Should female voters be reassured by Keir Starmer’s belated understanding of what a woman is? 

The Labour leader made two dramatic U-turns this week on the gender issue, first changing his party’s policy on self-identification and then accepting the dictionary definition of a woman as an ‘adult female’.

It wasn’t so hard after all, when he finally managed to answer the question during a radio interview, and we must be grateful that the man who may be our next Prime Minister has at last grasped basic biological reality.

For most of his time as Labour leader, he has insisted that it is not only women who have a cervix and that 99.9 per cent of women do not have a penis – implying that one in a thousand do.

The fact that he has decided now to embrace mainstream thinking on sex and gender could be seen as a cynical ploy to win votes, particularly among women.

But, again, we should be grateful that Labour recognises, if late in the day, that trans extremism is not the majority view and is prepared to alienate its activist friends for electoral success.

Still, there is much work to be done. On gender recognition reform, Labour’s new stance backs a medical diagnosis for those wishing to transition, a rethink prompted, said Starmer, by the uproar in Scotland over Nicola Sturgeon’s radical trans ideology.

His shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds accused the Scottish National Party of a “cavalier approach” to reforming gender recognition laws, after its self-ID dogma saw rapist Isla Bryson sent to a female prison as a self-identifying trans woman.

Starmer himself said “we’ve reflected on what happened in Scotland”, but Scottish Labour clearly hasn’t been similarly enlightened, saying this week that it remained committed to the de-medicalisation of the process for trans people changing gender.

A Labour victory in 2024 will depend on a big swing in Scotland from the SNP, with the latest Panelbase poll suggesting the party could win 26 seats, up from one now. In such an event, will Starmer come under pressure from his sizeable Scottish wing to flip back again on the gender issue?

He may defend “safe places, safe spaces, for women” today but his lack of support for women’s rights until now casts doubt over his convictions and undermines female voters’ confidence that he will protect them if in government.

It will take a lot more from him to undo the damage inflicted on Labour women such as Rosie Duffield, who has been bullied by her own party for her feminist principles and even frightened away from the Labour Party conference in 2021.

Starmer was nowhere to be seen when his MP for Canterbury received death threats for her gender critical beliefs; he was invisible when she was heckled by fellow Labour MPs during a debate in the Commons on self-ID in Scotland; and he has yet to either discipline colleagues who have harassed Duffield or offer her an apology on behalf of said thugs. 

Starmer has allowed the party to be permeated by a culture of discrimination against women’s organisations. At last year’s conference, groups campaigning for sex-based rights – such as Labour Women’s Declaration and women-led volunteer organisation FiLiA – were banned from taking stalls.

Labour’s timidity in standing up to trans zealots on the Left has so tainted the party in the eyes of many women that they have quit the movement they believe no longer represents their interests. 

Before Starmer took over the leadership from Jeremy Corbyn, hundreds of women left Labour in 2018 when it opened all-women shortlists to trans women.

In 2019, Labour women said they had been subjected to a “persistent onslaught” by their fellow Labour Party members, and they accused Labour representatives and activists of “continuing to engage in intimidatory behaviour”.

Members of Woman’s Place UK were forced to meet in secret at an unofficial fringe event at the party conference in Brighton that year to avoid intimidation by trans rights activists. 

Since then, Starmer’s team has cowardly dodged the gender debate when cornered, with stalwarts such as Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, refusing three times, when challenged during an interview on Times Radio last year, to provide a definition of the word ‘woman’. 

So, are we to trust them when only with an election victory in sight do they suddenly find their moral compass on a subject that has profound consequences for half the population?

If Starmer has been swayed by public opinion, and his observation that going against the grain will do for him as it did for Sturgeon, then he is, at least, pragmatic.

But to lure the female vote and win over undecideds, as well as the Labour women he has estranged, he has an uphill battle in the next 18 months to prove he has conquered his woman problem.

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