Keir Starmer’s arrogant sexism is revealed during Question Time trans debate

Labour leader’s response to a question about his criticism of Labour MP Rosie Duffield for stating that ‘only women have a cervix’ spoke volumes about his views, writes Susan Dalgety

Keir Starmer is a man’s man. His recent biography, written by a Labour adviser close to him, is littered with references to his love of football, playing as well as watching. He relishes nothing more than a couple of pints down the pub with his mates, and while he clearly loves and respects his wife Victoria, the picture that emerges from Tom Baldwin’s book is that of a bloke, a diamond geezer, one of the lads, never happier than when on the terraces of his beloved Arsenal.

And right on cue, earlier this week, the Labour party aired the most blokey party political broadcast imaginable. A four-minute bromance starring Starmer and his mate Gary Neville, ex-Manchester United and England defender, wandering through the Lake District, bemoaning the current state of the country.

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Dressed in casual menswear, chosen to look as if it was last season M&S, but more likely from Harvey Nichols, the two blokes set the world, or at least Britain, to rights. Neville, a long-time Labour supporter, asked Sir Keir a handful of carefully scripted questions, including how he would persuade people that politicians are not all the same.

Keir Starmer, seen on BBC Question Time's election special, appears to find women who argue for their sex-based rights extremely irritating (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA pool/Getty Images)Keir Starmer, seen on BBC Question Time's election special, appears to find women who argue for their sex-based rights extremely irritating (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA pool/Getty Images)
Keir Starmer, seen on BBC Question Time's election special, appears to find women who argue for their sex-based rights extremely irritating (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA pool/Getty Images)

“The first thing is returning politics to service,” replied Starmer. “It’s a public service. You’re here to serve the country.” He might have added: “But not those stroppy women who keep banging on about sex and women’s rights. I don’t know about you Gaz, but they do my head in, I wish they would just shut up.”

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‘Very toxic, very divided’ debate

Starmer has a woman problem, or more specifically, he finds the women who argue for their sex-based rights to be respected, both in law and in practice, extremely irritating. He could barely contain his exasperation during the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday when a young woman asked him about his current views on biological sex, reminding him that he had previously criticised Labour MP Rosie Duffield for stating that “only women have a cervix”. He said at the time her statement of the obvious was something that shouldn’t have been said. “It’s not right.”

It seems he has changed his mind – or has he? Adopting his best human rights lawyer pose, and with only the slightest hint of condescension in his voice, he replied: “Well look, on the biology, I agree with what Tony Blair said the other day in relation to men having penises and women having vaginas. But what I will say… on the biology that doesn’t help on the gender, there are some people who don’t identify with the gender they are born into…” The debate had become “very toxic, very divided, very hardline” he insisted, disapproval seeping through his every word.

Notice what he did there? He couldn’t bear to mention Duffield’s name, let alone admit she had been right all along, preferring instead to cite former Prime Minister and alpha male Tony Blair, who told Holyrood magazine only this week that “of course” women have vaginas and men have penises. Starmer also revealed that he has firmly bought into the disputed theory of gender identity that says sex is a feeling, not a biological fact.

Streeting admits he was wrong

And once again, he caricatured the campaign to protect women’s sex-based rights as something poisonous, to be dismissed as “hardline” rather than what it is – a simple assertion by women, many of them Labour supporters, that women’s rights matter. “My view in life is to respect and give dignity to everyone, whatever their position,” he said on Thursday – except, it seems, the women who disagree with him on this most fundamental of issues.

Not everyone at the top of Labour agrees with their leader. Wes Streeting, an ambitious young man who, if I were a Tory candidate, I would place a bet on being Labour leader sometime in the next decade, admitted recently that he had been wrong to assert that “trans women are women”. And he went on to say that women should not have been written off as bigots because they wanted to protect women-only spaces, adding that that approach was “wrong, counter-productive and not the way to handle such a sensitive issue”. Perhaps Streeting should have gone for a walk in the Lake District with his boss, rather than Neville.

Voting for Labour, not Starmer

So where does that leave women like me, who are instinctive Labour supporters, yet struggle with Starmer’s arrogant dismissal of the campaign for women’s rights as toxic, just as Nicola Sturgeon did when she was First Minister?

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Weary. Sad. Betrayed. But come July 4, I will do what I believe to be the right thing. Like Dr Karen Ingala Smith, whose Counting Dead Women website captures data about the women who have been killed by men in the UK (at least 100 in 2023), I will vote Labour. In the wake of Starmer’s Question Time appearance, she said on social media: “I will vote Labour because the party more broadly reflects my values than any other. I’m glad that we vote for a party not a leader, because Starmer’s response… was so disappointing.”

It was more than disappointing. It displayed an arrogant sexism from the man who says he wants to govern for the whole country, to rebuild our fractured nation. As one of the UK’s leading political commentators, Sonia Sodha, said yesterday, the most depressing thing about Starmer’s response was his refusal to accept that women have real and justified concerns.

Instead, just like men have done throughout history, he dismissed our views as not valid. Look, in Starmer’s world, of course a woman’s vote matters. Just not our rights.

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