Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Starmer’s TRA test

What Keir Starmer could learn from Stonewall’s cowardice

Artillery Row

If you managed to sit through Beth Rigby’s interview with the Chair of Stonewall, Iain Anderson, without cringing to death or throwing your phone in disgust, a hearty congratulations is in order. With Nancy Kelley stepping down as CEO, whether by choice or by pressure, the organisation seemed to have clicked that her #nodebate strategy was a misguided one, which is to say the most arrogant, self-defeating approach imaginable. Whilst it was mildly refreshing to see an actual Stonewall representative subjecting themselves to rigorous questioning, there was one small fly in the ointment for Anderson: he #cantdebate.

Anderson’s brief flirtation with reason has stoked outrage

I won’t relay every excruciating “So … ” response garbled by Anderson in the Sky interview, aired last Friday. If you are remotely familiar with any of the talking points around the conflicts the trans “rights” movement has with women’s single-sex spaces and the evasive, dishonest mantras chanted in response from gender ideologues, Anderson’s interview more or less hit them all. He wasn’t combative or vicious, at least, instead choosing to speak in a s-l-o-w, pleasantly condescending tone, peppered with “ums” and “wells … ”, all whilst looking as relaxed as a schoolteacher up against a panel reviewing whether he should be struck off the register.

Amongst women and men who have been campaigning around sex-based rights, there has been victorious rage in response. After years of being gaslighted for having the audacity to demand an open discourse from Stonewall, it has paid off in what we knew all along: they have no answers. What was particularly noteworthy though, was the reaction of trans activists. Anderson’s brief flirtation with reason in the interview — at one point conceding there are “competing rights” and hinting weakly that Stonewall would engage with the likes of LGB Alliance — has stoked outrage, including from Jeff Ingold, Stonewall’s former Head of Communications, who tweeted that Anderson’s answers were “a capitulation to what the media/political elite want to hear”.

True to form, Stonewall issued a statement the very next day, retracting anything Anderson said resembling sanity. There are no “competing rights”. There will be no debate with the LGB Alliance. Two plus two is still five. Although predictable, I would argue it has much more gravity than just another capitulation to an onslaught of TRA tantrums: it officially marks the point of no return for Stonewall. Kelley’s exit provided an opportunity for serious reflection, if not real change — but, held to ransom by the threat of relentless backlash, Kelley’s mistakes are not only going to be made again but made harder.

Someone who ought to be observing Stonewall’s point of no return and realising his own predicament is Keir Starmer, highly likely to be our next Prime Minister. The Labour Party has no shortage of TRA-adjacent MPs. Whilst they’ve not quite overthrown authority, they’re not being quelled and chastised appropriately either. Admittedly some hopeful noises have been made this week in the Guardian about single-sex spaces by Women and Equalities Shadow Secretary Annaliese Dodds, but some things speak louder: the fact Starmer or anyone else in his cabinet still has not come out in full solidarity with Rosie Duffield, for instance, emphatically denouncing the slander and intimidation she faces due to gender critical views from members of her own party.

His call for “respect and tolerance” in January isn’t going to cut it at this point. I revisited the now-infamous clip of him on The Andrew Marr show in 2021, stammering that Duffield’s assertion that only women have cervixes “is not right” and “should not be said”. I was darkly amused by his resemblance to Veruca Salt’s father in the 1971 Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory film, bumbling and pleading at his little darling’s demand for a golden ticket.

A woman has been assaulted by a man at a Women Won’t Wheesht rally

As someone who has worked in education with children of all ages, I have learnt a lot about the value of early boundary enforcement. A three-year-old boy or girl who goes through a phase of snatching toys from others is not innately bullying or selfish; he or she simply needs to be taught restraint, which means a firm “No”, confiscation of the toy, and enduring some stamping and tears. It can be hard work but much less so than when trying to ingrain those boundaries in a ten-year-old child who has gotten used to getting their own way and knows how to argue back — and far easier than a teenager. The longer you leave it, the bigger (and more wordy and manipulative) the tantrum. As for stunted adults … good luck.

The comparison of gender activists’ behaviour to that of spoilt toddlers is not a new one. Antifa wannabes who show up at Let Women Speak events to scream them down have long been dubbed “Black Pampers” by gender critical feminists. Whilst there is catharsis here, it’s almost easy to forget these aren’t children, though. It wasn’t rambunctious little boys who kicked down the railings at Let Women Speak in New Zealand and punched an elderly woman in the face in March — it was aggressive men with dangerous capacity to harm and injure. This April, when I personally was forced to walk through a crowd of about seventy screaming protestors to attend a meeting at an Edinburgh public library, where we calmly discussed gender identity theory in the school curriculum, it wasn’t (just) stroppy teenage girls screeching “Nazi” and “TERF” directly at me. It was grown women, a good few of them mothers. As I write this, a woman has been assaulted by a man at a Women Won’t Wheesht rally in Aberdeen, left with a black eye, bruised arm and indefinite trauma. Meanwhile, there is the behaviour of MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, whose intimidating body language towards Duffield during a Westminster debate made headlines; or Kate Osborne MP, who only this week claimed it was “a disgrace” that a Tory MP encouraged people to read Helen Joyce’s acclaimed book Trans to better understand the ideology’s problems. It is not equal to the conduct of deeply stunted, entitled protestors, but it does enable their cause. As Stonewall’s follow-up statement to Anderson’s interview confirms, there is no room for compromise once they are in charge.

Whatever mealy-mouthed progress has been made by Labour of late, to truly restore order and healthy authority, Starmer’s cabinet must be firm, say “No” to women’s rights and child safeguarding being compromised in any way, and insist gender critical views are worthy of respect in the party, with consequences for those who bully and abuse. Then — most crucially — Starmer must ride out the inevitable tantrum from the party’s overgrown Veruca Salts. Thanks to four years of placating and negotiation, it’s going to be a very, very ugly one. Starmer knew what he was in for in 2021, and I’m almost sympathetic as to why he’s still holding off on properly dealing with it. He should bear in mind, though, that it’s not just the brats going down the rubbish chute when reality finally catches up. Fail to wrest control, and they’ll take his whole party and the rest of society with them.

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

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

Critic magazine cover