Two interventions over the weekend should make the Labour Party and its leader, Keir Starmer, sit up and take notice.
The first is a report by American academics Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck entitled “The New Politics of Evasion”. This is something of a follow-up to their previous groundbreaking and influential report published in 1989, as Democrats fretted about their inability to win national elections in the wake of their third successive presidential defeat. That analysis paved the way for Bill Clinton and his New Democrat insurgency that shifted opinion behind his party for a decade.
This follow-up by Glastonbury and Kamarck presents and disposes of some favoured electoral myths and charts a way forward for the Democrats as they brace themselves for a hiding in this year’s mid-term elections.
Among those myths is the notion that “people of colour” are a political monolith who can be relied upon to vote as a bloc and who are united by a common experience of discrimination. In fact, the authors point out, black and Hispanic Americans don’t see themselves as victims of oppression, and tend to have more moderate views than white, middle class progressives.
Crucially, “The New Politics of Evasion”, according to The Hill, concludes that “social, cultural and religious values are intrinsically important to US voters of all stripes, whatever their economic circumstances. So simply amping up economic populism isn’t going to allay voters’ qualms about progressive rhetoric on crime, immigration, education, race and gender.”
To the dismay of those in Britain hoping and expecting that the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC”, could carry the torch of socialism to the White House in a future election, the report points out that only nine per cent of voters associate themselves with her and Senator Bernie Sanders’ platform.
Will anyone in Keir Starmer’s office digest the full report, or even The Hill’s summary of it? They should, for as the polls continue to erode Labour’s national poll lead, the signs are that defining themselves as the champions of woke progressive politics is a tactic with few returns and many pitfalls.
Which brings us to the second intervention over the weekend that will (or should) cause some misgivings in the Labour camp. It wasn’t too long ago that Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, could be relied upon as a solid Labour ally. Having donated one million pounds to the party during Gordon Brown’s premiership, she followed that up with a similar sized donation to the Labour-led campaign to save the Union during the 2014 independence referendum campaign. She campaigned energetically for the Remain cause in the EU referendum two years later and on paper, she should be a natural supporter of Keir Starmer’s.
But over the weekend she Tweeted: “The Labour Party can no longer be counted on to defend women’s rights. But I repeat: women are organising across party lines, and their resolve and their anger are growing.”
It’s the latest blow in Rowling’s campaign, not to oppose trans rights, but to defend women’s rights to define themselves and to protect same-sex spaces. That many in the Labour Party are so unequivocally on the opposite side of this debate should sound a warning bell to its strategists. A debate that has so far managed to remain largely below the radar of public opinion is threatening to expose Labour’s “progressive” instincts and reveal the party to be more concerned about offending marginal but vocal campaigning organisations than about offending a sizeable proportion of the electorate.
When Rowling first went public with her gender critical views, she did so in a thoughtful way and was careful to offer comfort and support to trans people. That was not enough to prevent the inevitable backlash from trans ideologues, however, those for whom anything less than full-throated declarations that “trans women are women” is akin to the vilest form of transphobia. Death and rape threats followed.
What was the response of Labour MPs to this onslaught on one of their party’s most high-profile supporters? Silence. Not even so much as a craven “I don’t agree with Rowling’s views on trans issues but…”
Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield experienced the same lack of support, even when misogynist bullies forced her to cancel plans to attend her own party conference last year. Time and again, when given the opportunity to defend brave women who just happen to disagree with trans ideology, Labour MPs keep their heads down and pretend they’re unaware of the appalling behaviour of those who believe that being a woman is less a matter of biological fact and more one of personal opinion, and that trying to bully women into parroting those beliefs is, somehow, perfectly acceptable.
We are left with the conclusion that Labour MPs do, in fact, believe that such behaviour is fine, otherwise surely they would say something. Anything.
So far the issue has not caught the attention of voters. But it could become as dangerous an issue electorally for Labour as it is for the Democrats in the United States. Aside from the philosophical and occasionally surreal aspects of the debate itself, the danger for Labour is that its own MPs are exposed as caring more about the approval of the trans rights organisation, Stonewall, than they do about the safety of women and the right to freedom of expression.
If they really thought the public was on their side, they would be eager to appear on our airwaves to explain why Rowling and Duffield are wrong. But they don’t. They want the issue to go away so they don’t have to express any opinion on it at all.
Thanks to the bravery of women like J.K. Rowling and Rosie Duffield, that isn’t going to happen. Time will tell if Keir Starmer can summon similar levels of courage to stand with them.