A few days ago, on Twitter, I said I had a little story to tell.
It is a boring little story without much drama but it is one which leads me to conclude that most of the people who pop up on social media or on your TV screens claiming to speak for and promote the interests and well-being of trans people are in fact doing nothing of the sort. On the contrary, my story leads me to conclude that, in framing their demands, these pop-up people are not really being driven by a motivation to improve the quality of life for trans people. Rather, they are more often than not being driven by the motivation to promote a worldview, motivated by a political project if you will, that seeks to erode or erase the political rights of female people or, as we used to say, women.
It is a story I have carefully written. I hope I have told it in a way which cannot be misconstrued into an attack on the Labour Party itself, which would be quite unwarranted, or on any particular individuals, which might be more warranted in some cases but would still be uncomradely of me. It touches on issues affecting all political parties, all of which are finding them hard to address, but it isn’t party political. Instead, my story is a personalised story in which professional confidences are maintained, using only references to my understanding of events that are already in the public domain, or those which are commonly understood already and deemed uncontentious by all those who follow these things with anything more than a complete disinterest.
When I say no attacks on particular individuals, I make one special exception, which is my views and reasoning on the candidates currently seeking political leadership positions in the Labour Party. And that’s only because, whilst writing this, various candidates have endorsed calls for my expulsion from the Labour Party, for my clear and unequivocal support for alleged hate groups which are no such thing and an alleged but imaginary transphobia, or something like that. As aspirant leaders, I have publicly asked each of the endorsers of my accusers to specify the evidence of hate but, so far, none of the virtue signalling ill-informed cowards have responded. Probably unlike most of them I know that the calls for expulsion they have endorsed include me in their list of targets because, behind the scenes, some of the same people that are accusing me now already initiated formal mechanisms to have me disciplined, expelled or removed from my post, when I was still in it, as I tried to fulfil my duties. Four times in three years, as a matter of fact, as a minimum. That’s just a matter of formal record. And it exemplifies the modus operandi of the parts of the TRA movement which these candidates have endorsed.
It’s been scores of times that such attempts have been made, if also you count all the less direct means of the obfuscating sort exemplified by the ridiculously totalitarian Charter of Demands from the so-called Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, or the tagged shout outs to my colleagues on social media, or the leaks of my personal communications. So, for those reasons, and with this new freedom, allow me to comment on the political contest currently underway, allow me this indulgence concerning those involved who have publicly endorsed the unwarranted claims of my accusers: Dawn Butler, Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey and, most especially, the doubling-down “gotta be tough” Lisa Nandy.
Go away and do your homework. You’re talking out of your arses and you’re defaming people. Either you’re not fit to lead, or you’re not ready to lead. You are a danger, especially to the young lesbians whose bullying and harassment you are now licensing. So you’re not getting my vote. Ange needn’t care because she wasn’t getting my vote anyway. Whatever her own merits, and there are many, I don’t think that replacing a wholly London based leadership with a largely Manchester based leadership would be a good thing for the Party. And we’ve already had enough flatmate-based psychodramas in our upper echelons; we can do without the inevitable more. So Ange and her toxic, cowardly campaign advisor needn’t sweat about losing my vote but it is one vote down for Becky, who now needs every vote she can get and in whose pile my vote would definitely have landed after any indicative transfers that I may have been able to place, and it is also a lower rank for both Dawn and Lisa, who may otherwise have received a placing that, before they each got inevitably knocked out of the contest, would have been recorded as a signal of my support for their ideas and in recognition of our broad agreement and my respect for their respective political talents. I voted for Margaret over Tony, Diane over Ed, Angela before Tom. My vote was yours to lose. And by your actions and words, you just did.
I can’t reveal what was said by each of the three that had a vote at the much reported and leaked 2019 Clause V meeting about the policies they have now subsequently deemed and publicly endorsed as ‘transphobic’. Not because I am bound not to — all the leaks and reports that have already been provided by others to LGBT Labour’s Heather Peto, who has splashed them all over social media, have already done for that part of professional confidentiality — but because nothing was said by any of them. Nothing at all.
Except Dawn, who held the portfolio responsibility and so had to respond to all the proposed amendments. And Dawn just said, ‘Agreed’. I don’t know if she’s too skilled in reading the room, too stupid in not knowing what she was agreeing or just a two-faced, opportunistic hypocrite but I do know it’s got to be one of those three because it was her own policies that came under attack. I don’t know her, so I’m just going to go with skilled and ambitious.
Anyway, to all the rest of you, all those of you who are not seeking leadership positions in the party, you can read my little story, and make your own mind up. Not about them. This isn’t about them.
And it’s not about me, either. I don’t care if you think I’m a transphobe. And I care even less about what the self-aggrandising pop-up people think. I know I’m not a transphobe and the quite-a-few real life trans people I know and admire don’t think I am, either. So you just go ahead think what you like about me. I will sleep easy on that one.
But think about those pop-up people, please.
Just think about what they’re really after.
And after that lengthy and unintended introduction, here it is.
My little story.
The Confessions of a Transphobe.
It begins with Labour’s 2019 General Election manifesto. If you read ‘It’s Time for Real Change’ you will find on Page 33, in the third section, in our plans for public services, under the mental health part of the bit about the National Health Service, a policy commitment which had not been made before by any previous Labour leadership. We said that, if we won the election,
“A Labour government will provide an additional £1.6 billion a year to ensure new standards for mental health are enshrined in the NHS constitution ensuring access to treatments is on a par with that for physical health conditions.”
New, constitutionally underwritten standards for better funded mental health services.
The £1.6bn of our annual spending plans we set aside to make this happen was in addition to various other, separate spending pledges on the NHS in general and on mental health services in particular.
As is the nature of political promises — and over the last 20 years I’ve worked on framing those for Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National Party and, albeit only indirectly via cross-border inter-governmental arrangements, Conservative Party Ministers, too, as well as for Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour leadership team and quite a few foreign governments, so I can sincerely assure you it’s not a trait peculiar to the Labour Party — there’s some wriggle room in there.
We didn’t specify what the new standards would be. We put what was probably an inadequate cash limit on the initiative. We said ‘on a par’ with, not ‘parity’ or ‘equal to’. You might call that slippery or cynical but I’m a 15 year veteran of the professional policy career stream of the British Civil Service, where I rose to the dizzy heights of Division Head only to find — like Captain Kirk, on his promotion to Admiral — that I preferred the front line to the bean-counter’s desk job, and I just call it prudent.
Our intention was to signal a firm commitment. Manifestos are not government programmes. This was something real, something which we could be held accountable for if elected but it was not something so constraining that we could not further flesh it out in government, when we would have access to far greater resources for assessing its interacting impacts, its design and introduction, its benefit accruals, the expert buy-in, our capacity to deliver or the service efficiency. The sort of things governments have to concern themselves with in much more detail than do the opposition parties.
Perhaps I should not now exclusively reveal that what we actually hand in mind is exactly what most people thought we had in mind: a maximum waiting time for access to treatments. Stop the presses! The clue to what we intended is provided in the words ‘enshrined in the NHS Constitution’, which is where you will find the guaranteed access provisions set out and elaborated in waiting time standards of A&E departments, ambulance services, consultant appointments and so on. We were going to add mental health services. We weren’t reinventing any wheels on this one.
We did however couple the commitment with a programme of enhanced Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, including schools based counselling services, new mental health hubs and an £845m targeted programme of gateway, early intervention and illness prevention services which we called Healthy Young Minds. And we lined up a big hoo-ha to make the announcement during the campaign, which of course everyone ignored because it wasn’t about Brexit or nationalising the commanding heights. And because — in a role reversal from 2017 — we couldn’t cover ourselves with glory communicating the manifesto offer this time, and they did.
Nonetheless, all the evidence was telling us that the arrangements we proposed for NHS mental health service would not only provide for people’s better mental health across the nation, it would also limit costs by helping to arrest the development of more complex mental health conditions in later life. We didn’t highlight the fact but I was also acutely aware that, taken together, these commitments, especially the commitment to put a limit on waiting times, would also have been the single greatest improvement to the quality of the lives of trans people living in England today: it meant a commitment to limiting the waiting times for access to the NHS Gender Identity Services (the service for adults) and also to the NHS Gender Identity Development Services (for children and young people).
I had played a role in getting those words into the 2019 manifesto and I was rather proud of that.
I had my doubts and concerns, of course I did. I was concerned that our policy platform was great for young people but not so great for those adults who had already developed complex mental health needs, for whom our offer was less substantial. There were concerns I shared about the nature of the services provided by GIS and, especially, GIDS, services which were proving controversial and were allegedly being determined more by experimental or largely untested protocols shaped by some form of ‘gender ideology’ or ‘affirmative practises’ and not by an evidenced clinical assessment of need or by the medical best practise. There were also doubts about the adequacy of the cash limit we placed on the pledges and the efficacy of the pathways between education and health services. Then there were the service distorting effects of target setting cultures to consider. And there was controversy and disquiet over the NHS structural arrangements under which gender identity services were included within mental health services. I considered all these, and many others, including the fairly tights constraints under which I operated, and I came to the conclusion that the commitments we were making, the ideas we had developed, the policy offer we were setting out, were the right ones, all things considered.
I was proud of a well-constructed policy that signaled a clear direction and statement of intent and set out the broad framework of what we would do in government, based on a detailed review of the evidence, the expert opinions of public service providers and the interests of the general public, especially including the users of the services under consideration. It may have been a skeletal promise but it was honest, and I thought it would be good for all people, including trans people and other minority communities with particular and tailored mental health service needs, and especially for all the young people experiencing an epidemic of mental ill health and for young, gender non conforming children, too, for whom there were far too few support services. It would, in other words, improve the lot of many, many people. It would reduce inequalities. It would be another one ‘for the many’. And we could work out a lot more of the details in government.
I’m not taking all the credit. I worked with our health teams over three years to test and develop that policy, first and briefly with the team led by Diane Abbott and then over a much longer period with the team led by Jon Ashworth. As an aside, I had more than one person warn me that they were both among the so-called anti-trans ‘Terfs’ in the Shadow Cabinet but that wasn’t my experience. I discussed access to healthcare and health services for trans people with both of them, and several of their various staff, on multiple occasions, and not once did any of them oppose the development of these more inclusive but very, very expensive policies. On the absolute contrary. They did most of the legwork and much of the research and nearly all the drafting and all the early stages of the quality control and expert liaison. By the time it came to the 2019 GE I was utterly reliant on the residual 2/5 human resource allocation that I had started the process with, but they were brilliant people and they were reliable.
So I’m not taking all or most or even much of the credit. But I am taking some of it. Jeremy had made parity for mental health services a key pledge in his own leadership election, and he was keen to drive both human rights and equality considerations through our entire policy platform. The renewed shape of our political positioning had been agreed by a decision of our 2016 Conference, and I carried the text of that decision around in my briefcase more or less at all times. My job was to ensure it happened in the areas for which I was responsible. It involved liaising with the relevant shadow Cabinet teams, providing some political instruction or guidance on options in the technical details, resolving or calibrating any thorny issues arising, helping out with strategic management of key stakeholder relationships, making sure that everything needing to be considered was considered adequately, reporting back and receiving my own steers from the senior leadership team and ensuring that what they were developing in the shadow cabinet teams was consistent with developments underway across the other portfolios. I took seriously the commitments that were made elsewhere. On accessibility, and on gender identification, and on the women’s audit, and on accurate costings, so I ensured that what we did in health was always consistent with these broader aims, too. So, early on, I instructed the teams accordingly, gave them a periodic Leader’s Office steer and genned myself up in order to better supervise the work as it progressed, which, to be completely candid, had its ups, downs and frequent stalls.
I had already blown my share of the office budget on materials which would help me to shape our ideas for a social care service, so I dipped necessarily into my own increasingly empty pockets in order to acquire online access to academic journals and the full historical set of diagnostic manuals for mental health conditions. I like to be thorough before offering advice and it was soon inescapably obvious that the gender identity services were both disputed and under particular strain: an explosion of demand, especially among young girls. And so I read up on materials from WPATH, RCP, WHO, APA, the Tavistock, the NHS Service Frameworks, the consultations on future service frameworks, the medical evidence, the campaigning demands of trans groups like Press for Change and Stonewall, and all the DH publications and the Parliamentary reports. I also took a look at services provided overseas, including the Swedish and Dutch gender identity services. I followed both trans inclusive and medically qualified NHS managers on their social media accounts. I spoke out about issues arising on my own social media accounts and so made useful contacts for qualitative policy testing, in private one-to-one discussions and a few group discussions with people going through transition, and with people who had desisted or de-transitioned, too. Those who had experience of using the services.
In drawing it all together I only encountered one insurmountable obstacle to the policy we eventually shaped and offered, and it didn’t come from any of the Shadow Cabinet’s so-called anti-tans ‘Terfs’. I’m not saying if it came from Angela or Dawn or Cat. I’m not saying if it was an issue touching on local government or on housing or on sports. I’m not saying if my submissions were ignored or actively blocked. I’m not saying if it was incompetence and inexperience or poor judgment and political failure. It might have been any of them, it could have been none. I’m only saying that there was another potential element of the policy that I couldn’t include because I could not secure agreement that under a Labour government a part of the government machine outwith the Department of Health would also have played its part and that if it had been agreed the lives of many trans people, among others, would have been made immeasurably better because it spoke to their specific needs. And I’m also saying that a trans inclusive Twitter feed might be one way of talking the talk, comrade, but it ain’t no walking the walk.
Let me be clear. None of the people who might or might not have been responsible or instrumental in withholding agreement for a commitment to make trans people and others’ lives much better were themselves trans people. They were TRAs. Trans Rights Activists of a certain type. The sort who hang around with the pop up people, or would like to hang around with the pop up people. My experience is that it is TRAs ones pushing the political project. Most of the trans people I’ve ever met understand marginalisation far better than do most of the TRAs. More of those political conclusions later, at the end. For now, it’s back to my little story.
I held second pen on the relevant parts of the Labour Party’s election manifesto and my main job was to distill all this work into a simple pledge. To edit the voluminous drafts of detail and all the complex considerations into something more concise, without losing the sense of what we believed and offered, or the commitments to which we could be later held to account, ever mindful of the Salisbury Convention on any matters of controversy.
And what I submitted in this regard to my boss, the first holder of the pen for the entire manifesto, were the words I set out at the beginning of this story.
“A Labour government will provide an additional £1.6 billion a year to ensure new standards for mental health are enshrined in the NHS constitution ensuring access to treatments is on a par with that for physical health conditions.”
These words survived completely unscathed from my initial submission to the final publication of the manifesto and they were agreed nem con at the Clause V meeting where the Labour Party’s elected representatives get to decide on what does and does not go into the manifesto.
If I say so myself, I’m pretty good at what I do.
As you can imagine, anyone in any proximity to the manifesto is inundated with demands once a General Election is called, so the task of a drafter isn’t always easy. In the Labour Party, we make particular provisions for considering the requirements and demands of our affiliates, the trade unions and the socialist societies. So all I’ll say about that process is that not one of them asked us to put this particular commitment into the 2019 manifesto. Not the Socialist Health Association, not LGBT+ Labour, not any of the NHS trade unions. It was a policy commitment that was developed entirely in-house. And when it is implemented, which will be at least five years away now, it will dramatically transform the lives of trans people in Britain for the better.
I’ll say it again. I’m proud of that. Proud of the Labour Party. Proud of the role I played in bringing it about, proud of all the people who helped me, especially Emma Barnes and her superb drafting, proud of Jeremy for instructing it, proud of Andrew Fisher for enabling it, proud of John McDonnell and his team for committing to it meaningfully, proud of Jon Ashworth and Barbara Keeley for authorising it, and proud of myself because I didn’t let anyone suppress it, for whatsoever reason. I’m gutted we won’t get to do it in government but I’m pleased it’s sitting there on the shelf, ready for when we can.
It’s easy to lose things in a manifesto production process. Don’t ever ask me about my role in losing our critical and robust counter-terrorism policies, please. Please, just don’t. Just accept that a lot of even what we agree and want to include in our programme for government doesn’t always make it into the manifesto, which must be kept accessible to voters, even if the voters are reluctant to read it.
Special interest groups and lobbyists do read it though, or parts of it, anyway, and after the document is published we get lots of notes of thanks — or denunciations — and we also get graded by some against the manifesto commitments of other parties.
On another part of the manifesto for which I held a leading responsibility — protecting our marine environment and setting our sustainable fisheries policies — Greenpeace had given us a zero score for not including one of the demands they published about setting fish stock harvest rates in domestic waters. The Greenpeace online publication deadlines meant that they had seen select drafts of what we would say in advance, for the purpose of their preliminary scoring. So I dropped them a note. I asserted we had in fact made the commitment that they were seeking, and pointed them to the part of our manifesto for the environment which said, “We will lead the campaign for environmental justice on the international stage, including ensuring we honour the obligations of international agreements like [… x, y, z] and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
I explained that honouring the obligations of SDG 4 meant that we would be bound to do exactly what Greenpeace were asking for, and sent them the links to prove it. “Oh you can’t expect people to read across like that, you need to spell it out”, they said.
I’ll say now what I didn’t say then: I didn’t expect ‘people’ to do any reading across. I didn’t expect ‘people’ to know what was contained in Sustainable Development Goal 4, or what we committed to by signing up to it. ‘People’ don’t, for the most part, give a flying fuck what harvest control rules we will establish for the Western Saithe fishery. What I expected was for NGOs with the confidence to grade our manifestos to do the reading across that needed to be done, and to know what they are talking about on the subjects for which we are being graded.
I didn’t say that to Greenpeace, of course. I just made sure we sent them a clarifying note using the words they wanted to see. But I did worry a bit.
It reminded me of the many times in the past that I had had to slap down NGOs by way of providing them with the scientific assessments or other evidence they had ignored, or the case law and judgments they had forgotten, or the diplomatic protocols or international agreements that they had overlooked. Some organisations with a loud voice played a crucial role in civil society but they were, in my professional experience, always far too ill prepared to make a significantly detailed impact on the government policies for which I had oversight. It didn’t stop me sending them a monthly donation but Greenpeace was one such NGO. And Stonewall was another.
After my little contretemps with Greenpeace, I worried that Stonewall too would not do the read across and so would miss the significant commitment to accessible and enhanced gender identity services that we were making in our manifesto. So I spoke to a couple of the few people who were still talking to me by late 2019 in our equalities and stakeholder management teams and in the LGBT network and I asked them to make sure that their colleagues and the various transgender rights lobby groups were aware of what our commitment to constitutional mental health care service standards meant for trans people, especially since it was not a commitment that had been submitted to me from colleagues working with LGBT Labour and even more especially since the reference to mental health was controversial. Just to be sure, I followed up my conversations with a note by e-mail to someone with leading portfolio responsibility who I won’t name here.
And we had the Clause V meeting, and the Labour Party manifesto went to print. When it was launched and published all hell broke loose in one corner of the internet which I had been closely following, with Ellie Mae O’Hagan beginning a trail of backsliding and denial about the contents of the manifesto in respect of sex and gender, and the provision of services. It soon became evident that she was referencing official briefings and in the heat of the moment I used some harsh words with my managers and my colleagues. The episode ended with Dawn Butler pinning a tweet confirming that she had written to the relevant government Minister earlier that year setting out the Labour Party’s policy on this matter, which was exactly as it was written in the 2019 manifesto, including her own stress on the importance of the sex-based exemptions of the Equality Act 2010.
Lots of people have already written about the 36 hours of confusion in between so I’m not going to add any more here. If you want to read more I think it’s worth reading the account of Jane Clare Jones on her website. It’s also worth reading the account of the aforementioned Heather Peto, the co-Chair of LGBT Labour. Heather’s account makes it clear that it was LGBT Labour who ‘intervened’ to demand what I call the backsliding and denial on the manifesto. In a Facebook post published on 20 December 2019, in which I have below emboldened the admission, Heather said:
“As a Co-Chair of LGBT+ Labour I had to keep quiet during the election about my frustrations with the way regressive elements on the NEC and in the leader’s office undermined LGBT+ rights in the manifesto. They projected their own prejudices onto women & working-class voters as an excuse to incorporate a section in the manifesto vilifying transgender women and not having a separate LGBT+ manifesto. Before coming to the offending section, I should say it is sexist and classist to claim women & the working-class are opposed to extending LGBT+ rights. Being LGBT+ is not restricted to a gender or class! Communities only turn on minorities when the quasi-fascists persuade them that one group’s rights come at the expense of another. Trans rights do not take away from women’s rights, this false narrative comes from misinformation and vilification in the Tory press and on social media by anti-trans campaigners. The Labour Party does itself no favours by pandering to this. The paragraph that caused most pain to the trans community during the election was on page 66 of the manifesto:
“Labour would… “Ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.”
“Until we intervened this was spun as an acceptance by Labour that transwomen would be excluded from women’s spaces. I am told that this wording was different from what was originally in the Manifesto draft before the Clause V meeting, and the final text in the manifesto was as much of a surprise to the shadow equalities and youth ministers as it was to LGBT+ Labour’s team. The paragraph caused alarm and offence to the trans community. During the campaign Dawn Butler and LGBT+ Labour tried to say that what the section was clumsily worded and what it meant was that because transwomen are women, transwomen would not be excluded from single-sex spaces. However, this did not stand up to scrutiny of interviewers who pointed out different interpretations by frontbenchers, and that if this was pro-trans it would have been included in the LGBT+ section of the manifesto, not the women’s section. Labour could have rescued all of this with the release of a separate LGBT+ manifesto to coincide with Trans Day of Remembrance (20th Nov) or World Aids Day (1st Dec). There were separate manifestos for other groups and minorities but not LGBT+. Great policies developed by LGBT+ Labour were assigned to the scrap heap instead.
“We need a frank investigation as to how the trans exclusionary section was incorporated into the main manifesto and no separate LGBT+ manifesto published. This is what I am told by several sources happened in the production of the manifesto: In the run up to the election there were rumours that Boris was going to weaponize trans-rights to win voters in northern working-class constituencies. Socially conservative voices close to Jeremy Corbyn seized on this to argue there should be no separate LGBT+ manifesto and Labour’s commitments to self-declaration for gender recognition dropped. During the Party’s consultation on the manifesto two Unions (Unite and GMB) initially argued to dilute or remove commitments to self-declaration in GRA reform. They dropped their objection after pressure to agree the TUC’s line. LGBT+ Labour’s proposals to protect QIA+ people in law and to introduce equality tribunals to decide discrimination in education and services, were seen as too radical for this manifesto. Other LGBT+ policies on education, health & social care, housing, law & order, and asylum would mainly be covered by general commitments in the manifesto. Labour’s draft manifesto was put before the Clause V meeting. The draft was supportive of self declaration in GRA reform and did not qualify trans rights. Chair of Equalities on the NEC, Ann Henderson (JC9 CLP division), raised several objections and concerns about the impact on women of trans rights. While there was murmurs of support from a few, Dawn Butler & Cat Smith rejected that there was any conflict between equalities. No vote was taken at Clause V to change the text on trans rights but somehow changes made it into the final manifesto! Cockup or conspiracy? In my opinion we need an investigation to get to the bottom of this. Only a few people can change the draft manifesto and we need to know who changed it and why? It could be sinister, or it could be ignorance? If it were ignorance, it could have been avoided by running the wording by LGBT+ Labour or someone with experience of the trans community.
“Did this sacrifice of LGBT+ rights win its target voters? No, the number of voters who place being anti-trans as more important to how they vote than the NHS is an extremely small fraction of a percent. However, having a negative message about trans rights drowned out Labour’s positive manifesto commitments to women such as: ending the gender pay gap, flexible working, ending the stigma and ensuring that no woman is put at a disadvantage from menstruation to menopause, etc. Following a frontbencher’s interview, the headlines & trendings were not about the cuts to domestic refuges under the Tories and Labour’s commitment to fund them & give paid leave for survivors, the headlines were anti-trans claims about transgender women being a threat to others. Labour is making a mistake if it takes LGBT+ voters for granted; like it took its northern Red-Wall. We cannot have this happen again or we will find Labour’s Pink-Wall of voter which crumble at the next election.”
And there you have it.
Heather as an individual party member and LGBT Labour as an affilliated socialist society are both entitled to dissent from party policy and also to advocate for policy changes. But this is more than that. It is the co-chair of an affiliated society admitting that the same affiliated society intervened to undermine — ‘to clarify’ — the Party’s election manifesto. An affiliated society which had been provided with privileged access to the manifesto drafting process and which was represented on the decision making body by the place reserved for our affiliated societies. Heather’s admission of post hoc interference is underscored with an unwitting recognition that the intervention changed the focus of the narrative we wanted to present to the media, away from our positive stories which were ‘drowned out’ to all the negative ones about internal disputes and discrimination against one minority or another. At a key point of the election campaign.
The very day our manifesto was launched!
LGBT Labour has been a bastion of what the Corbynistas call ‘centrists’ for years now and, backed by so called ‘centrists’, Heather is an unsuccessful NEC election candidate and an unsuccessful applicant for selection as PPC. But this is still a particularly low point in their opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. Scuppering the launch of a general election manifesto demonstrates something more than just disloyalty. It indicates a sense of entitlement beyond belief. And a clear willingness to compromise Labour’s electoral success, too.
Heather’s account of events contains information of which I was unaware and can’t verify or dispute. I have no idea if any “socially conservative voices close to Jeremy Corbyn seized on this to argue there should be no separate LGBT+ manifesto”. I only know that there aren’t many socially conservative voices close to Jeremy Corbyn and that I had suggested we needed a Women’s manifesto, too — and that wasn’t agreed either. I also have no idea if it is true that “two unions (Unite and GMB) initially argued to dilute or remove commitments to self-declaration in GRA reform” or if they “dropped their objection after pressure to agree the TUC’s line”. I only know that no such argument was made by their written or formal representations on manifesto content — and that I think I saw them all.
In other respects, it is clear to me that Heather’s account is erroneous. The suggestion of shadowy “regressive elements” in the Leader’s Office and the claim that “only a few people can change the draft manifesto” is the work of a bampot conspiracy theorist. The reality is that the manifesto is agreed by the Clause V meeting. That is set out in the Labour Party constitution. It would be myopic and counter productive for anyone to ignore the rule. I’ve served two of those meetings and my experience is that the changes agreed at the meeting whether consensually or by vote are incorporated faithfully into the final version and the draft otherwise stands. Which is what it says on the tin. There are maybe 100 people in the room, support staff and caterers included. I’ve never heard anyone ever complain that the process is improperly conducted. Of course, there’s always skullduggery in politics. Tom Watson went on record saying he had been side stepped on the 2019 manifesto commitment to bring broadband into public ownership. It would be an understatement for me to suggest only that I have no reason to doubt him — but it should be noted that the policy was announced during the campaign, before the Clause V meeting, without which approval it could not and would not have been agreed for inclusion in the manifesto.
It also seems patently untrue to me that anyone advocated “Labour’s commitments to self-declaration for gender recognition dropped”. I’m pretty sure, like 99.99% sure, that anyone who thought this was a good idea would have spoken to me about it, howsoever discreetly. Outside the office, it’s all I was known for since on all other issues, despite temptation and good reason, I always kept my head down. There are people who think the commitment should be dropped. Several of them have spoken to me about it. But the truth is that none of them, as far as I am aware, pushed for it to be dropped from the 2019 manifesto. For the last three years, over which I have been a vocal feminist ally and lots and lots of people both inside the Labour Party and beyond have discreetly approached me, I have been explaining to anyone who shared with me their disquiet about the policy not only why it was there in the manifesto but also why it was right that it was there. In doing so, by engaging with all those it worried rather than shouting them down and, at some risk of pomposity, I suspect I did as much if not more to embed acceptance of that policy and the human rights it upholds than did anyone else in the Party — much to the irritation and consternation of some of those with whom I stand in solidarity today. I was always interested in finding ways to protect women’s rights without diminishing trans rights, and I have always made that clear.
There is no need for the frank investigation Heather calls for. The Clause V meeting was provided with a procedural note which was commented on at the time and promptly leaked to the national press, so it is already known that sections of the manifesto were presented by the relevant Shadow Cabinet Member (for both Women and LGBT sections, this was Dawn Butler), comments were made by those with speaking rights and amendments proposed by anyone on the NEC other than other Shadow Cabinet Members (who were asked not to comment on the sections for which their colleagues were responsible). It is also publicly known, as set out in the paper, causing I suspect some of the grumbling and the leaking, that Shadow Cabinet Members either would or would not accept the proposed amendments and that the wording could not be agreed without the consent of the Shadow Cabinet member. Sometimes the agreed form of words was necessarily written down, in order that all interested parties could agree it. It has already been widely and accurately reported that it was the timescale for net-zero that was the biggest and only contentious discussion of the day. I worked on supporting written compromise texts in sections for which Diane Abbot, Jon Trickett and Angela Smith were variously responsible and I can’t speak for them or anyone else but I can say by that stage of the manifesto production process producing the text was just a disinterested job — staff don’t get a say, and don’t try to get a say, not once the elected reps with a mandate take over — and I just made sure that the text was fully agreed by all involved before submitting it as the final version. I also know that all my former colleagues are just as professional as and even more hard working than I was.
So if the content of the manifesto came as a surprise to anyone that it should not have come as a surprise to, it was because they were absent, or not paying attention, or not interested. It is simply absurd to suggest that in any case the holder of portfolio responsibility was blindsided. Absurd and quite untrue.
But what interests me more than Heather’s occasionally erroneous account of events is the emphasis of what matters to the comrades of LGBT Labour.
The whole unnecessary fuss — and the subsequent unhelpful media narrative — arose from their utter discontent that the Labour Party had committed to continuing the legal entitlements of women (and men), as defined by the protected characteristic of sex, to be allowed service provisions on the basis of their sex when — and only when — it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim to define access to such services on the basis of sex and not on the basis of a differently defined ‘gender’.
This may well not be the policy of LGBT Labour but it is long standing Labour Party policy. It was not changed when we introduced the Gender Recognition Act in 2004 and it was explicitly underscored by the Equality Act in 2010. It has never been changed by decision of our Conference, or by a decision of the Courts, or by a statement from any Party Leader, or by the wording of any election manifesto, or by any policy announcement. It wasn’t even considered controversial until after the 2016 report of the Westminster Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee, which itself did not accept the recommendations along similar lines submitted in the evidence provided by trans rights lobbyists including Stonewall.
But it dismayed trans people, according to Heather’s account and the actions of pop-up people like Ellie-Mae and her ilk. It dismayed the pop up people and LGBT Labour because it was the removal of the established legal rights of women that interested them.
Nowhere, ever, have I seen any recognition from any of them of the astonishingly bold, tangible and very expensive commitment that we gave to improve the lives of trans people by ensuring adequate and much improved access to health care services.
It’s not because they didn’t know.
It’s because that’s not what they’re interested in.
And I’m the transphobe?