Artillery Row

Labour is failing women

How have we reached a point where a former shadow women and equalities minster doesn’t know what a woman is?

There was a time when shadow ministers were expected to know what they were talking about. The shadow women and equalities minister, for instance, would be expected to know basic things like the definition of the word “woman”. Not any more, however: the current office-holder, Anneliese Dodds, couldn’t give a straight answer to the question a couple of weeks ago. Now her predecessor in the post, Charlotte Nichols, has raised the stakes even higher. Wading into the debate about men’s participation in women’s sport, the MP for Warrington North has used Twitter to blast anyone who refuses to accept that a six-foot-one male swimmer is a woman.

Harry Kane? Should he really be captaining the England women?

“As a former competitive swimmer, indeed, I know full well how much training is required for a title like this and anyone nastily trying to diminish Lia Thomas’s incredible achievement because of lazy transphobia should frankly pipe down,” Nichols wrote. “Huge congratulations to her.’

In just two sentences, Nichols managed to encapsulate everything that’s wrong with extreme gender ideology: misrepresenting people who disagree with her, smearing them as “transphobes” and denying their right to free speech. The boast about Nichols’s own prowess in the pool is an unexpected addition to the canon although she didn’t mention the sex/gender identity of the people she competed against. The only thing she didn’t do was drag in trans activists’ number one hate figure, JK Rowling, who recently reminded us how evil she is by promising to match donations of up to £1m to a children’s charity working in Ukraine.

The other striking absence from Nichols’s tweet is any concern for the young women who have also trained for years, only to be beaten by a trans-identified male who towers over them.

The swimmer and Olympic medallist Sharron Davies didn’t mince her words, accusing Nichols of a “disgraceful abandonment of Women’s right to equal opportunities in sport…I seriously question your understanding of high level performance competition/training”. The disparity between Thomas and the women he competes against is so obvious that an American network has been accused of trying to play it down by putting a “soft” filter on his face.

It’s hard to avoid the assumption that this nonsense comes from the very top

Thomas, 22, began transitioning in 2019 and joined the women’s team at the University of Pennsylvania last year. Sports journalists have gushed over his times, apparently unconcerned by the fact that his closest female rival was a full 38 seconds slower at a recent event in Ohio. The rules allowing young men who transition to compete against girls and women have major implications in the US, where many students rely on sports scholarships to pay their way through college.

None of this is reflected in Nichols’s tweet. I have become used to Labour MPs saying ridiculous things about sex but the pace has picked up in the last couple of weeks, to the point where I’m wondering if there’s a competition.

Recent entrants include Harriet Harman, who disappointed many supporters with her insistence that trans women are women. Not me, I hasten to add, because I remember Harman making the bizarre claim last year that “deciding if someone is male or female in sport is very difficult”. Which sporting personality does she have in mind? Harry Kane? Should he really be captaining the England women?

After Sir Keir Starmer’s woeful performance in Estonia, when he used a visit to one of Russia’s anxious neighbours to claim that trans women are women, it’s hard to avoid the assumption that this nonsense comes from the very top. I don’t know what Nichols’s constituents make of it, but I assume that some of them are parents of girls. Would they be happy if their teenage daughters had to swim or run against boys, not to mention share changing rooms with males?

Nichols didn’t last long as shadow minister for women and equalities, stepping down for “personal reasons” after less than a year. In the real world, it is astonishing that someone who holds such views was ever considered suitable to represent women’s interests on the front bench — a bit like giving the culture portfolio to an MP who can’t tell the difference between IKEA and the British Museum. But that’s where Labour is these days, deep inside the rabbit hole (thanks, Yvette Cooper) of sex denial.

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