Tories will double down on anti-trans culture war if they lose local elections, trans voters fear

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer in front of a polling station sign

If the predictions are to be believed, the Tories are about to suffer massive losses in the local elections – but that might not represent much of a victory for LGBTQ+ people.

Ahead of the local elections on Thursday (4 May), the latest polling from Ipsos shows that almost half (49 per cent) of the county are behind Labour, almost double the Conservatives’ 26 per cent. The Liberal Democrats sit in third place with 11 per cent and the Green Party is in fourth with six per cent.

If the Tories lose, plenty of queer people will see it as a victory – but it’s unlikely to change the course of the culture wars, says Charley Hasted, chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

Over the last couple of years, the Conservatives have repeatedly weaponised trans rights in an apparent bid to drum up support among its voter base.

The problem is that they’re not alone. Labour has slowly shifted its position on trans rights, with Keir Starmer facing condemnation just weeks ago after he suggested that trans kids should be outed to their parents by school staff.

Keir Starmer looking off into the distance.
Keir Starmer has been urged to reconsider his position on gender recognition. (Twitter)

“Either Starmer or Sunak needs to turn around and say enough is enough, and I don’t think either of them will,” Hasted tells PinkNews.

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“The Lib Dems, the Greens, all the small parties, we can be as pro trans rights as we want, but it takes one of the big two because we don’t have an electoral system that will allow us to take power.” 

As for the Tories, Hasted expects them to “double down” on trans rights – even if they suffer significant losses in the local elections.

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“I think they’ll double down and they’ll start trying to push legislation through. It’s not going to make a difference – they’re going to lose the next election because this is what they don’t seem to understand: not enough people care about this.

Rishi Sunak outside Downing Street
Rishi Sunak took a dig at Keir Starmer, saying he “knows what a woman is” (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

“If somebody is pro trans rights, very few of them are making that the thing they decide how to cast their vote on. If somebody is anti trans rights, very few of them are going to make it the thing that they decide how to cast their vote on. You’re talking to maybe two or three per cent of the population on each side.”

They continue: “The vast majority of people are not going to be voting based on a party’s stance on trans rights. They just won’t.

“We’re not an important enough issue. They’re going to be voting based on things like sewage in rivers – that’s the stuff that keeps coming up on doorsteps. Sewage in rivers, council tax, loss of services, social care, the NHS, teachers feeling like they’re forced to strike.”

As far as they see it, the Tories are “flailing around” to claw back the support they had a number of years ago – and they’ve decided attacking trans rights is the way to do that.

“I’m not here to try and keep the Tories in power, but if they want to stay in power they should be dealing with the issues people are talking about, not trying to manufacture ones that people aren’t,” Hasted says.

Labour likely to win local elections – but will Starmer change tune on trans rights?

Elections are often a difficult time for trans people, but it’s particularly disorientating for those who are Labour members. Many want their party to succeed despite finding themselves increasingly dissatisfied with its position on trans rights.

UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer wears a white button-up shirt, red tie and blue jacket as he speaks at an event. He is standing at a podium in front of a red background
Keir Starmer has faced criticism for his remarks about trans people. (Getty)

Jamie, whose name has been changed to protect their identity, is a Labour Party member who feels conflicted about the local elections.

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“I imagine Labour will make significant gains, which can only be a good thing in terms of getting the Tories out, though I wish it was on a more radical, trans-inclusive platform,” Jamie says.

“It’s endlessly depressing to see politicians use trans people as a human shield to mask their failures. Instead of offering solutions to the cost-of-crisis and climate breakdown, we’re in a race to the bottom on dehumanising trans people.”

Jamie believes Labour is “the best option for LGBTQ+ voters up and down the UK” – but that doesn’t mean they’re expecting the transphobic culture war to come to an end if they make significant gains in the local elections.

“I imagine it will get worse regardless of which party comes out best in the local elections,” Jamie says.

“The Tories are hellbent on using trans people as pawns in their culture war, leaving our community more vulnerable than it’s been in decades. It’s disappointing that Labour has indulged this, and briefed against its own policies on self-ID and other measures that would make trans people’s lives easier in the medium-term. We’re in for a rocky few years unfortunately, and that’s down to all political parties in Britain.”

As for the Tories, Jamie agrees that they’re unlikely to back away from trans issues – even in the face of brutal local election losses.

“They’ll dig their heels in further on culture wars, which can only be bad news for minority groups in the UK.”

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