After years of looking the other way, the UK Labour front bench is finally starting to face up to the issues and to sound more convincing on sex and gender, which we of course welcome.
The Scottish Prison Service’s initial decision to place a two-time rapist who now self-identifies as a woman, in a women’s jail, and the revelations of his behaviour studying in Ayrshire College whilst on remand, have exposed the absurdities and dangers of Self-ID in practice. It has also woken up UK Labour politicians who seem at last to be realising that sex self-ID/self-declaration is just not a viable policy position and that it compromises the Equality Act’s single-sex exceptions.
So we heartily congratulate the Labour politicians who in the past few days have spoken in public in support of women’s sex-based rights, including Yvette Cooper, Steve Reed, Anneliese Dodds, Siobhain McDonagh, and David Blunkett. . They now all seem to be much clearer that biological sex and gender identity are two entirely different notions; a crucial distinction to make if these issues are to be properly discussed. Yvette, for example, said “There’s the Equality Act which already provides for recognising there is a difference between gender, whether that’s legally recognised and also biological sex, and provides for there to be safe spaces for biological women, and prisons is one of the cases that’s been highlighted as part of that”. This is a serious move away from previous shadow front bench statements that ‘transwomen are women’.
They join other Labour colleagues who have already spoken out in one way or another in support of sex-based rights and/or the definition of ‘woman’ as ‘adult human female’. They include Pat McFadden, Philip Hunt, Jess Phillipps, Diana Johnson, Marsha De Cordova, Karin Smyth, Tonia Antoniazzi, Estelle Morris, Rosie Duffield, Dianne Hayter, David Triesman, Preet Gill, Rachel Reeves, Jack McConnell, Mary Glindon, Juile Elliiott, Tony Young, Steve McCabe and Wes Streeting. Thangam Debonnaire, notably, wore the suffragette colours on the shadow front bench after a gender critical feminist had been asked to remove them in the Scottish Parliament during Gender Recognition Reform Bill debates.
These politicians’ words are also now closely mirroring our Declaration, which has been signed by over 7.5k Labour supporters and voters across the UK including national politicians and many local councillors. The seven statements in the Declaration now clearly represent majority and mainstream views in the country including of Labour voters. This makes it all the more ridiculous that gender critical voices and LWD supporters are still denied freedom of speech within the party.
On 23 January Keir Starmer said to the Guardian newspaper: “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”.
On 25 January the London Region Conference team told us that we may not have a stall at this weekend’s conference, claiming we applied too late, although the first requests were made before the Christmas break but were not answered. They finally told us on Wednesday that it was too late to apply. Despite several representations from Labour parliamentarians, and our offer to bring our own folding table for our leaflets, there has been no answer to any of our emails. This refusal unfortunately builds on the party’s decision not to allow us a conference stand at last year’s National Conference in Liverpool. This position clearly has to change. We have productive private conversations and have given detailed briefings to many Labour politicians, including Keir Starmer and Anneliese Dodds. But banning us from Labour events likes this makes the party look ridiculous.
Keir Starmer will regain the respect of so many women if he shows leadership right now and makes good his words about our rights to be heard. This entails giving both Labour Women’s Declaration and Lesbian Labour the right, just like other campaign groups, to run stalls at conferences, and to engage in respectful conversations within the party.
This also entails encouraging MPs, particularly those who are currently too scared to do so, to engage with all views in their consideration of their legislative duties. Unless our evidence and arguments can start to be grappled with, the party will continue to limp along way behind the curve in its development of robust policies, and disasters like the Scottish Labour vote for the GRR Bill will happen again.
Scottish Labour refused to engage properly with those of us trying to warn them of the dangers of Self ID, and sleep-walked into the disastrous decision to back the Bill as it stood, even after all its own amendments had failed.
We call on Keir Starmer to recognise his own responsibilities as our UK-wide party leader, and to support the use of Section 35 to withhold royal assent from this flawed bill.
There is already an almighty legal muddle surrounding the operation of the single-sex exceptions, which needs thorough examination and clear legal re-statement. Making clear that ‘sex’ in the Equality Act means ‘biological sex’ is an essential step. Scottish Labour’s “chocolate fireguard” amendment to the GRR Bill, claiming “there will be no effect on the Equality Act” is as absurd as claiming that an apple is a banana. No amount of saying it will make it so.
UK Labour will show itself as a government in waiting if it is prepared to stand firm against the latest SNP Motion opposing the use of Section 35. The use of s35 does not create a constitutional crisis. It is a necessary check to ensure that poorly-drafted legislation does not negatively impact on women and girls throughout the UK. These issues need solving via courts and responsible government action.
To regain the trust of women members, and of those who have deserted Labour over this issue, the Party must reassert its clear and unequivocal commitment to women’s sex-based rights and reassess its current positions in relation to self-ID and the need to reform the GRA. It should re-examine the claims that there is evidence of the need for a Conversion Practices Ban. It must speak up against the harassment of gender critical MPs, and against the use of disciplinary procedures on party members for their gender critical views. Keir Starmer said today (28 January 2023) “Never again will Labour allow hate to spread unchallenged.” However, he is currently allowing hatred of women who don’t comply with gender identity ideology to run through the Party at every level.
So long as Labour maintains its relationship with Stonewall, which has been shown to have an extreme ideological agenda in all its advice, there will continue to be serious problems for party policies and governance systems, particularly in relation to women. Other organisations, including the BBC and several academic institutions, have ended their connection with Stonewall after recognising the damage being done to democratic consultation, transparency, clarity and a commitment to justice for all. Labour must recognise in particular that many lesbians reject Stonewall’s policy positions. It should welcome a dialogue with Lesbian Labour.
A total of at least 12 of the 31 shadow front bench MPs are, we believe, broadly gender critical, along with much the same number in junior ministerial positions. A minority, around 8, on the shadow front bench are strong advocates of gender identity ideology, with quite a few more in junior roles. But as soon as Keir Starmer takes a firm lead and ends the party’s denial that Self ID is incompatible with sex-based rights, many of those currently keeping quiet will be happy to follow.
We are Labour supporters. We want a Labour General Election victory. There is no time better than the present, with the whole of the UK united in shared alarm about where self-ID policies can and have led us, for our party to make the break with its discredited and contradictory policies on sex and gender.