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Can Labour be talked off the pledge?

Starmer should not double down on trans radicalism

Artillery Row

I haven’t signed a pledge since I was thrown out of the Brownies. One minute I was telling Brown Owl that I wasn’t keen on the bit in the Brownie Promise about doing my duty to God and the Queen, and the next thing I knew I was out on my ear. Now I’m wondering if a similar fate awaits those of us who don’t sign up to the latest series of pledges, currently promoted in the run-up to internal elections in the Labour Party. Will feminists who disagree be banned from meeting round the toadstool? Do we have to pretend to believe a load of gender woo-woo if we want to remain in the party?

The authors of the five pledges — five, for God’s sake! — evidently think so. Against a background of the trans colours (pink and pale blue, so absolutely no stereotyping there), the pledges display the usual queasy combination of buzzwords like inclusivity with barely-concealed authoritarianism. “I will call for an urgent investigation into the backlog of transphobia complaints involving senior members of the party,” declares pledge number two. “Labour cannot become a truly inclusive organisation unless LGBTQ+ members can trust that action is being taken to deal with transphobia,” it goes on. 

The authors are Jess Barnard, Chair of Young Labour and a candidate for the National Executive Committee; and Alex Charilaou (“he/they”) who is standing for Labour Students Trans Officer. Barnard has history here, having announced a couple of years ago that she was blocking “terfs” (a common slur against feminists who believe human beings can’t change sex) on Twitter. 

The Labour Party, it has to be said, is quite a long way behind the curve when it comes to this word “transphobia”. Most sensible people understand by now that it’s a term of abuse, used as a stick to beat anyone who doesn’t accept the frankly outrageous demands of gender extremists. Suggest that male-bodied people shouldn’t change with women and girls in female dressing-rooms? Transphobia! Criticise the police for skewing crime statistics by referring to male rapists as “she”? Transphobia! 

Feminists, you’ve been warned! 

In the real world, thanks to a couple of landmark legal decisions, it is now clear that holding such views is protected by law. Two women, Maya Forstater and Allison Bailey, went through hell to establish they had suffered discrimination because of their gender-critical views, and the success of their claims has changed the atmosphere around the issue of women’s rights. It’s important to frame it this way because what is often presented as the “trans issue” is actually about existing rights being taken away from women and girls. The public has finally realised that the influence of trans activists is wildly disproportionate, with baffling outcomes such as the loss of women’s toilets in museums and theatres. It’s happened without public consultation or consent, and few organisations have got the issue as badly wrong as the Labour Party. 

Anyone who hoped sensible voices might prevail, following the Forstater and Bailey judgments, need only look at the tone of the latest performative nonsense aimed at members of the party on social media. We’re not just being asked to accept that men can become women, and vice versa, which is taken for granted in some sections of the party. Now we’re supposed to support “extending representation of the trans and non-binary community at all levels of the party”, without any explanation of what that would mean for other protected groups, such as women or disabled people. We’re admonished that “trans lives are not a political football in a culture war”, and the party “should give no ground to those that fail to recognise this”. Feminists, you’ve been warned! 

The reaction on Twitter might politely be described as mixed. The Labour MP Nadia Whittome was quick to endorse the pledges, thanking the authors for “raising these crucial issues” — but then again, she describes the practice of sending drag queens into libraries to read to children as “so wholesome”. Lesbian Labour was unimpressed, announcing that Barnard had blocked its Twitter account and that “we won’t be voting for Jess”. A number of users suggested, reasonably enough, that the pledges were a gift to the Tories.

Starmer’s failure has allowed misogyny to run riot

It feels as though the party has learned nothing since the leadership contest just over two years ago. It was profoundly shocking to discover then that most of the candidates were willing to sign a pledge card libelling feminist organisations as “trans-exclusionist hate groups” and calling for the expulsion of “transphobic” members. Among the signatories were several current members of the shadow cabinet including Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner although Sir Keir Starmer confined himself to signing a different pledge. That one was bad enough, confirming the party’s commitment to self-ID, which would make single-sex spaces almost impossible to enforce.

A great deal has happened since then. Many organisations including government departments are turning their backs on Stonewall, one of the principal advocates for abolishing single-sex spaces. A group of lesbians and gay men have founded their own organisation, the LGB Alliance, to counter the influence of trans activists. Employers are on notice that they can’t punish employees who “like” gender critical posts on social media. Leading Tories have run with the issue, understanding that the public doesn’t want to have “gender-neutral” toilets or to see adult males competing in women’s sports. 

No one, and that includes Starmer, can pretend they don’t know about the harassment of feminists in the party. I told him face-to-face in April and he squirmed, having to apologise for not responding to a letter I wrote to him in February last year (he still hasn’t replied). He gets testy when he’s asked questions about biology — “can a woman have a penis?” — even though it’s a fiasco of his own making. His failure to state the obvious or call out bullying has allowed misogyny to run riot. 

The last thing the party needs in the run-up to a general election is another bloody set of pledges that underlines its capitulation to a bewildering and extreme ideology. It is to the party’s shame that it has done nothing to stop feminists, including women who have campaigned against sexual and domestic violence, being threatened with disciplinary measures by a handful of activists. I can’t say being thrown out of the Brownies broke my heart, but defending the rights of women in the Labour Party is a hill I’m willing to die on. 

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