(Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Labour’s Wakefield win is nothing to crow over

Maybe turning Labour into the “some-women-have-penises” party isn’t such a popular electoral strategy after all

It is hard to imagine a by-election taking place in circumstances more favourable to the Opposition. The sitting MP, who represented a government trailing in the polls, had to resign after being convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy. His party went into the election with a leader widely regarded as a serial liar, who could not even count on the confidence of 148 of his own MPs. Of course Labour was expected to win the Wakefield by-election, as it duly did, but the result should be a wake-up call for the front bench.

In a constituency with around 70,000 registered voters, the party couldn’t persuade even a fifth of the electorate to vote for it. The Labour candidate, Simon Lightwood, got 13,166 votes, a record low in a constituency where the Labour vote once (in 1997) reached almost 29,000. Fortunately for Labour, the Tory vote collapsed even more dramatically, from just over 21,000 in 2019 to 8,241 last week. Losing 13,000 votes is an achievement of sorts, although presumably not one that the unsuccessful Tory candidate would have wanted on his CV.

By-election results come with caveats, especially when turn-out is so low. But Labour was in full triumphalist mode on Friday: “You didn’t just get this over the line, you absolutely smashed it”, Keir Starmer told activists as he arrived in Ossett, accompanied by his newest MP. Starmer is a lacklustre leader who desperately needs good news, but his remarks suggest he’s living in a parallel universe.

Labour cannot build a winning strategy on the unpopularity of Boris Johnson

Far from “smashing it”, Labour regained Wakefield with almost 5,000 fewer votes than Mary Creagh, the sitting MP who lost the seat in 2019. Creagh, whom I know slightly, is an impressive politician who managed to get almost 18,000 votes in that year’s general election, only be swept away by an apparently unstoppable Tory wave in “red wall” seats. Her opponent, Imran Ahmad Khan, beat her by just over 3,000 votes but subsequent events — he was jailed for 18 months in May — were hardly designed to make voters who switched sides feel they’d chosen well.

If Labour was ever facing an open goal in a seat it absolutely had to win back, this was it. But what decided the outcome wasn’t a surge in enthusiasm for Starmer and his somewhat vague policies. The key factor was that collapse in the Conservative vote, which may — or may not — be replicated in other northern constituencies held by first-time Tory MPs come the next general election. Labour cannot build a winning strategy on the unpopularity of Boris Johnson, whose hold on power looks more precarious by the moment.

What Labour should be doing is asking why the party lost so many votes in a crucial by-election at a time when Tory MPs are panicking. Could it, I wonder, have anything to do with the fact that half of the electorate are women?

Feminists have warned for ages that the party’s supine acceptance of gender ideology is turning female voters away in droves (hence the hashtag #LabourLosingWomen). We’ve written to Labour MPs, brought it up on the doorstep, described how we’ve been smeared and bullied by trans activists, but the party resolutely refuses to listen. “What is a woman?” I asked a Labour canvasser who knocked on my door during the local elections last month. “I’ve been asked that quite a lot,” he said, but refused to answer.

A few years ago, it would have been me knocking on doors to get the Labour vote out, but not anymore. In those days, it never occurred to me that I might be asking people to vote for politicians who believe that some women have a penis, though this superstitious nonsense now seems to have the party in a death grip.

There are doctrinal differences between Labour MPs, mostly to do with exactly how many “women” have male sexual organs, but Starmer has the final say and he’s adamant that the “vast majority” don’t have a penis. So, some do, according to the man who wants to lead the next Labour government? (I can’t believe I’ve just written that sentence.)

Labour frontbenchers complain a lot these days about having to answer “gotcha” questions about biological sex, as though they haven’t brought this debacle on themselves. It’s striking that few of them, including Starmer, can respond to a question about women’s rights without immediately starting to talk about trans people, as though the issues are identical (spoiler alert: they’re not).

But as the party’s leading figures crow over what was a poor turnout in a key red wall seat, I’d like to offer a small suggestion. Maybe turning Labour into the “some-women-have-cocks” party isn’t such a popular electoral strategy after all.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover