Slowly but surely Labor is moving towards a stance on trans people that is not open to ridicule

It is a source of quiet satisfaction for the average Tory that, on issues of women leaders, the Tories currently lead Labor 2-0. Despite the best efforts of Margaret Beckett, Angela Rayner and, uh, Diane Abbott, the pre-selected women’s party has still not been led by a member of the fairer sex.

One reason for this could be that Labor doesn’t know exactly what a woman is. Asked on women’s hour On International Women’s Day, what a woman is, Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, struggled to define the word on everyone’s lips. What a woman is depends on the context, according to Dodds, and the Equality Act 2010 had not defined the term clearly enough.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, did little better. Three times she told a Times Radio interviewer that she didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole. On the other hand, the leader of his party took advantage of a visit to an Estonian military base to focus on the most pressing problem in Eastern Europe. “Trans women are women,” he said. “And that’s not just my view – it’s actually the law.”

Although some legal brains would say that Starmer’s summary of the intersection between the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 is wrong, it can be seen where the former Director of Prosecutions is coming from. public. After all, if his genitals don’t prevent him from identifying as a woman, then Labor could be on their way to their first female leader, if they so choose.

But, unfortunately for any hypothetical Lady Kiera Starmer, her party has also become a crop on the genitals. Can women have penises? The plague of the white van Emily Thornberry thinks so. Rising star (and LBC dub) Wes Streeting thinks not. And Angela Rayner thinks “it’s unacceptable” to even ask that question.

And Starmer? He didn’t seem to think anything – or that he just wants the subject to go. Much like Alan Partridge, the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t find the endless debate over trans rights appealing – just puzzling. But with the Lia Thomas debacle and other headlines grabbing public attention, it’s not an issue Labor can be embroiled in if it wants to return to power.

Indeed, it has been said that his equivocal approach could push Rosie Duffield, the MP for Canterbury, across the floor. When she receives death threats for standing up for the protection of women-only spaces and for – shock horror – going to lunch with a world-renowned author, a former Guardian and lesbian columnist, then who can blame her.

Starmer must also come to terms with the fact that the Tories have identified this problem as a clear weakness for Labour. Mumsnet’s eight million monthly visitors are unhappy with the Opposition Leader’s obfuscation. But they applauded the Prime Minister’s recent combativeness over the female eunuch and reportedly laughed at his dig at the recent Tory parliamentary dinner. If they had been invited to such an auspicious occasion, of course.

It is therefore not surprising that a leader who places so much importance on being guided by his focus groups has decided to change his position somewhat. While touring Glasgow yesterday with his Scottish counterpart Anas Sarwar, Starmer told the assembled press that it is “common sense” that biology determines sex for most women. “You can’t argue with biology,” his fellow tartan helpfully added.

But Starmer won’t be receiving invitations to JK Rowling’s lunches anytime soon. He made sure to mark at the end of his comments that those who struggle with their gender identity should be respected. Sarwar also suggested that transphobia is a real and important issue to address. Here, then, is the Labor position: aware of the birds and the bees, but also concerned with helping those who move between the poultry and the insect.

You would think this is a typical politician fudge. But for all his habit of blushing like a wandering schoolboy discovered with a dirty magazine, Starmer’s take on the trans debate is relatively close to that of the general public. Polls suggest voters tend to be protective of single-sex spaces and sports, but they’re generally both relaxed and sympathetic when it comes to transgender people living the way they want.

So, did this get Labor out of the woods? I suspect not. As the government is currently finding with its conversion therapy bill, reforming the law on these issues can be extremely controversial. The Mumsnet crowd, ably supported by Baroness Harry Potter and her cronies, can be expected to make a lot of noise as the next election approaches.

Nevertheless, even if their leader is not Tony Blair, it is refreshing to see a Labor Party with some interest in reaching out to public opinion. The confusion of Starmer, Dodds et al over the definition of women and their genitalia may show that the Labor Party is still rocked by the radicalism of its base. But Starmer’s decision to face biology suggests that the focus is ultimately not on appeasing them, but on the voters.


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