This morning's speech was yet another wasted opportunity for Labour
Sir Keir Starmer looked and sounded confident this morning as he mocked candidates for the Conservative leadership. “They’re behaving like they’ve just arrived from the moon,” he said, accusing them of voting for tax increases they now claim to oppose. It was an open goal for Starmer, who’s been on a high since being cleared by Durham police of breaching lockdown regulations.
His speech, delivered just up the road in Gateshead, was mainly about economic policy and the drastic impact of soaring inflation on people’s finances. But he couldn’t resist boasting about how he has changed the Labour party since he became leader in 2020. Labour was stuck in opposition, he said, licking its wounds after four defeats. “That’s why we had to root out the antisemitism which had infected our party,” he declared.
What Starmer didn’t acknowledge — and the absence of contrition was notable — was that he has allowed the antisemitism crisis to be replaced by a profoundly hostile atmosphere to women.
Up and down the country, Labour activists and councillors who believe in biological sex feel they have to keep quiet or risk a torrent of abuse from trans activists. Two feminist organisations have been told they can’t have stands at this year’s party conference. A brave band of Labour MPs who have stood up for women’s legal rights have been bullied and abused.
Some of us have been urging Starmer to take a stand against misogyny in the party for well over a year. I first wrote to him in February last year and I challenged him face to face in May over his failure to act or even respond. Other members of the party have done the same, only to be met with a silence that’s very much in contrast with the decisive action Starmer has taken on antisemitism. “I am tired of divisive politics,” he said this morning, without offering even a glimmer of hope to all the women in Labour who have been harassed by gender extremists.
Today’s speech was an opportunity – and he wasted it. Starmer could have made a brave, simple statement that Labour under his leadership respects the right to free speech, and that includes expressing the belief that sex is immutable. But he didn’t, something that feels like a deliberate choice, given that the issue of biological sex soared to the top of the agenda as soon as the Tory leadership candidates began to declare themselves.
Starmer’s hope, I suspect, is that he can leave the subject to the Conservatives. But it’s a dreadful miscalculation, both on grounds of principle — failing to address bullying in the party looks weak — and in terms of the next election. There was nothing in today’s speech to suggest that Starmer or anyone else in a senior position has begun to grasp the scale of the task they face in persuading women to come back to Labour.
The omission is even more glaring after Maya Forstater’s historic victory at an employment tribunal last week. It has now been established that it is against the law for employers to discriminate against people who express the kind of views about biological sex that have seen women such as the domestic abuse campaigner, Karen Ingala Smith, refused membership of the party.
Indeed it may be the case that signing pledges to expel women for alleged ‘transphobia’, as several of the candidates did during the last Labour leadership contest, would now open the way for another investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
It looks as though the next leader of the Conservative party will be someone with robust views on the reality of biological sex. Starmer may feel he did a good job by saying nothing today but his opponents are smart enough to make it an issue. And when the Leader of the Opposition struggles to answer a question about whether some women have a penis, it won’t be the Tories who sound as though they’re been living on the moon.