Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Starmer’s disastrous Pride

Clip from the Pink News video
It was all going so well.

Keir Starmer, having made it intact through his first year of leadership, had managed – admittedly, not entirely by design – to remove the toxic presence of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, from the party and win back a majority on the party’s ruling NEC. And even in the face of an unprecedented “vaccine bounce” for the current occupant of No. 10, he was nevertheless starting to be seen as Labour’s most serious leader in more than a decade, whether or not his electoral ship might come in in 2023-24.

His recent “soul-baring” interview with the ever-dreadful Piers Morgan, which could have turned out so badly, ended up showing him in a positive light, as a genuine and humble everyman, in a way neither of his two predecessors could have ever achieved.

All in all, a creditable first year: albeit with much left to do, not least on the unpleasant nitty-gritty of eliminating anti-Semitism.

Yes, it was all going so well – until last week. The week he decided to alienate a large swathe of women in his own party and many thousands outside it.

A little background: during the last two weeks, the following things happened.

One. The boss of Stonewall – which, despite being an overtly political organisation, still provides a system of diversity accreditation to hundreds of public and private bodies in the UK – compared the idea of being “gender-critical” – essentially, to insist on the immutability of biological sex – to anti-Semitism, not only a woefully wrong but an abhorrent comparison.

Almost immediately afterwards, Equalities minister Liz Truss followed the lead of the EHRC and recommended withdrawal for government departments, and a former list of 900-plus Stonewall Diversity Champions is now diminishing rapidly.

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this move. Stonewall, during prior decades a hugely-respected organisation, which did much to bring about the liberalisation of laws on homosexuality during the last Labour government, seems now to be so broken that it is difficult seeing it survive through to the end of the decade – at least, not without a huge shake-up in its management and culture. A seeming obsession with trans campaigning above all other facets of lesbian, gay and bi politics has driven many to a new organisation, the LGB Alliance.

And that is not to mention training given by Stonewall according to guidelines that go far beyond what the 2010 Equalities Act actually stipulates, making them look ignorant of the law as it is, as well as conveniently forgetting its special protections for women.

LGBT+ Labour, an organisation which has often taken its moral cues from Stonewall, is also compromised and in trouble.

But Stonewall’s attitude of “agree with us or you’re a transphobe” is proving toxic to the debate about how far trans rights should go without harming the rights of others, particularly women.

This stance has not been without consequence. Former Stonewall founders Simon Fanshawe and Matthew Parris have, more in sorrow than in anger, gravitated towards a more LGB- than LGBT+-oriented version of minority rights. And, to state the bleedin’ obvious, it is hardly transphobic merely to suggest that the gay rights struggle and the trans rights struggle have different challenges and different ends.

Two. Last Thursday, policy analyst Maya Forstater won her appeal against her employer, the Centre for Global Development, which had dispensed with her services after her tweets declared her gender-critical views. It was loudly applauded by many Labour women who had been following the case, one with major implications for freedom of speech in this area, as Mr Justice Choudhury’s judgement highlighted.

The previous day had been the day of Starmer’s intervention. It was not being caught off guard in an interview, no: it was a fully-”premeditated” piece to camera for Pride Month, reaffirming support for trans self-id.

Perhaps no-one should be really surprised at this: although he did not go as far as his leadership rivals Nandy or Long-Bailey, he offered support for this position last March in the run-up to becoming leader, and then reiterated it last December.

But the situation has moved on since then: the Keira Bell case of a young, detransitioned woman suing the UK´s premier hospital for gender reassignment cast light on the fact that teenagers and younger were being offered puberty-blocker drugs when clearly not at an age to make informed consent. That is, potentially making life-changing decisions about their future sex lives when not remotely at an age to actually have sex.

The Bell case also showed that, when trans lobbying comes up against the current law in a British court, it is often found crashingly wanting, and Forstater’s win last week has only reinforced that impression. One would have thought that a former Director of Public Prosecutions might have noticed this.

Or, for that matter, the patent possibility of moral hazard with self-id, and the safeguarding issues that might result. As Fanshawe put it last week on the Today programme: “we have safeguarding for children not because all adult males are paedophiles…we have it because of the very small number of kids who need to be protected.” The same goes for women-only shelters or prisons.

Let’s take a moment to explain what self-id actually means: it means that someone no longer requires a legally-recognised Gender Recognition Certificate to be treated in law as a member of the opposite sex. In particular, it means that any biological man who “feels like” a woman, may elect to declare themselves as such, and have a legal right access to all-female toilets; all-female prisons; all-female domestic abuse shelters; all-female competitive sport.

Although some of these things are becoming de facto rights (e.g. the Olympic committee is allowing trans women to compete as women, despite countless studies confirming the superior strength of a male body even years after hormone treatment), none are so far actually enshrined in British law and are therefore challengeable.

What did Labour women think about this act of video solidarity by their new leader? Not a lot, it would seem, for many.

Now, there are some such as Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, who have been vocal in favour of self-id. But many, many female Labour MPs who are not are nevertheless simply too afraid about the pile-ons they invite by the act of speaking out against.

And if you want to have a good indicator of how many support gender-critical ideas against the radical trans lobby and are fed up of being browbeaten, you need look no further than the fact that Rosie Duffield, seen by many of the radical trans left as their bête noire, was last month re-elected as Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party. This self-evidently would not have happened were a majority of women MPs not seriously unconvinced by the party’s current position on trans rights.

Why is this? Well, it´s pretty straightforward. First, women are concerned that they are not being consulted about the encroachment of biological males, however harmless the majority may be, in their safe spaces. Or that they find it unfair that they should be able to compete in women’s sports with superior physical strength.

But second, and more disturbingly, is use of language. Language – especially pronouns – has become so important that the very words “woman” and “mother” are steadily being removed from the lexicon, to be replaced by such idiocies as “vagina-haver” or “birthing parent”, so as not to upset those who do not share in those physical attributes. Data on sex is being changed in databases, or not kept at all and replaced with “gender”, a construct Stonewall want to be self-defining.

If this is not an erasure of women in an entirely non-hyperbolical use of the word “Orwellian”, it is difficult to see what is.

And data, a dull subject, is it not? Not so here. In Health, Education and other government departments, we soon may not have records on who is actually a genetic male or female, with predictably terrifying consequences of researchers trying to make sense of statistics, and the risks of who may die of what. For example, how do you contact a biological male over prostate testing, if you don´t actually know they are male?

Finally, it is not enough merely to ignore this issue and assume it will eventually go away. Women are being piled onto on social media, publicly shamed and, in some instances, sacked from their jobs, for merely disagreeing with the prevailing orthodoxy.

And it is this, the complete shutdown of debate and the immediate assumption of bigotry and bad faith on the part of the gender-critical, that is more than anything going to lead Stonewall and others off a cliff (and that is even before we start with the very real and tricky safeguarding issues relating to children and vulnerable young adults, particularly those with autism).

Now, it is unusual for Uncut to find itself on the same side of an argument as both Liz Truss and Ruth Serwotka, but here we are.

It is not an understatement to say that there are now women across the left, from the moderate left to the hard left, who are livid. These women are not bigots. They are women with reasonable doubts who are being told to shut up: by a small number of women and a seemingly larger number of men.

Furthermore, for moderate women who have already put up with five years of Corbynite agression, often tinged with misogyny, it is particularly galling to suddenly find that the party’s new leader, whom many have seen as the light at the end of the tunnel, lining up with the very people trying to erase them – biological women – as a group with a unique shared experience.

Yes, it is an international issue. The governments of Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Norway, New Zealand and the US are all well-advanced along the road to self-id or there already, and are seemingly less well-positioned than the UK to turn back to sanity. In that sense, we are lucky.

Yes, we know that this is not an issue high on UK voters’ priorities. But that stance is in itself a cop-out: there are issues of morality or of credibility which still count at elections if you are on the wrong side of them. Even at sixteen, I could see that Michael Foot would never win an election while he had unilateral disarmament on his manifesto ticket. This is heading to be the same kind of touchstone issue.

Starmer’s problem is not – as of now – the portion of the electorate who will see him as firmly on the wrong side of an argument which will very likely end in scandal and disgrace for those involved, not to mention actual harm for many (especially children) on the receiving end of this new orthodoxy, disturbing though that is.

His immediate problem is the women who resigned from the party last week and others whose memberships are now hanging by a thread. The women who feel that he has failed to support them.

This, do not doubt it, is an inflection point. If Starmer’s attitude to those women, who have stuck it out through five very troubled years, turns out to be “let them go”, he can genuinely say goodbye to this election. And the next one and the one after that.


This post first published at Labour Uncut

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...