Tories’ brutal by-election losses prove anti-trans hate doesn’t win votes

Rishi Sunak pictured leaving No 10 Downing Street.

The Tories’ loss of two out of three by-elections proves once and for all that stoking up anti-trans hate doesn’t win votes, activists tell PinkNews.  

It’s been a disastrous week for the Conservatives, who lost two constituencies out of the three up for grabs in the triple by-election on Thursday (20 July). Labour and the Lib Dems overturned Tory majorities in Selby & Ainsty and Somerton & Frome respectively, while the Tories just managed to hold onto Uxbridge & South Ruislip – Boris Johnson’s former seat – by under 500 votes.

On Friday morning (21 July), party chairman Greg Hands was openly admitting that “the Conservatives need to do better”.

The Tories didn’t do quite as badly as the gloomiest predictions had suggested – some expected them to lose all three by-elections – but the results show that the party is haemorrhaging support in key parts of the country.

It’s not exactly hard to see why that might be. Over the last few years, a cost-of-living crisis has engulfed the UK and inflation has pushed household finances to the brink.

There are plenty of real issues the government could focus on to get voters back on side – but instead ministers have spent the last couple of years debating whether or not a woman can have a penis.

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From Rishi Sunak mocking trans women in private meetings to controversial guidance for schools, the Tories have made it clear that they believe anti-LGBTQ+ policy could strengthen their base. But for LGBTQ+ activists, the by-election results proves once and for all that whipping up culture wars won’t win anybody an election – and it’s time politicians got back to the real issues that are affecting people’s lives.

Danny Beales is the Labour candidate in Uxbridge.
Danny Beales was predicted to win Uxbridge for Labour, but ultimately lost out on the seat. (Carl Court/Getty)

“I think what we’re seeing, and honestly what we could have seen from the start, is that even though this plays well in the papers – even though it has the support of a sort of powerful political elite – it fundamentally doesn’t play out well with the general population,” says Cleo Madeleine, spokesperson for Gendered Intelligence, a charity that works to improve understanding of gender diversity.

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“If we look at the issues that are on everybody’s minds at the moment, it’s the economy, it’s the cost of living, it’s the NHS.

“I think the constant pushing of this narrative about trans people and the treating of trans issues as a sort of premier political issue – particularly as we go towards general elections – it comes across as unserious. It comes across as really missing the mark in terms of what’s important with voters.”

Jayne Ozanne, an LGBTQ+ activist and founder of the Ozanne Foundation, says the government has spent the last few years trying to distract from real issues with “divisive, cruel tactics that nobody is buying”.

“I do believe that there are significant parts of the Tory party themselves who are deeply uncomfortable with this strategy, and I hope the prime minister will see sense because I for one know that so many lives are severely impacted in their wellbeing each time there is an anti-trans headline,” Ozanne tells PinkNews.

A voter goes to the polls in the Selby and Ainsty by-election on July 20, 2023 in Selby, England.
A voter goes to the polls in the Selby and Ainsty by-election on July 20, 2023 in Selby, England. (Ian Forsyth/Getty)

“I think the British public are appalled that things so simple as a ban on conversion therapy are taking so long, and don’t understand why this government is singling out LGBT people and failing to protect them. 

“This isn’t just far-left politics anymore. LGBT people and our friends and allies are very mainstream and to try to wage a ‘woke war’ on the centre of British public life is probably the worst electoral strategy I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Alex Charilaou, national trans officer for Labour’s student group, says the by-election results prove that the public wants a government that can “deliver solutions to their real problems”.

“It’s as clear now as it ever was that transphobia puts voters off, not the other way around,” Charilaou says.

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While Charilaou is critical of Labour’s current ambiguous position on trans rights, they are relieved that it hasn’t clouded the message over the last few weeks. They say the party has chosen “a positive narrative of change” in the lead-up to the by-elections instead of whipping up anti-trans hate.

“There’s a lesson here. Focus on a positive message of transformative change (and towards a general election Labour can afford to put a bold offer on the table), don’t play into pointless culture wars,” Charilaou says.

“I hope Labour doesn’t panic closer to a general election and begin embracing more openly negative talking points on trans rights – it would lead to electoral ruin.” 

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