Keir Starmer must fight to regain LGBTQ+ trust after Liz Truss ‘gifted him election’, members say

Nadia Whittome, Keir Starmer and Michael Cashman against a pink designed background.

With Liz Truss’ political career on life support, it’s increasingly looking like Keir Starmer won’t have to do a lot to win the next general election.

After just 42 days in office the prime minister is already facing open calls for her resignation from Tory MPs.

She’s had her entire economic platform torn up by her second chancellor in just over a month, and incredibly, left Commons leader(and one-time rival) Penny Mordaunt to tell MPs that she most definitely wasn’t hiding under a desk as she ducked an urgent question on the entire fiasco.

Poll after poll has predicted a Tory wipe-out at the next general election. The most recent YouGov poll puts Labour 28 points ahead of the Tories, while a Redfield & Wilton survey produced a 36-point lead – the highest ever recorded by any polling company since 1997.

Right now, the public is backing Labour on the economy. But is the party fit to govern when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights?

Heather Peto has been a Labour member for more than 20 years, and in that time she’s worked extensively within the party to champion equalities.

She sat on its National Executive Committee subcommittee for equalities, where she “made the point that Labour should build an electoral narrative with a simple message: ‘Fighting for equality and against inequality,'” Peto tells PinkNews.

Heather Peto

Labour party member Heather Peto says the party “sacrificed” trans and disabled members. (Provided)

However, she believes the party has effectively “sacrificed” its trans and disabled members.

The party’s shadow equalities minister, Anneliese Dodds, has promised Labour would deliver a “fairer future”. At the party’s annual conference, she said a Labour government would reform the Gender Recognition Act, ban conversion therapy and tackle hate crime. It would also introduce a new Race Equality Act, act on violence against women and girls, and tackle ableism.

But the party has been faced condemnation for refusing to tackle what has been described as an internal transphobia problem, and for remaining silent as MPs and peers express distressing “gender critical” views.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield – who denies she is transphobic – has repeatedly faced criticism for referring to trans women as “male-bodied people” and for arguing against the inclusion of trans women in single sex spaces. Former shadow equalities minister Marsha de Cordova has been criticised for congratulating “gender critical” campaigner Maya Forstater.

There was also outrage when a group of Labour MPs and peers were accused of trying to play down the UK’s wider transphobia problem in an international resolution on anti-LGBTQ+ hate.

Little has been done within the party to confront or to challenge these views. Peto says that’s because Starmer has failed to change Labour’s “toxic culture”, and has dodged attempts to introduce a clear definition of transphobia in its party rules.

“For the last two years, the Labour Party’s leadership and NEC has been trying to avoid hostile headlines by bending its rules to exclude tackling transphobia in its codes of conduct and disciplinary rules,” she says.

“If the party is still doing that to one protected characteristic, the reforms to tackle harassment of other minorities are not engrained and still dependent on who the party elects as leader and to the NEC.”

It’s not just about LGBTQ+ rights either – Peto points out that Disability Labour branded the party “institutionally ableist” in September.

In order to win the next election, Peto says it must regain trust across communities.

Labour must ‘listen to trans people’

That’s echoed by Natacha Kennedy – like Peto, she’s a longtime Labour member who believes the party must change if it wants to be ready to step into government.

“I don’t think it’s been brilliant [on LGBTQ+ issues],” Kennedy tells PinkNews.

Keir Starmer has said that trans women are women – a simple statement that Liz Truss denied during the Tory leadership race – but trans people need much more than acknowledgement.

“Trans people should have full human rights, particularly since being trans was fully depathologized by the World Health Organization (WHO), so I think that’s a fairly reasonable start, but there’s much more Labour could be doing for trans people, and LGB people as well.”

Sir Keir Starmer makes his keynote speech to Labour Conference for the first time as party leader on September 29, 2021 in Brighton, England.

Keir Starmer makes his keynote speech for the first time as party leader during the Labour Conference last week.(Getty/Dan Kitwood)

Kennedy points out that there are glaring problems with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – the UK’s equalities watchdog, which has been criticised for its recent interventions on trans rights.

Among other things, it’s been accused of encouraging “blanket bans” on trans people in single sex spaces.

She questions why there’s never been a trans commissioner.

“Labour needs to change that and also ensure that it’s properly independent,” she says – EHRC appointments are made by the government, with Truss accused of pushing the watchdog in a trans-hostile direction with her picks (as equalities minister).

It’s not all about LGBTQ+ rights either – Kennedy would also like to see Labour focusing on things like strengthening the trade union movement and introducing proportional representation.

If Labour thinks long and hard about its priorities, and works to rebuild trust with LGBTQ+ people, Kennedy believes it will win.

“Liz Truss has just gifted him the next election and she’s only been in office a few weeks,” she says.

People want ‘a good standard of living’

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, tells PinkNews that Labour must provide solutions to the “material issues” people are facing in the UK today if they want to make sure they’ll beat the Tories at the next election.

“We all want a secure home, a decent wage, and a good standard of living. We all want to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity,” Whittome says.

“We need to be clear about who the culprits of the cost of living crisis, the lack of housing and the collapse in the NHS are not minority groups, but a government that has failed to invest in public services and the super-rich that are squeezing us to make obscene profits.”

Whittome believes one of the best ways Labour can ensure victory at the next election is to focus on improving people’s quality of life right across the board.

“Our problems are shared and the solutions can benefit us all, that’s why I believe our party should make a Green New Deal, which brings investment and jobs to every corner of our country, while transitioning away from fossil fuels and bringing down people’s bills, the centrepiece of our next manifesto.”

Labour MP Nadia Whittome backed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights

Labour MP Nadia Whittome. (Parliament)

Labour peer Michael Cashman says the party must show the electorate that they can offer better conditions in the UK than the Conservatives have offered in recent years.

That shouldn’t be too hard, given the Tories’ track record, he says. When Truss won the leadership race, Cashman realised her government would be “desperate” and that it would “stoke up” culture wars to win support.

He believes Labour must focus on protecting and advancing LGBTQ+ rights if they want to get back into government.

“Our rights are only as strong as the rights of the weakest in our community,” he tells PinkNews.

“Defend the other because if we don’t, ultimately they will come for us, and that’s my fear about this Truss government. It’s a continuation of the Johnson government.”

A Labour spokesperson told PinkNews: “Labour is proud to campaign to promote and advance equality, from championing women’s rights to toughening measures against hate crime targeting LGBT+ and disabled people, and to producing a new Race Equality Act.

“Inequality is rife across the UK after twelve years of the Tories and only Labour has a plan to tackle it.”