Disappointment on the faces of Labour candidates is rapidly becoming a post-election tradition. The Conservatives cleaned-up following Thursday’s local and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England. But the blue sweep was not total; the Labour Party made gains in Wales and won eight of ten metro mayor posts. In addition to voting in Wales and Scotland, 143 English councils had 5,000 seats up for grabs. To date, the mainstream parties have ignored lesbian, gay and bisexual voters with concerns about gender identity, though a plethora of fringe parties have picked-up on the issue.
Conservative Party success has popularly been attributed to the roll-out of the vaccine programme, which apparently distracted voters from Covid contract cronyism and the PM’s penchant for lavish interior decoration. But arguably, the result has been as much about the failings of the Labour Party as a strong strategy by the Tories.
“So many women have contacted us, Labour supporters and even lots of members, saying that this time they couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour.”
Jen Izaakson, founder of Lesbian Labour believes that increasing numbers of women are becoming disillusioned with the Labour Party. She tells me:
“So many women have contacted us, Labour supporters and even lots of members, saying that this time they couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour. They either spoiled their ballot or didn’t bother to vote. Just check Twitter, there’s tonnes of women saying they did this. Why does the Labour Party expect half the population to vote against our interests? It’s like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas”.
To most voters, the potential dangers of gender self-identification, and the impact of transgender inclusion on lesbian and gay culture, is quite understandably not a primary concern. But sex-based rights are political, and whilst not commonly recognised to be as important as housing or immigration, policies around gender identity are climbing up the political agenda.
This is clear from the fate of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP). At the 2016 London Mayoral election Sophie Walker, then head of WEP secured a respectable 5.2 per cent of the vote, put another way, 1 in 20 votes. This year, standing on a trans-inclusive ticket the new WEP leader, Mandu Reid, secured just 0.8 per cent, putting her well below Count Binface. Granted, there were four more fringe candidates at the 2020 election, but the feminists who would have proudly voted for WEP in 2016 have clearly withdrawn their support. In itself, the emergence of Independents and new political parties shows dissatisfaction with the traditional options; with twenty candidates Londoners were embarrassed by choice.
Rather than walk away from the identity politics bomb the Tories had sparked, the Labour Party ran towards it as if it were the next civil rights movement. Each time grassroots activists attempted to express their misgivings, the Party apparatchiks have sought to silence them.
In 2015 Conservative Maria Miller MP commissioned an inquiry into Transgender Equality. She was supported by the Labour politicians including Jess Phillips MP. Once the inquiry was published, some of Miller’s Tory colleagues began to have misgivings about the recommendations, in particular the right to self-identify legal gender. Having lit the touch paper Miller was politely moved on and most of her Conservative colleagues returned to more pressing matters. Rather than walk away from the identity politics bomb the Tories had sparked, the Labour Party ran towards it as if it were the next civil rights movement. Each time grassroots activists attempted to express their misgivings, the Party apparatchiks have sought to silence them.
Pronouns in social media bios and declarations about the validity of non-binary people have undoubtedly contributed to the image of the Labour Party as out-of-touch with ordinary voters. With coronavirus destroying businesses, a severe lack of affordable housing and rising unemployment, many people would be delighted if the worst thing that happened to them was being recognised as the sex that they are. It is telling that the Tories performed best in the most deprived areas.
The Labour Party’s defeat in England included County Durham, which has had a Labour council for the past 100 years, and the loss of the Hartlepool by-election. With the exception of Wales, where the party made gains, the results from last Thursday are indicative of the Labour Party’s slide into irrelevance.
With a practiced look of constipated concern, Keir Starmer accepted “full responsibility” for the party’s poor showing, but still opted to sack Angela Rayner as campaign chair. Rayner has form for poor judgement calls. Last year, Rayner signed a pledge written by a group called Labour Against Transphobia which called for the ‘expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views.’ This followed on from her support of controversial trans activist Lily Madigan. She told the then 19-year-old women’s officer that she was ‘keeping the green benches ready’ in the House of Commons. There were hopes Rayner might be relegated to treasurer of the tea kitty, last night it was confirmed she will shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Michael Gove MP) so she might as well be.
The local election results make it clear; voters have not walked away from the Labour Party, the Labour Party have left them.
It took a new leader before the Labour Party took anti-Semitism seriously, though finally it seems the issue is being addressed. Feminists have been pushing for a sensible conversation on the conflict between sex-based and gender-based rights for years. Women’s Place UK (WPUK) was founded by trade unionists and Labour Party members in 2018 specifically to provide a space for such discussions. In the few years since a Labour Women’s Declaration has been established and similar women’s caucuses have now been set-up in each of the main parties. But despite the regularity with which #labourlosingwomen trends on social media, Starmer has yet to face the issue head-on.
An overlooked gem of the coverage so far has been spectacular failure of the Northern Independence Party (NIP). Apparently unaware of the peacock in the coalmine that was the Corbyn era, NIP has policy commitments include the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, recognition ‘non binary identities’ and the legalisation of cannabis. Somewhat surprisingly this didn’t appeal to the voters of Hartlepool, and their candidate Thelma Walker, came in with just 250 votes, two votes ahead of registered sex offender and independent candidate Christopher Killick.
In taking the easy option, in sacrificing the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to a more popular cause, the Labour Party have allowed themselves to be dragged into the mud of identity politics. In doing so they have not only lost their integrity and risked their reputation as the champion of progressive causes, but they have made enemies of their once loyal supporters. The local election results make it clear; voters have not walked away from the Labour Party, the Labour Party have left them.