’ with which the men ‘had toted her around for hours appeared to forestall any victim-blaming against her and was so disturbing that it demanded a new approach to dealing with people when they are vulnerable through drink.’
Thus began a quiet revolution in community policing.
The problem began with door staff whose priority was ‘protecting a single set of premises from trouble, with no thought of what might befall the young woman once she had been removed.’
What did befall her was a night of multiple rapes. But door staff training included no reference to a duty of care to the public and ‘no training about predatory men.’
Two of perpetrators were arrested — they were identified on CCTV coverage.
However, the case pointed not only at rape culture and door staff indifference, but to the police: people had complained to officers patrolling the city that night about what was happening in that corner: sex with a helpless woman who could hardly stand or speak — and therefore could not consent to anything.
This was brushed aside after the man persuaded the police that they were a couple.
So, everything was wrong.
Baird describes how she pulled together the police, club managers, community safety staff, women’s networks and businesses to work with Tyneside Rape Crisis Centre on a safety strategy for the city.
That’s what makes her book, ‘Headlines from the First Three Years’ so salient: it is not only an account of a strategic attack on men’s violence against women, but a ‘how to’ guide to making the night time economy safer and making institutions take more responsibility.
Baird re-visits research on the lamentable response of police generally – with some honourable exceptions – to the reform of Britain’s laws on sexual assault and violence against women.
Baird, of course, drove the reform of the sexual offences legislation when she was Solicitor General in the last Labour government.
One of its most significant changes was the requirement that men secure consent for sex and that women have to be capable of giving it.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has published several reports showing that police culture has shown itself resistant to the reform of gendered crime — and that’s what makes this book so pertinent.
It is not only strong on gender – which you would expect from a feminist Police Commissioner — but on how and why gender is important to understanding perpetrators, victims — including all victims of violence — more generally, and why that enhances the administration of justice generally.
Ireland prepares to surprise itself in the 2016 election to its Dail (parliament) on 26th February — an election in which, like elsewhere in Europe, smaller parties are expected to gain votes.
Sinn Fein can no longer be described as one of the smaller parties. It expects to significantly increase its presence.
But some who wanted to make this the worst possible campaign for Sinn Fein’s leader Gerry Adams, who led his party into the peace process that ended 30 years of armed conflict in Northern Ireland.
On the English side of the Irish Sea there was a bit of bilious talk: the man was a scumbag who covered up sexual abuse by his brother Liam when he first learned of it in 1987.
It was then that his niece told him of his brother’s sexual abuse, and it was then that he discovered how his father, a well-known Republican campaigner, had abused some of his own 10 children.
More than a decade later Adams made a remarkable television announcement exposing his father and explaining the devastation wrought in his large extended family.
“I was almost 50,” he said when he learned of the abuse, “everybody was coming at this at different speeds and from different perspectives.”
He’d always wanted to go public — he was, after all, a globally iconic figure and a person allowed few private confidences.
Finally his brother Liam Adams was jailed for 16 years last year after losing an appeal against his conviction.
Gerry Adams isn’t a scumbag, and he didn’t cover it up, he tried to manage it.
What we know about child sexual abuse is that it blows families and people apart.
This side of the Irish Sea it is easy to hate the IRA and Sinn Fein — the Establishment has waged war on Republicanism, after all, forever.
You don’t have to be a Republican yourself to know that all of our engagements with its politics have to be mindful of that history, and our place in it.
Even Adams’ enemies acknowledge that he is a dignified, discreet, strategic — though, of course, imperfect — political leader who helped get his movement out of the mire into the political light.
Of course, there is dirt in his story — it was a very dirty war.
He didn’t cover up the abuse, he acknowledged it; when his niece Aine told him in 1987, he tried to manage it. He may not have managed it very well.
In England in 1987 the government launched the first and longest public inquiry into sexual abuse in Cleveland, a county in the north east of England.
We are talking about 1987, who addressed sexual abuse well?
Of course he made mistakes. However, he didn’t cover it up he tried to manage it.
What seems to have happened is that he confronted his brother; Liam was sent over the border to Dundalk — hiding place of many Republicans, where no doubt it was felt that people would keep an eye on him.
In 1987, lest we forget, how many people knew that a man who abused his own daughter would be capable of abusing other children, boys and girls?
In 1987 it was inconceivable that Adams could have gone to the police in Belfast.
Adams had already survived attempts on his life; the British were fiercely resisting an equality agenda — the MacBride Principles — initiated by human rights and feminist activists as a way through the political impasse.
The paramilitary organisations were trying to come up with a peace plan in the mid-1980s. But in 1987 the British sent Brian Nelson, an agent in the Orange/loyalist UDA to South Africa to acquire an arms cache that was then distributed among the loyalist paramilitary organisations.
The British — MI5 and the Army — re-tooled and modernised the intelligence delivered to the UDA so that it could more effectively target Republicans. We are talking about death squads.
In 1989 they killed the human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
If you don’t believe me, check out John Ware’s Panorama programmes on Brian Nelson and the death squads and the British security services; check out British Irish Rights Watch evidence to the British and Irish governments; check out the evidence that the British security state also ran the Republicans’ own internal security system.
Check out Martin Ingram’s book Stakeknife. Stakeknife is the code name for Fred Scappaticci — more stories will be emerging this year of his terrifying role as the architect of spectacular brutality, on behalf of Britain’s security services.
That was Adams’ world. That was everybody’s world actually, a world in which no nationalist or republican could conceivably take their troubles to the police — the RUC — they just couldn’t and didn’t.
There was no hope of justice for women or children in those communities.
In Britain we aren’t in a war zone, and 90 per cent of us still don’t take our experience of rape or child sexual abuse to the police.
In Northern Ireland the police and criminal justice system was not safe for 100 per cent of women and children.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans began to organise alternatives to the police and to the informal horrors of rough justice: punishment beatings. They set up restorative justice schemes and enlisted independent mediators.
But they knew — and I talked to them about this at the time — that restorative justice was not an appropriate mechanism for men’s intimate sexual oppression, abuse and domestic violence.
Femimists in the Republican movement were involved in trying to sort that stuff out. But they were all struggling in a war zone.
Since then, the narrative of republicanism and justice has been scalded by a new one: schisms within republicanism, particularly between those who supported the peace process and those who didn’t, intrudes upon the bitter bequest of abuse. Adams, inevitably got caught in that cross-fire.
An Irish friend reminds me that the absence of trust in systems of law and order during anti-colonial and civil wars is nothing new.
“It means that parallel systems of enforcing law and order emerge with typically bizarre sanctions and remedies.
“This happened between 1916 and 1922 in Ireland when Republican Courts meted out justice. This was even included in the film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley.’
“Some people forget this historical fact and choose to think that the more recent Republican incarnations of local ‘justice’ were an outrage.
“The RUC during the troubles did not deal with domestic violence, abuse or rape cases. They would not go to houses during the Troubles. People went to Republicans to seek justice or remedy.
“The way accusations or facts of rape were dealt with within Republican environments were extra-state.
“Living in an environment were the state is illegitimate is very frightening. This is the context within which we have to think about this.”
We are not entitled to bring British piety to an Adams family tragedy.
We could, though, learn something useful from Adams’ difficulties, and his survival.
We know that child sexual abuse is dangerous. People like Gerry Adams, were trying to confront it, sort it, cope with it, trying to get it right but doomed to get it wrong.
Uniquely in Europe, Ireland is well-educated about child sexual abuse. It is a culture in which Adams, who was not the problem, could be part of the solution.
Tory grandees, former ministers and yesterday’s men queue up to denounce the police for investigating sexual abuse allegations against members of the Tory establishment.
They demand that the Metropolitan police apologise to the widow of Lord Leon Brittan for failing to inform her promptly that her late husband was no longer under investigation for the alleged rape ‘of an adult female’ — indeed some seem to want an apology for investigating in the first place.
But a review, published in February by Dorset Police Deputy Chief Constable John Vaughan, of the Met’s decision to investigate the alleged rape has deemed it ‘proportionate’ and ‘justified’.
It has described the ‘adult female’ — known as ‘Jane’ — as ‘compelling’.
There is no apology, however, to ‘Jane’ who has been traduced by politicians and press for daring to come forward to tell her story.
She says that Lord Leon Brittan raped her in London in 1967 when she was 19 years old.
Dorset’s review should embarrass the Home Affairs Select Committee that last autumn chided the Met and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, who had prodded the Met on behalf of ‘Jane’.
Tom Watson was to be put in the stocks for writing to the Met about ‘Jane’ after the officer in charge, DCI Paul Settle, had decided in early 2014 not to interview Lord Brittan, and not to take the case any further.
Although it was widely aired that Watson had triggered re-investigation, the Home Affairs Select Committee acknowledged that the Met had already decided two weeks beforehand to review the case and to remove DCI Settle.
This is what DCI Settle told the committee:
‘Despite ‘Jane’ insisting that she’d been raped, in law she hadn’t’; The points to prove rape ‘were not there’; he was ‘not convinced that the offence is made out’; he believed that to interview such an important figure as Lord Brittan — which would have been normal practice — would be not only ‘disproportionate’ but unlawful and a ‘baseless witchhunt’.
There were other allegations against Brittan which could be compromised if it became public knowledge that he’d been investigated for the alleged rape ‘of an adult female’, he said.
But Dorset police did not agree. The investigation was ‘necessary, proportionate and fully justified despite the significant passage of time.’ It was not unlawful.
‘Jane’ the witness was ‘compelling’, she was a ‘competent witness, who displays no malice in her motivation. Her accounts of her
situation in 1967 are corroborated and it is plausible that she was moving in similar social circles to LB.’
Jane went to the police toward the end of 2012 to report that she had been raped in 1967: she had been on a blind date with Leon Brittan, he had suggested dropping by his house on the way to their evening out. There he locked the door, trapped her and raped her.
In September 2013 that DCI Paul Settle abandoned the investigation.
‘Jane’ tells her story to Exaro in 2014:
By 2015 the controversy about the Brittan investigation exploded. See my essay on the case on Andrew Neil’s This Week (starts at 1m40s):
See the ‘heated debate’ on This Week.
It was after this that, disgusted by the press and politicians who so blithely disparaged ‘Jane’, a woman contacted me.
‘Jane’ had been her flatmate in 1967. She’d been contacted by the police a couple of years earlier — ‘Jane’ had remembered her name and passed it to the police; she’d been around at the time of the rape. She was contacted through her medical records.
This is what she had to say about why she had come forward
“I just felt everybody was flooding to Leon Brittan’s defence. She doesn’t have anybody. They’re saying that things she said can’t be corroborated. That’s true insofar as it goes.”
I inferred that there was no evidence to convict, but…
They had shared a flat in 1966-7 when ‘Jane’ was a 19-year-old student, ‘She was really sweet. She looked very young; she was quite naive; we felt very protective of her.’
They belonged to a wide group of friends who’d go to the pub and parties together and they’d take ‘Jane’ with them. Men in their circle knew Leon Brittan, professionally and politically.
She recalled an occasion in the summer of 1987 after one of their parties. She arrived home at the flat and found ‘Jane’ sobbing.
‘We were quite young, she didn’t want to talk about it and we didn’t push it.’
The former flatmate was candid and clear — she was not claiming any more than her own memories of ‘Jane’ and their circle — a network that included Brittan — at the time that ‘Jane’ said she had been raped by Brittan.
“All I can say about her is that she was nice, a sweet kid. I didn’t recognise any mental health problems. I said to the police I had no reason to disbelieve her. In those days a lot of men were out to have you. She’d not have been able to defend herself.”
Furthermore, even if ‘Jane’ had talked about rape, “I would not have recommended that she spoke to the police back then women were often treated badly when they reported rape.”
The controversy about Brittan is also contaminated by a toxic public disagreement between journalists who have pursued sexual abuse allegations.
‘Jane’s’ story has been published by Exaro.
Exaro has been accused of excess and bad judgement in another case.
But Exaro is merely the arena in which ‘Jane’ has told her story. It may never have reached the evidential standards needed to mount a prosecution and it reported that ‘Jane’ understood the difficulty.
So, too, did Dorset’s Deputy Commissioner.
The review by the Deputy Chief Constable of Dorset has been received with predictable disdain by the detractors. Former Minister David Mellor has loyally defended Brittan — he had a Rolls Royce brain, said Mellor, whilst Dorset ‘a small country force is allowed to tell the Met they did a great job.’
That however, is exactly what Dorset didn’t do.
PUBLIC MAN, PRIVATE HAREM
The Conservative Party mourns the death in January 2016 of one of its great players, Cecil Parkinson. He contributed greatly to public life, to the transformation of Britain by Thatcherism, the party said this week.
His political career was, say the obituaries, ruined by a woman. What they don’t say is that a woman’s political career was ruined by Cecil Parkinson.
The woman was Sara Keays, his lover for 12 years, his secretary, companion and confidante. She was a resilient, respectable middle class woman from the fastnesses of Conservative England.
Her tragedy was to trust an ambitious Tory politician, and to vest her own political ambitions in proximity to power.
What remains unnoticed is that Cecil Parkinson not only repudiated the woman he’d loved, spent his days with, and relied on since the early 1970s and refused to acknowledge their daughter, but — unbeknown to Keays — killed off her political ambition.
He got her kicked off the Conservative Party candidates list for the Bermondsey by-election following the resignation of the Labour incumbent Bob Mellish in 1982.
The journalist Frankie Rickford once described powerful men’s promiscuous dependencies on women as being like a modern version of a harem: wives at home and surrogate wives at work.
Cecil Parkinson’s relationships with women — his wife, his secretary, his leader — were an exemplar. He was a suave lieutenant of Thatcherism, he was regarded as a beautiful performer, an adroit party manager and strategist, and he blessed those around him with charm, flirtation, political panache and promise.
But his career was serviced, and sometimes sponsored, by women.
The moralism of ‘traditional values’ that was promoted by the Thatcherites was well understood in the 1980s to be intended not for the Tory elite but for the masses.
Sara Keays is blamed for his demise in 1983. Yet Keays was no more to blame than his wife, his leader or any other woman. He was to blame. It was as if the act of putting himself inside a woman was nothing, as if the pregnancy was nothing to do with him.
His party, too, was to blame for not reading the runes of a society whose sexual culture was being shamed and enlightened, by women — more sexually tolerant and more alert to consequences.
Cecil Parkinson was a favourite of his party and above all of Margaret Thatcher. When he confessed to her on the night of the 1983 General election that he’d been having an affair with his secretary, Thatcher refused to let him go.
But pregnancy — that was another story. He hadn’t told her about that. Thatcher only learned of it from a letter written to her by Keays’ father, Colonel Hastings Keays.
The letter arrived next day and she presented to Parkinson at a lunchtime meeting. Thatcher still didn’t dump him: he was given trade rather than the Foreign Office.
Sara Keays lost him, of course, and by the autumn party conference he announced that he would remain with his wife and children. He would never speak to Keays again: she was, indeed, a woman scorned. Sara Keays had refused to go quietly to the abortion clinic and decorous obscurity.
She wanted to be recognised not as mistress, not as a phantom of collective fantasies about him, but as herself.
So, it wasn’t ‘kiss and tell’ when she produced a book, A Question of Judgement, in 1985. Certainly, she laid trails, little clues deigned not to betray him or the government but to show that she had been important enough to him to share state secrets.
She wanted her reputation, she wanted be recognised as a considerable person, as a woman who had been loved for a long time, who had been respected by Parkinson and who felt that she deserved respect in her own party.
But their relationship was the traditional personal-political contract served on women by powerful men: his social prowess, his comings and goings (while she served and waited) meant that his power was manifest whilst his dependency was covert.
The Parkinson scandal was not so much about morality: it was not unusual for Cabinet ministers to have their harems — wives at home, ‘wives’ at work; and it was not the only time the Tories were confronted by their own contradictions.
Men were assumed to be sexually incontinent. Parkinson was not expected to be responsible for his ‘private’ life — that was women’s work.
During my research in the 1980s on Iron Ladies, a book about Tory women, all the women I asked blamed her. She must have known what she was doing, they said, ‘Well, men! They don’t do they.’ said one of them, echoing all.
They grieved for their loss of Cecil, not just because the party lost his political charisma, but because their fantasises about this man had been ruined by reality. His decline and fall — like his power — was eroticised.
They longed to save this Icarus, to protect him — but from what?
She was blamed for ruining him and worse: by declining to go quietly, she had revealed the reapolitik of unequal romance which cost her reputation and her own political career.
She exposed the sexual division of labour in Conservative political culture: the illusion that proximity to power gave women power.
Sara Keays told me that she had subordinated her own political ambitions to his. She had been on the candidates list for Parliamentary elections.
‘The events of 1983 ended my career. The party refused to have anything to do with me and never gave me any reason for taking me off the candidates list.’
What Keays had not known was that before the 1983 by-election in Bermondsey, Parkinson had intervened to get her off the Tory short-list for the south London seat.
During the scandal, she said, the then party chairman John Gummer called her in for a meeting. It was all over. But they ‘never put anything in writing,’ they never explained, they never apologised.
It was clear, ‘Cecil’s position in the government could only be secured by minimising the scandal, which was done by belittling his involvement with me and concealing that he’d consistently lied to us.
‘Various Tory supporters in the media have written about him as my victim. He’s paid the price and served his sentence. It was acceptable for my career to be destroyed.’
She wondered whether, had she been a politician already, ‘my position would have been secure. But because I wasn’t, people had very little to go on — perhaps they thought I hadn’t lost anything.’
By 1985 everyone expected Parkinson to be fully rehabilitated. But the Daily Mirror published extracts from Keays book about this saga, including vignettes about the Falklands war cabinet.
‘That’s when she had the government in her power,’ commented a prominent Tory. That’s when the government knew she was dangerous.
Not because she was about to share those secrets, but to show that she knew stuff, that she’d been important to Parkinson, she was somebody.
His obituaries celebrate his charm and adroit political intelligence. They don’t recall his punitive court action banning any public reference to their daughter Flora, his reluctance to contribute financially to her care, his refusal to acknowledge her personally — never a card, a gift, a word.
Keays is still cast in the role of the woman scorned. She was, of course, scorned. But not for what she exposed about him, more for what she insisted upon disclosing about herself:
She risked shame to protect her own dignity. She was defending her honour.
But if women like Sara Keays knew that they were, and are, indispensable to men’s power, they were wrong to imagine that it would be reciprocal.
Being necessary to men always meant that power-sharing between men and women was unnecessary.