The Labour Party must have “respect and tolerance” in the face of differing opinions on gender, Sir Keir Starmer has said.
His comments come after Labour MP Rosie Duffield said being in the party reminded her of a former abusive relationship she had been in after she faced criticism for her position on women’s rights in the face of transgender identification changes.
Ms Duffield accused male party colleagues of trying to drown her out in the Commons last week when she spoke to back the Government’s move to block gender reforms proposed in Scotland.
Edinburgh last month voted to allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate through a process known as “self-identification” and without the need for a medical diagnosis, but the UK Government stepped in to stop it from becoming law.
In an article written for the Unherd website, Ms Duffield said on Friday: “What I feel now, after six years off being cold-shouldered by the Labour Party, conjures memories of how I felt in that abusive relationship.
“When I come home at night, I feel low-level trauma at my political isolation.”
Sir Keir, asked about her comments during a visit to Octopus Energy in Slough, said the party had to ensure it was respectful when debating contentious issues.
He told broadcasters on Monday: “I’m very concerned that all of our discussions in the Labour Party and in politics are discussions that we have with respect and with tolerance.
“And they’re the principles and the values that I want to see in our Labour Party and that I insist on in our Labour Party, whether it’s Rosie Duffield or anybody else.
“There will be differences of opinion, of course there will, but respect and tolerance are the values that we must have in all those debates.”
The Opposition leader was asked whether those principles stretched to his own aides, who the reporter said had “apparently been briefing about Rosie Duffield”.
According to a leaked conversation published by political website Guido Fawkes, a spokesman for Sir Keir is said to have suggested that some of Ms Duffield’s constituents wanted the Canterbury MP to “spend a bit more time” in her constituency rather than “hanging out with JK Rowling”.
The Harry Potter author organised an event in London in the spring for women’s rights campaigners, with Ms Duffield among the attendees.
Ms Duffield defended her constituency work on Twitter and hit out at the alleged remarks.
“When women are considered difficult, these statements are obviously designed to undermine us,” she tweeted on Sunday.
“Sew a little seed of doubt, rumours, ‘whether she spends time in her constituency’…. that might catch on. Politics is nasty. But think on, I am used to so much worse.”
Sir Keir, asked about reports of the remarks about Ms Duffield, said: “Respect and tolerance are values of the entire Labour Party.
“Of course I know there are strong and differing opinions on a number of issues.
“But respect and tolerance are there as my values, Labour Party values, whatever we’re discussing.”
It is understood that the Labour aide in question said he respected Ms Duffield’s right to speak out on trans issues.
During last week’s debate on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, Ms Duffield had to raise her voice to be heard above the noise coming from other MPs, including from her own party’s benches.
Former Labour minister Ben Bradshaw could be heard calling her concerns “absolute rubbish” as he listened to Ms Duffield defend the need for spaces “segregated by sex”, including domestic violence settings, changing rooms and prisons.
Taking to Twitter afterwards, she said she was “shouted down in the chamber” by male Labour MPs “who clearly don’t want women to speak up for our rights to single sex spaces”.