I’ve never known a time when so many women were so fed up with Labour. In the aftermath of last Thursday’s election, Left-leaning women up and down the country have talked about the grim choice they faced last week: vote for a Labour candidate who’s on board with gender ideology, spoil their ballot paper, or stay away from the polling station for the first time ever. Increasingly, they are even saying they don’t feel safe with Labour.
Many took to social media, using the hashtag #LabourLosingWomen. “I’ve voted @UKLabourfor 35 years – until today. I feel bereft, but I just can’t vote for a party that treats women with such contempt,” wrote one on Twitter. “If you keep telling people they
are bigots and you don’t want their votes, then you have only yourself to blame. When will you start listening?” asked another.
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And what has Keir Starmer done to put his party in order? A hamfisted reshuffle which has allowed Angela Rayner, one of the party’s strongest advocates of gender ideology, to gain more influence within the party.
During the leadership contest last year, Rayner signed a pledge to expel members with “transphobic” views – otherwise known as feminists who stand up for women’s rights – from the party. She said she was “absolutely petrified” by the idea that some members “do not think [trans people] are valid”, casually distorting the arguments of those of us who believe there’s a conflict between the demands of trans extremists and women’s rights. She was also quick to condemn Tony Blair when he sensibly suggested that the party should be wary of starting a “culture war”.
Rayner is far from being alone in the party. She is the most recognisable face in an influential lobby that includes the former shadow minister Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who had to apologise for a baseless attack on the author J K Rowling last year, and the shadow minister for tourism and heritage, Alex Sobel, who opposes single-sex spaces for women in hospitals, schools, refuges and prisons. “And that is why so many women no longer vote Labour – enjoy being in long-term opposition,” one woman told Sobel in an exchange on Twitter.
I wrote to Starmer three months ago, politely asking him to get a grip on the nastiness that’s spreading through the party like wildfire. I’d heard that he doesn’t answer emails so I resorted to the charmingly old-fashioned method of putting a letter in the post, but it made no difference. I didn’t even get an acknowledgement, an experience shared by other women who’ve tried to contact him about this issue.
The continuing prominence of figures such as Rayner and increasing prominence of shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, who signed the same unpleasant pledge last year, doesn’t suggest that the leadership has had a change of heart.
Yet violence against women is a major issue for many — if not all of us. All the more so after a recent succession of particularly vicious murders – Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in London, and Julia James in Kent to name the most high-profile ones. But it hardly featured in the election campaign. Rape convictions have fallen to a historic low, domestic violence is rife, sexual harassment is an everyday experience for girls and women and confidence in the criminal justice system has collapsed.
Leading figures in the party, however, seem more interested in ticking off fellow MPs and activists who “like” social media posts from feminist organisations than meeting any of the women’s groups expressing concern.
At the end of last week, the Labour MP and former frontbencher Khalid Mahmood homed in on identity politics as one of the causes of Labour’s poor showing, arguing that the party has been captured by “brigades of woke social media warriors”. But he’s a rare voice of sanity in a party that seems to have surrendered to a form of magical thinking. I wonder what Labour voters would make of the kinds of discussions that take place in local party meetings. In the midst of a pandemic and worsening economic crisis, members have been proposing motions declaring that “transwomen are women” and chastising anyone who objects to being described as “cis”.
Labour used to be described as a broad church, in which different factions more or less co-existed – not happily, to be sure, but dissent was permitted. Not any more. I know Labour councillors who are terrified to say openly that they are gender-critical, fearing the vitriol they will face. I’ve been told by party insiders that some MPs feel the same but they dare not speak out while the party is led by people who so vociferously support an extreme version of trans rights.
When Labour MP Rosie Duffield was the victim of a pile on by trans-activists last summer after liking a tweet suggesting that only women have a cervix, she might have expected sympathy from the most senior woman in the party; instead, Rayner told Duffield she should ‘reflect’ on her views about trans people.
It isn’t a Left-Right split within the party, it’s wholesale capture. The surrender to gender ideology began under Jeremy Corbyn, when transwomen were allowed to stand for positions as women’s officers and admitted to women-only shortlists. It has continued under Starmer, ensuring that women across the party now feel betrayed and angry.
It’s not only Labour that’s gone down this rabbit-hole, of course. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, recently made a campaign video announcing that her pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her’, clearing up a longstanding source of confusion. The Greens and Lib Dems, too, without appearing to be punished electorally, although the former leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood (‘she/her’), lost her seat in the Senedd last week. But both these parties have always tended to be a broader coalition than Labour, embracing people who would never identify as socialist or align with feminism.
Last year, when Starmer had been leader for six months, I suggested he had a woman problem. He still does, and recent events have only made it worse. I don’t know whether he genuinely doesn’t care about losing women’s votes; or whether he’s too frightened of Angela Rayner and the rest of Labour’s gender warriors to do anything about it. But a witch-hunt of uppity women is being carried out in the party, and someone in charge needs to take notice. Even witches can vote – and our loyalty is being stretched to the limit.