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Artillery Row

The post-feminist Labour Party

What does Keir Starmer have to be proud of?

Being a feminist has always been a risky business. The French playwright, Olympe de Gouges, was executed by guillotine in 1793 after challenging male privilege in her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. In the UK, just over a century later, suffragettes were imprisoned and force-fed, sometimes suffering irreversible damage to their health as a result. 

Later generations of British feminists only had to put up with name-calling, but we had mainstream political parties on our side. In the 1970s, a Labour government outlawed sex discrimination and produced equal pay legislation, while a Liberal MP introduced the private member’s bill that became the 1967 Abortion Act. As recently as 2010, a Labour government passed the Equality Act that enshrined our right to single-sex spaces.

Filia isn’t welcome at the Labour Party conference

Now feminism has become dangerous again. Feminists are being bullied, threatened with violence and shouted at by men in balaclavas. If ever we needed support from left and centre-left political parties, now is the time yet they are turning their backs on us. 

Last weekend, two avowedly feminist organisations, Filia and the Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD), disclosed that they’ve been told they cannot have stalls at this autumn’s Labour party conference. Both had offered to pay the going rate of £1,600 for a trestle table and a couple of chairs, and the party’s conference site showed plenty of unsold stands at the time they applied. 

On the day LWD’s appeal against the decision was turned down, vacant stands still appeared on the website. LWD has thousands of signatories and five Labour MPs (out of 200) who have been brave enough to question the decision. It’s par for the course these days when anyone stands up for old-fashioned feminism, which insists that women’s oppression is based in sex rather than some wishy-washy notion of gender identity.

Labour is not the only culprit here. Scotland’s first minister, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, claims to be a feminist but supports self-ID, allowing any man to declare himself a woman without a medical diagnosis. The Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey, tweets that “trans women are women” while some Greens refer to women as “non-men”. 

No matter what they say, however, the fact remains that there is a conflict between women’s rights and gender ideology. Trans activists want an end to single-sex spaces, which exist because of a hitherto widely-accepted recognition that women and girls are vulnerable to male violence. Far from extending the rights of a disadvantaged minority — trans people already have the same rights as the rest of us — gender ideology seeks to take away the existing rights of women.

For those who don’t know, Filia runs the largest annual feminist conference in Europe. Last October, more than 1,100 people turned up in Portsmouth to attend sessions on male violence, discrimination against disabled women, the omission of migrant women from domestic violence legislation in the UK and the persecution of lesbians in a refugee camp in Kenya. These are all vital feminist issues but we had to put up with the usual abuse from trans activists, including threats of sexual violence, just to get into the venue. Filia’s work empowers women, including the most marginalised. The fact that it isn’t welcome at the Labour Party conference speaks volumes.

Behind the scenes, feminists are being blanked

Stonewall, by contrast, is welcomed with open arms by leading figures in the party. Dozens of organisations, including government departments, have recently cut links with the organisation. It is currently being sued by Allison Bailey, a barrister and lifelong campaigner for lesbian and gay rights, who claims she suffered discrimination as a result of her chambers’ involvement in Stonewall’s diversity champions scheme. (Stonewall and Garden Court chambers deny Bailey’s claim.) To describe it as a controversial organisation is putting it mildly, but Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry happily posed with Stonewall’s CEO, Nancy Kelley, at Pride last weekend. So did the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, feminists are being blanked. I wrote to Starmer in February 2021, listing examples of the abuse suffered by members of the party who believe in biological sex, and got no response. In May this year, at a dinner for Labour women, I challenged him face-to-face, telling him it looks as though he simply doesn’t care about misogyny in the party. He apologised profusely, saying he hadn’t seen my letter, and I promised I would write again. I did, and that letter has been ignored as well. 

Other women have told me they too have been ignored by Starmer’s office, but when I made a formal complaint to the party, it was rejected within hours. I’ve been treated with similar discourtesy by Khan, who still hasn’t responded to my letter of October 2020 asking whether he supports single-sex spaces. 

There is currently no left-leaning political party that supports women’s rights unequivocally, without swerving to talk about trans rights. The two issues are unconnected, except insofar as one is in conflict with the other, but Starmer is evidently too busy putting glitter on his face to listen to women banging on about sex-based oppression. 

Welcome to the post-feminist Labour Party, where conference attendees will be spared from having to engage with activists who (gasp!) know what a woman is.

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