November 2, 2022 - 10:45am

It was bound to happen. At some point, reality was going to catch up with Sir Keir Starmer, who has spent the last couple of years robotically repeating the doctrine of trans activists. Now he’s discovered an issue, the social transitioning of children without their parents’ consent, on which he’s no longer willing to toe the line. His change of heart will be welcomed by parents and health professionals who warn that allowing children to change their pronouns and use opposite-sex toilets at school could put them on a path towards irreversible medical treatment, including puberty blockers.

“We all know what it’s like with teenage children and I feel very strongly about this… this argument that children can make decisions without the consent of parents is one I just don’t agree with at all,” Starmer told Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet. Such clarity and passion is rare from the Labour leader, who has not previously shown himself sympathetic to gender critical arguments. What he’s said strikes at the heart of the notion of the ‘trans child’, who supposedly knows from an early age that he or she was ‘born in the wrong body’. If that isn’t the case, the argument for encouraging transition in childhood falls apart, which is why there has been a furious reaction to Starmer’s sudden embrace of common sense.


‘Starmer is not an LGBTQIA+ ally,’ a ‘he/him’ raged on Twitter. The Guardian columnist Owen Jones described Starmer’s intervention as ‘beyond aggravating’ and told him ‘you don’t understand LGBTQ+ people at all.’ At this point I want to say ‘welcome to my world’ and that of the Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who has been relentlessly targeted for questioning trans doctrine. She has just been the victim of another pile-on, with demands for her to lose the whip for refusing to accept that the would-be Labour candidate for Sheffield Central, Eddie Izzard, is a woman. Other Labour MPs have paraded their willingness to use female pronouns for Izzard, while Starmer has repeatedly failed to take a stand against the bullying of Duffield. 

Now, apparently, they have something in common, which is a refusal to go along with social transition in every circumstance. But Starmer has done more than that, putting himself at odds with one of Labour’s most frequently repeated policies. Earlier this week, his shadow Cabinet colleague Anneliese Dodds called once again for ‘a full ban on conversion therapy’. What she means isn’t just a ban on the unsavoury practice of therapists trying to persuade or coerce gay people into thinking they’re straight. Labour wants the ban extended to any attempt to talk to ‘trans’ kids about their ‘gender identity’, outlawing the ‘watchful waiting’ approach recommended by NHS England. 

To any sensible person, encouraging children into social transition is itself a form of conversion therapy. Starmer evidently doesn’t think children can take such big decisions on their own, yet only last month he publicly supported his party’s misguided policy that would prevent children from talking to health professionals about gender dysphoria.

This is the mess the official Opposition has got itself into by following Stonewall’s notorious ‘no debate’ policy. As Starmer is discovering, trans activists mean what they say: no debate, no exceptions, even for a party leader who found time to present awards on behalf of Pink News only two weeks ago. Honestly, it can only be a matter of time before he faces calls to lose the Labour whip.

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.