December 6, 2023 - 7:00am

Vote Labour, get Stonewall. That’s the fear of many women who’d like to vote Labour at the next election. On the face of it, recent announcements suggest that the party is less in thrall to gender ideology than it once was. Keir Starmer has backed away from a policy of introducing full self-ID for people who want to change their legal sex, encouraging some women to think that the party has seen sense at last.

But a problem remains, and it’s all the more important to recognise it at a moment when Stonewall has succeeded in getting a UN body to launch a review of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. It’s as much about culture as policy, evident in the fact that so many of Labour’s grassroots organisations have normalised the demands of trans activists. The Labour Women’s Network, set up to campaign for equality and train future leaders, is open to anyone who “self-defines” as a woman — men, in other words. 

LGBT+ Labour, which is affiliated to the party, has been at the forefront of attacks on the Labour MP Rosie Duffield. More than 20 MPs are patrons, including some of the noisiest critics of women who believe in biological sex. Two of them, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Sir Ben Bradshaw, shouted at female MPs who expressed safeguarding concerns during a debate about self-ID in the House of Commons in January.

Women with gender-critical views still feel unwelcome in some local parties, fearing accusations of “transphobia” if they express support for single-sex spaces, for instance. Leading figures in the party regularly post on social media, advocating key Stonewall demands such as a total ban on “conversion therapy”. Calling for a ban has become detached from reality, a means of signalling the party’s continuing commitment to a discredited but popular ideology. The party’s Chair and Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, Anneliese Dodds, has promised to implement another Stonewall policy, making every alleged hate crime against trans people an aggravated offence. 

Indeed, there appears to be an open door between the two organisations, illustrated by the fact that the party sent three leading figures — Starmer, Dodds and Deputy Leader Angela Rayner — to a Stonewall business breakfast earlier this year. Labour was thrilled to welcome PR guru Iain Anderson when he defected from the Conservatives, even inviting him to carry out a review of small business when he stepped down as chair of Stonewall’s trustees.

None of this would be happening if Labour really intended to make a break with the past and shake off Stonewall’s disproportionate influence. One easy step would be to ensure that its Women and Equalities team is clear and unambiguous about who is a woman. Yet Ashley Dalton, who has only been a Labour MP since February, has just joined Dodds as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities — and she’s on record as tweeting that “trans women are women.” 

There’s a striking disconnect between what I hear from Labour activists who insist the party has seen the light and the number of councillors, MPs and parliamentary candidates who are fully on board with the ideology pushed by Stonewall. If the price of getting a Labour government is accepting the premise that men can magically become women, it’s too high for me — and for many other women, I suspect.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.