ON BEING NICE – DREAM ON
Molly Scott Cato is one of the Green Party’s popular politicians, an economist, and until recently an admired Euro MP for the South-West. She is likely to be elected to the party’s executive in forthcoming elections where – many of her supporters have been hoping – she will confront the bitter conflict over gender politics and encourage a kinder, gentler temper.
Then on 29 June she tweeted an accusation: why was labour leader Kier Starmer being ‘so timid in defence of trans rights? Transwomen are women; transmen are men…’ Whoa, how did she know that Starmer was being timid? Maybe he didn’t want to be snared on admittedly ‘difficult’ terrain.
Like her, he urges people to be nicer. Unlike the Green Party, the Labour leader suggests that law reform to enhance trans rights ‘takes us into difficult questions,’ that should be considered ‘in a mature, calm way.’ By contrast the Green Party leaders say there is no difficulty, no debate.
Scott Cato’s assertion attracted over 100 responses in no time, unusually polite, and mostly challenging her recital of extreme trans dogma that ‘transwomen are women; transmen are men’ and ‘no debate.’
Her tweet synchronised with an emission on the same day from the green direct action movement, Extinction Rebellion that typified what passes for political manifestos these days, it put up a pledge:
‘We do not believe that the existence of trans people…is a topic that is up for debate…transwomen are women, transmen are men…this is not up for debate.’ A torrent of protests followed and unhappy moderators found themselves having to defend a pledge the provenance of which was seemingly a mystery even to them.
Of course, trans people exist. And trans rights aren’t at risk from debate – people do not die from debate. But women’s rights and resources are at grave risk not only from the effects of ‘austerity’, funding regimes, but also from and extreme trans activism seeking to silence women and assail feminist organisations.
There is a fundamental problem – already evident in politics, in the institutions, from banks to publishers, in the voluntary sector, in sport, and in schools and universities – if a man is a woman because he says he is, then the category woman is emptied of meaning. How can we address the fact that women everywhere in the world are put upon, discriminated against, oppressed, under-paid, unpaid, raped and disrespected because they are women?
And how can we make the connections – vital for Green politics – between thoroughly gendered pillage, exploitation, pollution and patriarchy that is manifest from the Congo to the Amazon?
No sooner was the Extinction Rebellion pledge up than unhappy posts asked who decided this, what does it mean, what about women? ‘If it helps I’m not enjoying it very much either,’ lamented a besieged moderator.
Scott Cato addressed the flood following her tweet by saying that yes, she too, wanted to end the toxicity that is stifling the Green Party. But telling members to play nicely is no match for bullying. The authoritarian and narcissistic mantra ‘there is no debate’ is biblical not political, it is, in fact, the antithesis of politics.
The academic Sarah Ahmed goes so far as to defend ‘no debate’ and no-platforming of feminists in this way, ‘we do not agree that freedom of speech is freedom to speak unaccountably.’ But no-platforming, blocking and not-debating precisely prevents speaking accountably, it proscribes speaking, hearing and active participation in the very production of politics.
IS THERE OR ISN”T THERE…?
Scott Cato and Extinction Rebellion were doing what they were simultaneously denying: they were participating in a debate it whilst prohibiting it.
Scott Cato clearly wants to heal a party suffering from septic shock, but her benign injunction is too late: playing nicely assumes that the players want to play, that they share an interest in the game, that they recognise politics as a context for necessary, peaceful, creative conflict – all of which is extinguished by ‘there is no debate’.
To understand this impasse, we need to go beyond the etiquette and structures of the Green Party to its sexual politics: it is liberal rather than radical and feminist, all about choice – choosing to sell sex, choosing to change sex. No doubt liberal goodwill to all men also motivated the party’s endorsement, without research, consultation or debate, of extreme trans dogma. Of course, people wanted to be nice and to support trans rights.
But liberalism became host to tyranny and misogyny. When damned feminists and gays, and people whose job it is to think, debated sex (bodies) and gender (cultures), and power; about prostitution, sex trafficking child sexual abuse, they met a wall of denial and harassment; when they queried cultishness and the injunction ‘there is no debate’, they were maligned as terfs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), disciplined and even sued.
Outside the pale of the Green Party, feminists and their supporters have been harangued – J.K. Rowling’s careful and candid exploration of the issues is the latest in a long and honourable line – picketed, gigs cancelled, venues barred, some organisations’ funds have been threatened, funds lost; jobs have been threatened, jobs lost.
Amidst all this, the Green Party leadership either stayed shtum, or, like co-leader Sian Berry, were intransigent defenders of the dogma.
CHILD TORTURE – THE CHALLENOR CASE
It was when a case of child rape and torture by Green Party member David Challenor became public in 2018 that the implications of this sulphurous state of affairs hit the party. He was the father of trans woman Aimee Challenor, a Green equalities spokesperson – notorious for abusive social media denunciations of ‘terfs’, and for improvising a social-media mass ‘terf’ blocking mechanism, her boast was that 50,000 people had been blocked. Hardly an exemplar of online democracy.
Teenage Challenor had returned to Coventry (the Challenor siblings had been in care) in 2014, joined the Green Party, and embarked on ‘gender transition’. Aimee Challenor became a Green Party candidate and equalities spokesperson with ambitions to become party leader.
However, unknown to the party at the time, her rise and rise was shadowed by her father’s offence: David Challenor was arrested in 2015 for the kidnap, rape, and electrocution of a ten-year-old girl, whilst dressing up himself as a girl, at the Challenors’ home, which was also Coventry Green Party’s registered address. Apparently, he was also a fetishist who enjoyed dressing as a little girl in nappies and frocks.
Aimee had been interviewed by the police in 2015, and therefore knew about the case, but nevertheless appointed him to be her election agent in Coventry in May 2016.
After a radical High Court ruling in October 2016, which referred to Mermaids, a ‘charity’ that facilitates sex change in children, David and Aimee Challenor mobilised an open letter supporting Mermaids. Green party leaders Sian Berry and Amelia Womack were among the signatories.
In 2017, Aimee Challenor returned to the family home. In 2018 David Challenor stood trial, was convicted and jailed for 22 years. The party’s response was to condemn him, of course, and to extend support to….no, not the tortured child, but to Aimee Challenor, who had failed to warn the party of this looming disgrace, and who claimed to have not known the ‘full details’ of his offences.
This was a clear breach of party rules: candidates and officers are required to inform the party of anything that might bring the party into disrepute; it also ignored the child safeguarding implications.
Subsequently, the party and Challenor were criticised by the Verita independent report, commissioned by the party and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse report on abuse linked to Westminster, published in February 2020. Both were stern critics of the party’s low level of safeguarding awareness.
It was the Challenor case and Aimee Challenor’s performance as equalities spokesperson and the anti-feminist discourse promoted in the Green Party from 2014-15, including the public humiliation of a philosopher who was only doing his job: thinking, and finally the lack of awareness of child abuse, that provoked many party members to challenge the trans agenda – myself included. I wrote a critique, urging the party to ask itself whether it had been induced into a – witch-hunting and cultishness, to which the Challenors had vigorously contributed – that not only shielded them from scrutiny but created a kind of political coma about the misogyny and McCarthyism in the party.
This was only one flank of a larger reification of offended sensibilities and censorship spreading across organisations in the US and the UK. One of the protagonists, Richard Firth – ironically Leeds Green Party’s equality, diversity and inclusion officer – participated in a little scam designed to get the feminist campaign Women’s Place UK banned from Leeds Civic Hall: WPUK had organised a celebration the 2018 centenary of (some) women getting the vote. The group was accused of transphobia – for insisting on women’s right to safe spaces – and the reservation was revoked at the last minute.
It was Richard Firth who lodged a formal complaint against me in 2018. A similar complaint was lodged against former deputy leader Shahrar Ali for tweeting a reference to my Byline piece. Firth’s complaint was focused on a couple of blogs and tweets which, he alleged, attacked trans people and party policy. Readers can see for themselves.
The complaint loitered in the crowded complaints system for almost a year. In September 2019 I was informed that the committee took no position on my views, only on the way they were expressed, ‘Given the respondent’s acclaimed mastery of language, she should have been more careful about causing distress, not just offence.’ I was urged to treat other Green Party members ‘with more courtesy in the future.’
There was no reference to whom – if anyone – I had caused distress. For the record, disagreement does not equate to distress. The complaint rested on the idea that I should have pursued concerns through the party’s clogged channels and, presumably waited and waited for a non-result.
So, I would not be suspended, but I would take a proverbial slap for not being nice to the clique that, in my opinion, brought the party into disrepute. And I would be prohibited from standing for public office for a year. Irony upon irony, Richard Firth himself was suspended for a year and banned from holding off ice for two years in 2020.
Complaints saturated the party’s disciplinary process. One of the most egregious was against Sheffield activist Andy Healey, a promoter of the feminist site, Gender Critical Greens.
Clearly, there is a debate and there isn’t: it is mangled in the party’s disciplinary – rather than democratic – processes. Attempts to address the decline of democracy in the party, the toxic culture, and the implications of the trans modus operandi *at the party’s spring 2019 party conference – despite a clear majority in support of debate – were thwarted: no time was allocated for a conversation that most of the people at the conference wanted to have.
Therein lies madness and tyranny. So, we come back to the Extinction Rebellion and Molly Scott-Cato.
Without consulting supporters – difficult to do in intensely-devolved movements – a coterie in Extinction Rebellion introduced a polarising trans commandment for which it has no mandate. Scott-Cato’s sincerely-held wish for everyone to be nice and bring an end to nastiness is an impossible dream if she holds to the prohibition: there is no debate.
Be Nice is no answer. The party is polarised and it must take a risk: acknowledge the divisions, admit that though they may never be resolved they can be addressed; create the opportunity for collective contemplation of the evidence, the science and the politics, the theory and practice of sex and gender. That is, to do politics properly.
Post script After this piece was posted, the very experienced Green activist, Dee Searle, wrote a searing critique of Green inner-party democracy on London Left Green Blog: http://londongreenleft.blogspot.com/2020/07/can-green-party-be-saved-from-its.html
- Theo Simon proposed a late motion to the 2019 party conference to address a perceived crisis:
“Review and renew the democratic culture of the Green Party”. It was initially ruled out, but an overwhelming conference vote decided it should be ruled back in for debate. It was not given time, however. It proposed a safe, decisive and contained way to re-evaluate recent events – particularly in response to ‘gender critical positions’, and re-establish democratic principles: ”Conference acknowledges concerns that a culture has arisen in the party which may have lowered standards of civil debate, marginalised members complaints, and silenced members voices around particular policies. In particular we note allegations of the following: Pressures brought to bear from outside the party to have members suspended; Prejudicial suspensions, without prior warning, including of a parliamentary candidate; Court action being pursued against a member by party officers; Complaints of misogynistic bullying and of complaints going unanswered; Language-policing of members in discussion forums accompanied by legal threats; Blocking of members electronic communications and other access to party bodies; Disciplining of local parties over their wording of resolutions. We affirm that a culture of respectful, inclusive and transparent enquiry and debate is essential if we want to develop effective Green policy, retain membership, and build a democratic party worthy of office. We also affirm that all party officers and internal procedures must be seen to serve and protect these ends. We recognise that, in parallel to the independent Verita enquiry, work must now be done to re-establish trust in our democratic culture, policy-making and governance, both within the party and beyond. Conference therefore instructs GPRC, as guardians of party well-being, as follows: 1) To commission an expeditious internal enquiry into how this divisive culture has arisen and been perpetuated and what measures should now be taken to restore political health and amicable debate. 2) To invite submissions to this enquiry, relating to the period September 2016 to September 2018, from members and former members, with guarantees of confidentiality if required. This Internal Enquiry Into The Party’s Democratic Culture to be established within no more than one month of this motion, and to be concluded no later than the week before Spring Conference 2019, with findings and recommendations to be made available to members at that time. 3) To restore confidence in the ‘no fault’ suspension mechanism by confirming the procedure that GPRC is using to reach decisions on requests for immediate suspension. 4) To ensure that plans are drawn up by 14th December, and communicated to all members, for a Disciplinary Review process whereby members or former members can submit requests that suspensions, expulsions, complaint adjudications or other disciplinary sanctions from this period be reconsidered, such that any remedial action which is necessary may be taken.”
Personal note: It is with the greatest regret that I am leaving the Green Party.