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Divisions tear through Labour on the eve of leadership vote

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As members begin voting for the next Labour leader this week, debates about transphobia, Palestine solidarity and the party’s election defeat are raging, reports Nick Clark
Issue 2692
Thousands joined trans pride in London last year
Thousands joined trans pride in London last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Labour Party’s leadership campaign has become the focus for arguments over trans rights, after two candidates backed a statement opposing transphobia.

Opponents of extending trans rights attacked Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey after the two leadership candidates supported a statement from Labour Campaign for Trans Rights.

The statement rightly called on candidates to “respect trans people as their self-declared gender, and to ensure that Labour is an inclusive environment for trans people.

“Accept that trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are non-binary. Accept that there is no material conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, and that all trans women are subject to misogyny.”

It then called on them to “organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance and other trans-exclusionist hate groups,” and “Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views.”

In response, Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) founder Ruth Serwotka wrote to Nandy to deny that her organisation was transphobic.

“In fact, we are a women’s rights organisation committed, among other things, to upholding current sex discrimination and equality law as set out in the Equality Act (2010), including upholding protections for trans people,” she wrote.

Yet WPUK was set up to oppose changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would make it easier for trans people to self-identify.

Its five demands focus on the “impact” that self-declaration would supposedly have on women’s only spaces, or monitoring the gender pay gap.


Such demands are based on the transphobic argument that trans women pose a threat to the rights of those biologically born female.

They are used to deny that trans women are women, and to attempt to exclude them from spaces such as women’s toilets and women’s refuges.

Long-Bailey rightly rejected arguments that suggest trans people pose a threat to women’s rights and safety. “I support the right to self-ID,” she said. “As a party you would expect us to be at the vanguard of tackling that transphobic behaviour.”

She added, “There is no conflict between rights of women and the protection of women, and safety in particular places, and trans rights.”

Opponents of the Labour Party—and of trans rights—sided with WPUK to attack the left. Much of the right is delighted at the prospect of infighting among the left that blunts the resistance to the Tories.

There is a difference between people who actively promote transphobia, and those with differing views or questions on gender and sexism.

It’s a mistake to deal with the latter with expulsions. It’s right to oppose and challenge transphobic arguments and those who attack trans people and rights.

But the biggest threat to trans people and women comes from the Tories and the right.

Dragging the party back to the right

The two frontrunners in Labour’s leadership contest have both adopted right wing explanations for the party’s failure in the 2019 general election.

Keir Starmer, who wants to drag Labour back to the right, suggested last week that Labour should have said it wanted to Remain in the European Union (EU).

Labour lost the election mostly because right wing MPs—led by Starmer—pushed Labour into backing a second EU referendum. They wanted Labour to back Remain to cosy up to bosses.

It meant working class people who voted for Brexit saw Labour as siding with establishment figures who wanted to ignore them and overturn the result.

Yet in an interview last week, Starmer said Labour should have gone further “and said which side we would be campaigning on.”

Meanwhile, Labour left group Momentum released a video of Long-Bailey speaking to two Leave voters “disappointed in the Labour Party”. They asked her if Labour was “moving away from the working class,” and what she says about the “impact” of immigration.

It reflected arguments that suggest working class voters are mostly right wing, and that Labour had moved too far left.

Yet Labour nearly ousted the Tory government in 2017, with a left wing manifesto that respected the EU referendum result.

All the leadership candidates want to drag Labour back to the right.

Palestine solidarity axed

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the left’s candidate to be Labour Party leader, has said it is antisemitic to describe the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as racist.

During a hustings held by Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement—which says it aims to “promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life—Long-Bailey agreed it is antisemitic to “describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist.”

That means all the leadership candidates consider it antisemitic to describe Israel as an apartheid state.

It was the latest concession to attempts to deny Palestinians the right to describe their oppression by Israel, or to explain their own history.

Some 850,000 Palestinians were systematically expelled from their homes when Israel was established in 1948 to ensure that Israel has a Jewish majority.

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