On 27th July Labour’s Business Board, comprised of the NEC Officers, met and again refused our joint application for a stand at conference. We received this letter on 28th July:
“Thank you for your application to exhibit at Labour Party Conference.
The NEC Business Board is the body responsible for approving exhibition stands for Labour Party Conference. The Business Board has considered and rejected your application. This assessment has been made on commercial grounds and there is no right of appeal.
General Secretary’s Office”.
The peers and MPs who jointly applied for the stand with LWD immediately replied to David Evans asking what were the commercial criteria for assessment laid before the Board, which the Board then decided we failed to meet. We await his reply.
UPDATE 6th July 2022
Baroness Hayter appeared on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and made the offer live on air that we could take a larger stand, as the party had claimed that all stands at the size we applied for had been taken. Listen to the clip here.
UPDATE 3rd July 2022.
Michael Savage of The Observer wrote this about the party’s refusal:
STATEMENT BY LWD 2nd JULY 2022
The Labour Party has refused a joint application by Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD) and six Labour parliamentarians for an exhibition stand at its forthcoming party conference in Liverpool. This refusal comes in spite of an apparent willingness to engage constructively in debate on issues of sex and gender, including calls from Keir Starmer for “more light and less heat” and from Wes Streeting for constructive dialogue on the topic.
Labour Peers Estelle Morris, Dianne Hayter, Philip Hunt, former party General Secretary David Triesman, Tony Young and MP Tonia Antoniazzi were joint applicants with LWD, which advocates on behalf of the thousands of Labour supporters who have signed its Declaration. This refusal is part of the Party’s historic suppression of dissenting views on gender identity and the outdated and indeed discriminatory assumption that those of us who are advocating for more discussion and the protection of women’s rights should not have a platform/voice within the party.
Our application was made in March for a £1.6k stand and a location was provisionally agreed, subject to “new exhibitor approval” by a business board chaired by General Secretary David Evans. On 18th May we were issued with a refusal which stated:
All applications for commercial business which include an exhibition stand or branding at Annual Conference are subject to a review process. After due consideration, the proposal to enter into a commercial arrangement was declined.
The LWD Working Group approached Keir Starmer and Shadow Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds regarding this summary refusal and our co-hosts plus several Labour MPs indicated that they were making representations for the application to be accepted. However, on 22nd June we received another email:
We have looked again at your application alongside stands of a similar size. Unfortunately your application has not been successful on this occasion. The Labour Party receives a significant number of applications for exhibitions, and not every application is successful. You are welcome to apply again for commercial business at Annual Conference in the future, when any such application will be subject to the same application process.
We have asked for clarification, but have received no answers beyond this bland boilerplate response. We and our parliamentarian co-hosts would be happy to engage with any concerns in order to allay them, but we have been denied that opportunity.
The years of ‘no debate’ – in which Stonewall and other lobby groups were allowed to argue successfully that the political consequences of gender identity theory could not be discussed – have taken their toll. The party is still well behind the curve on some of the main issues of sex and gender. Some Labour politicians have hardly engaged at all with the emerging evidence, and still mistakenly believe that this is a simple case of ‘for or against’ trans rights. The struggles of many MPs to engage with simple questions have been embarrassing. Too many of them have swallowed the propaganda that calling for discussion of women’s sex-based rights is analogous to promoting the late, unlamented Section 28. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those feminists and lesbian and gay campaigners who led the fight against Section 28 are now in the forefront of gender critical campaigns.
LWD’s position is also broadly in line with mainstream opinion. For instance, the commitment in our Declaration to fairness in sport is reflected in recent announcements from top sporting bodies, and Hilary Cass’s interim report has confirmed our stated views on the safeguarding of young girls. A growing number of MPs and party members are realising that our Declaration is balanced, fair, and compassionate and offers a way forward and dialogue.
By allocating LWD a stand at its September conference, and having us in the room, the party would get an easy route into raising awareness of the issues and alleviating the chilling effect on its women members, including MPs. A stand at conference is a low-key and non-threatening way to enable dialogue: delegates would be able to visit at their leisure, and engage with evidence and arguments.
Responding positively to our application for a stall is the only route which is consistent with Keir and Wes’s call for respectful dialogue.
This refusal cannot be explained by operational issues – the live availability site clearly showed unsold stands at every point. We have the dated screenshots. It is a strategic and political decision.
The message this refusal sends to local party branches is also clear: gender critical voices cannot and will not be heard. When it comes to sex and gender, and women’s rights, the Labour Party will continue to listen only to the sex denialist lobby group Stonewall, and to take its misleading and inaccurate advice. It follows the party’s controversial recent decision not to replace its National Women’s Officer.
It will also give false encouragement to Labour Councils such as Nottingham City, which is under threat of legal challenge from Julie Bindel for refusing her the right to speak in one of its libraries because of a presumed contradiction with its equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy. A reading of its EDI strategy shows there are no grounds for such a refusal beyond the probability of Stonewall’s disapproval, as we argued in our twitter thread –
After years of no replies to any of our letters , and too late to sort out the stall refusal, we now have an agreed meeting date later this month with Keir Starmer and some of his team where we plan to open up the conversations which have been so long silenced. We will invite them to our public meeting, ‘What Women Need from the Labour Manifesto’, chaired by Tonia Antoniazzi MP, on 26 September during conference in Liverpool. Speakers will include Dame Diana Johnson MP on the Nordic Model and Marsha de Cordova. (We are applying for a fringe listing for that meeting).
We will encourage Keir to set up a listening exercise throughout the party on sex and gender, and to make sure that the impact of all Labour’s policies on women, and on lesbians in particular and all those protected under the Equality Act, is assessed. His team will need to meet with Lesbian Labour to understand how many lesbians are excluded by the forced teaming of LGB with the TQ+.
We will urge him to read the hundreds of comments from despairing Labour voters on our Declaration site.
We never wanted this open dispute with the party. We have had cordial and productive private meetings with many MPs including Shadow Equality Secretaries and we are active throughout the UK in local, grassroots activism. On this issue of sex and gender we unite regardless of our other views on the party’s policies and are possibly one of the broadest churches within the party. Organising is, however, hampered by the need to do everything in secret for fear of personal attack and abuse and indeed disciplinary action by the party which still censures and refuses membership to women who speak out in support of sex-based rights. (We were offered a meeting date with David Evans in October 2020 to discuss our dossier of evidence about this discrimination, but the meeting was postponed and we are still waiting for a date).
But we know that since 2020 support for us has built up in the party and PLP and that many senior female politicians have advocated for us to be given the stand. They, like us, have been ignored and overruled.
At a time when the country more than ever needs a Labour government, this exposes a profound carelessness about women – and our votes.
The women’s charity FiliA, and the lesbian and gay charity LGB Alliance, have received similar refusals – even though both have been accepted at the other main party conferences.
FiliA’s spokeswoman commented: “The decision to block LGBA, LWD and FiLiA charity from having stands at the Labour Party conference is not arbitrary. It represents a continuation of the attack on organisations and individuals who value and defend sex-based rights. The party manifesto clearly commits to ensuring that ‘the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision’ and the shadow front bench continue to say they support this. FiLiA calls on the party to show this commitment to the rights of women by allowing LGBA, LWD and FiLiA charity to have exhibitions stands at its conference”.
A spokesperson for LGB Alliance said: “We are deeply disappointed to be effectively banned from the Labour Party Conference for the second year running. Many of our lesbian, gay and bisexual supporters are Labour voters. Keir Starmer will not win back the trust of the voters if he’s not prepared to listen to all voices – not just those with whom he already agrees.”
UPDATE 20.00 hrs 2nd July 2022 following Labour Party’s response to The Observer’s enquiries.
A Labour Party spokesperson said:
“We receive hundreds of applications for conference stands every year, meaning it is always oversubscribed and not everyone can be successful.”
“Labour passed the law that protects women on the basis of their sex and trans people from discrimination. We stand by it.”
Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD) response
This is a political judgement, and a very poor one.
Our application for an exhibition stand handed the party a golden opportunity to make progress towards resolving the issues of sex and gender that have been described as ‘toxic’. This refusal throws our offer back in our faces. However, it is still not too late for the Labour Party to see sense and to reconsider.
In response to the party’s statement about the refusal of our stand, we can only repeat that LWD, like the party, supports the 2010 Equality Act, which lists both sex and gender reassignment as protected characteristics.
LWD and our parliamentary co-hosts have clearly been refused approval as new exhibitors and it is nonsense for the party to say the refusal is because the exhibition is oversubscribed.
We were given to understand that booking of stands, subject to new exhibitor approval, was ‘first come first served’, which is why we applied early. We provisionally reserved a location in March and it was subsequently shown as pink/provisional on the live exhibition booking site. At that point there were several other vacant smaller stands.
But we also made it clear we were flexible on the size, price and location and so even if other applicants were prioritised for our provisionally reserved location, we should be offered one of the vacant stands.
Even today, two of these smaller stands in the third sector area are shown on the live site as only provisionally booked, and there are many stands elsewhere showing as vacant. We have dated screenshots from March to the present.
At a point when the party needs income, we, as members, object to this discriminatory refusal of our business (and £1.6k fee). No doubt the charities, FiLiA and LGB Alliance, will feel the same about the rejection of their applications.
The party appears to be concerned that others would disrupt our stand, and felt it had to make a choice between women’s freedom to speak and those who would deny us that freedom. It must believe that by excluding us it can avoid yet another conference dominated by sex and gender issues. It has made the wrong choice.
We look forward to the party’s acceptance of our £315 fee for the official listing of our fringe meeting, “What do Women Need from the Labour Manifesto”, at 6pm on Mon 26 Sept in Liverpool, chaired by Tonia Antoniazzi and addressed by Labour councillors and MPs, including Diana Johnson & Marsha de Cordova.
We didn’t want a row with the party, and we still don’t. We want the same opportunity as has been offered by Labour in the past to lobby groups such as Stonewall, which have campaigned against the sex-based rights in the 2010 Equality Act.
It’s time to have us in the room.
2nd July 2022