February 1, 2024 - 7:00am

How will a Labour government handle the conflict between women’s rights and the demands of trans activists? Optimists believe that the party has rowed back from an extreme position on gender ideology, but gender-critical women’s organisations and even some of his own MPs struggle to get a meeting with Sir Keir Starmer. 

Not so trans activists, for whom Starmer apparently has all the time in the world. This week he welcomed members of the lobby group LGBT+ Labour to a reception at Westminster and offered them everything the most dedicated trans activist could want, short of self-ID. Starmer was accompanied by a raft of frontbenchers including his deputy, Angela Rayner, and the Shadow Women and Equalities Minister, Anneliese Dodds.

“Together we’ll ban conversion therapy, strengthen hate crime laws and tackle health inequalities,” Dodds posted excitedly on X. Banning “trans conversion therapy” has become an article of faith for leading Labour figures, even though they are strangely reluctant to tell us what exactly it is and how often it is happening. They have been warned repeatedly that a ban risks criminalising parents and counsellors who take a cautious approach to children expressing unhappiness with their sex, but they don’t listen.

Starmer also promised to make every category of hate crime an aggravated offence, cut NHS waiting lists for LGBT+ people who need “urgent mental and physical healthcare”, and “modernise” the Gender Recognition Act. As always, what he means by all this remains opaque. Is he seriously suggesting that sex-change operations should be fast-tracked when other patients are waiting in agony for hip replacements? 

As for “hate crime”, a vague concept that troubles many supporters of free speech, there is no firm evidence of an increased incidence against trans people, as opposed to an increase in reporting. And while the GRA is certainly a flawed piece of legislation, this is because it offers a legal avenue for individuals to lie about their sex, rather than because it requires them to meet not very onerous conditions to do so.

It must be galling for Labour MPs such as Rosie Duffield, who has been relentlessly targeted by LGBT+ Labour, to see the party’s leading figures palling up to its members. Starmer has not spoken to Duffield for more than two years, leaving her to cope unsupported with endless smears and demands that she should lose the Labour whip. He is evidently more comfortable with the widely-ridiculed MP for Jarrow, Kate Osborne, who was at the reception despite having boasted on X about her delusion that some women have a penis. 

It speaks volumes about the state of Labour that these are the people — reality-deniers and lobby groups who try to silence gender-critical MPs — that leading figures want to impress. It’s not unheard of for politicians to tailor their policies to their audience, but the pattern is clear. Each apparent lurch towards reality by Labour frontbenchers is followed by a capitulation to trans activism.

That’s bad enough, but the general election is going to bring about an influx of Labour MPs who are signed up to all the nonsense about pronouns and gender identity. Labour’s woman problem hasn’t gone away, and the party’s leading figures don’t even bother to hide it. 

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.