Pride flags in London | Photo: Robert Lamb | Cropped Pride flags in London | Photo: Robert Lamb | Cropped

The low-level attacks by the Tories on trans people are part of their desperate attempt to distract from their problems, and must be resisted, argues Lucy Nichols

This week Rishi Sunak has made headlines with a cruel jibe in parliament at the expense of transgender people, while the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey was in the public viewing gallery.

Last week, Brianna Ghey’s murderers, both aged 16, were sentenced to 20 and 22 years in prison.

Recently, Brianna’s mother, Esther Ghey, has been campaigning for restrictions on children under the age of 16 using social media and was in parliament as part of this campaign.

Sunak was told that Ghey was sat in the House of Commons viewing gallery when he made the dig, criticising the Labour Party’s inability to ‘define a woman’. He has since refused to apologise for the insensitive remark and has been criticised by Keir Starmer, various other Labour MPs, and Brianna’s father, Peter Spooner.

Anti-trans agenda

Sunak’s comments are one just example of his party’s growing hostility to trans people, or LGBTQ people more widely. At the last Conservative Party Conference in October 2023, Sunak argued that British people were being ‘bullied’ into ‘believing that people can be any sex they want to be’, going on to argue that parents ought to be able to decide if their children learn about gay relationships in school.

In April, the government changed the guidelines for how schools should treat trans or gay children, including recommending that schools out LGBTQ children to their parents.

Despite government scaremongering, a recent report by Stonewall found that the majority of people in Britain do not think that transgender people ought to be an issue of national concern.

That is to say, the general public is far less concerned with the trans issue than the government would have us believe. As Stonewall put it in 2022: ‘While the British public doesn’t think trans people are an issue, we need to be clear that they also don’t think that people being trans is an issue, either.’

Additionally, the majority of the British public agree that trans people face discrimination, of which there is no denying.

When surveyed, 41% of trans people said that they had been the victim of a hate crime in the last 12 months. When asked if they had avoided being open about their identity, 67% of trans people said they had, for fear of negative reactions from others. Shortly after Sunak’s derisory Conference speech attacking trans rights, the Guardian reported that anti-trans hate crimes had hit an all-time high.

Your culture wars won’t work, Rishi

Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party’s ongoing attempts to add fuel to the fire on the trans issue is another example of the cynical use of culture wars to divide the public.

It was in his keynote speech at the 2023 conference that Sunak chose to ban trans women from women’s hospital wards. This is an issue of controversy that Sunak is exploiting, given that many women want to have single sex spaces and should be able to access them as is their right under the Equality Act.

Similar argument exists over several questions regarding trans women in women’s refuges, toilets and prisons, for instance from Muslim women who wear hijab or from victims of abuse. There has to be a solution which maintains women’s rights while also protecting the rights of trans people. These issues can be dealt with through serious discussion of the issues plus provision of more spaces that allow everyone to feel safe and should not mean the exclusion of trans women from necessary services.

This is the last thing on the Tories’ minds. They want to use these issues to target LGBTQ people but also to foment their ‘culture wars’ agenda. They want to divert attention from the central problems facing working-class people. So they ignore the fact there are very few trans women in Britain; they make up just 0.1% of the population, and they try and make the issue of trans people in hospitals override all other concerns about the NHS.

These are very serious. There are serial crises facing the NHS to do with funding, staffing and privatisation. These are easy to ignore if the focus is pulled elsewhere: interviewers can ask striking junior doctors on air about the very difficult debate on where trans patients should be given hospital beds, rather than why there aren’t enough hospital beds to go round in the first place.

It is not just trans people that have become a target of the Conservative Party’s ongoing culture war. One of the Tories’’ top priorities’ this year is to ‘Stop the boats’, i.e. the boats that desperate people take across the Channel to reach the UK, often escaping conflicts that Britain has a hand in causing in the first place.

Of course, it is only a very small number of people that are coming to the UK on the inflatable dinghies that have been a point of contention for the right since before Brexit. Just less than 30,000 people arrived on boats in 2023 – again, less than 0.1% of the total population.

The Tories would have you believe that dangerous criminals and smugglers are sneaking into the UK to rape, pillage, and build up NHS wait times. They spout all kinds of racism to justify their Rwanda plan, or the Bibby Stockholm monstrosity off the south coast.

Another target is the Palestine movement, with the government very cynically using antisemitism to attack anyone and everyone – including Jews – who stand up against Israeli apartheid.

What is to be done?

Trans people in the UK are oppressed. Just as women, black people, Jews, Muslims, gay people are oppressed. All socialists should oppose transphobia, along with any another kind of discrimination against minorities.

There are obviously plenty of debates that exist on the left when it comes to the trans issue. These should be discussed openly. For instance, there are demands over women’s spaces which should be respected, and debates over issues such as women’s sport. They should be treated as serious debate within the context of supporting the rights of trans people and women and should not be used as the Tories are doing to exacerbate transphobia.

But we should ultimately accept that our common enemy is the ruling class. The government is not making attacks on trans rights because it is particularly concerned about women’s wellbeing, in hospital wards, in public toilets or prisons.

The government’s track record on women’s rights is overall very poor. Women workers still face issues over pay, job security, access to childcare and more. The government has shot down various laws proposed to improve women’s rights more generally, for example by blocking the menopause from being classed as a protected characteristic, or including misogyny as a hate crime. There are still very high levels of violence against women in the UK, not to mention the rampant sexism in the police.

When the government attacks migrants who use public healthcare services, this is not out of a great concern for saving the NHS. The same can be said about the government claiming it wants to stamp out antisemitism through attacks on Palestine protesters.

Dividing the working class along lines of race, religion, or creed is a favoured tactic of the ruling class.

So, when Rishi Sunak makes a dig at the expense of trans women when the mother of a murdered trans teenager is present, we should condemn this. Socialists should stand in solidarity with trans people, who face all kinds of discrimination far worse than cheap jokes from the Prime Minister.

We should continue to argue against the Tory culture war and for unity amongst the working class. This is especially important for two key reasons. Firstly, the biggest issues: austerity, war, racism and so on, affect the whole of the working class.

Secondly, it is likely that our next government will be led by the Labour Party, who don’t seem likely to undo any of the Tories’ cuts or put an end to their culture war. A strong, united left will be needed to fight in the interest of the class as a whole.