Keir Starmer must show courage and protect women and their hard-fought rights - Susan Dalgety

Sir Keir Starmer is, by all accounts, a good man. He loves his family, works hard, and his personal values are clearly rooted in the founding principles of the party he leads. He was even named after Keir Hardie, the Labour Party’s first parliamentary leader.

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, has alienated some female party members over his commitment to protect trans rights. PIC: Contributed.
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, has alienated some female party members over his commitment to protect trans rights. PIC: Contributed.

But he lacks one quality, essential if he wants to become Prime Minister, and this is strong leadership.

Watching him a few nights ago make a statement on equality via Pink News – a LGBT+ online newspaper – I was struck by his rather robotic demeanour. Standing in a field, his quiff, as ever, standing to attention, he droned on for a few minutes about his commitment to “true” equality.

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Then, without changing his tone or facial expression, he affirmed the Labour Party’s commitment to update the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and “introduce self-declaration for trans people”.

Without even a flicker of emotion, Starmer had just condemned thousands of women, many of them Labour members, to the political wilderness. He had become a willing lieutenant in the culture war that passes for political discourse in 21st century Britain, joining Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson in making identity – not economic and social renewal – the focus of their political message.

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A thoughtful leader would have found a way of reconciling women’s hard-won sex-based rights with mindful support for trans people.

A strategic leader would not have made his declaration the night before a landmark court ruling that protects those who believe transgender people cannot change their biological sex.

And it almost defies belief that a Labour leader would abandon women so casually, via a video in a field. Within a few hours of his announcement, the hashtag #labourlosingwomen was trending.

As I write, my Labour Party membership card is still in one piece. A member since 1980, I took a sabbatical during the Corbyn years, unable to support his ideological stance on so many issues. I am reluctant to leave again, pushed out by a weak leader who does not have the wit to craft an equality policy that protects both women and trans people.

I am also reluctant to leave because I remain convinced that only the Labour Party has the potential to offer a credible alternative to right-wing populism and the unflinching nationalism that threatens our social and economic cohesion.

Labour’s poor performance in recent years belies the appeal it has when its policies chime with the concerns of the majority of British people. When Labour is on the side of the many, not the few.

It was Labour who ushered in the post-1945 social revolution that gave us our National Health Service. It was Harold Wilson’s Labour governments which laid the foundations of our modern, inclusive society through the introduction of the Race Relations Act in 1965, the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, and equal pay for women in 1970.

And it was to the Labour Party that the British people turned in 1997, weary after 18 years of Tory rule that had seen the wanton destruction of so many of our traditional working-class communities.

On its current form, and with Starmer at the helm, it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine a situation where Labour would win a narrow victory over the Tories, let alone a landslide.

Labour’s woes are not solely down to Starmer’s lack of charisma and diffident leadership style. Politics is in a state of flux. The climate crisis, the digital revolution, and now a global pandemic will usher in economic and societal change on a scale unseen since the first industrial revolution.

But while more cynical politicians like Johnson and Sturgeon exploit this global uncertainty to push their nationalist agenda, successive Labour leaders have been left looking dazed and confused. None more so than Keir Starmer in that field on Wednesday night when he decided to throw his weight behind the culture warriors of the radical left.

A few weeks ago, Tony Blair, the man once lionised by Labour and now reviled by many of its members, wrote an essay in the New Statesman, where he argued that Labour needs to take drastic action if it is to survive.

“…the Labour Party won’t revive simply by a change of leader. It needs total deconstruction and reconstruction,” he said.

And he warned of a “new-fashioned social and cultural message around extreme identity and anti-police politics which, for large swathes of people, is voter-repellent.”

Starmer, it seems, has decided whose side he is on. By doing so he has sent a clear message to the majority of voters, who in the words of Blair “dislike prejudice; but they dislike extremism in combating prejudice.”

Several hours after Starmer’s video aired on social media, the Daily Telegraph published a story where it revealed that an Oxfam training document says “privileged white women” support the root causes of sexual violence because they want “bad men” imprisoned.

And a few days previously, independent policy analysts, Murray Blackburn McKenzie, launched a Scottish Parliament public petition to urge the government to require Police Scotland to record accurately the sex of people charged with rape. At the moment, Scotland’s national police force will record a man charged with, or convicted of, rape as female if he self-identifies as a woman. This madness, Sir Keir, is the logical conclusion of your statement to Pink News.

Our country, more divided than ever before, needs a Labour party that celebrates diversity, but also understands the concerns and aspirations of the majority.

And it needs a Labour leader with the courage to speak up for reason and progress, not one that is a hostage to extremism.

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