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Behind the headlines

Labour’s woman problem

Keir Starmer: needs to brush up on the law. Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty

Last week Keir Starmer used a visit to the biggest army base in Estonia, “literally on the doorstep of Russia”, to opine on the most important issue of the day, says Joan Smith in UnHerd. When a journalist asked him to define a woman, Starmer declared: “A woman is a female adult, and in addition to that trans women are women, and that is not just my view – that is actually the law.” Actually, it isn’t. This is “the law as he would like it to be, rather than as it actually is”, as the barrister Naomi Cunningham, an expert in UK gender law, has pointed out. Asked whether the law says that trans women are women, her “admirably concise” answer was: “No.” Starmer has confused a “polite fiction” with reality.

The Labour leader could have said it wasn’t the time or the place to talk about domestic politics. He could have responded “adult human female” and left it there. Instead, his “confrontational” answer reveals him to be either “stupid”, or “so committed to an extreme ideology that he has lost sight of its disastrous impact on women”. Estonia’s military leaders must have been bemused, but back in the UK women feel “utterly betrayed”. Many of us are wondering if we will ever be able to vote Labour again.

“Why is Labour still like this?” says Sarah Ditum in The Times. Last year Sir Keir went on telly to argue “no one should say only women have cervixes”. He was soon “one-upped in absurdity” by David Lammy, one of his MPs, who claimed that, “following procedures and hormone treatment and all the rest of it”, trans women can have cervixes. “Fun fact: no they can’t.” Now that asking a Labour MP to define a woman is a “reliable way to get them to look silly”, interviewers are going to keep doing it. And rightly so – the definition of “woman” is important because “the law depends on language”. It’s the job of politicians to wrestle difficult problems into comprehensibility, and anyone feigning “strategic idiocy” about the “natural and ordinary meanings of words” has no business being a lawmaker. If they can’t get their act together, Labour’s hapless attitude to the woman question “will shatter its reputation”.