OPINION - JK Rowling clearly holds the whip hand with the Labour party in the trans rights row


There is something quite remarkable about Labour being so obviously thrilled that J K Rowling has agreed to meet the shadow chancellor to allow her to explain its position on transgender issues. But the great woman is only seeing Rachel Reeves on condition that “the Labour leadership” also meet other groups including Lesbian Labour and Keep Prisons Single Sex. If you were to read the balance of power in this scenario it would be all in J K’s favour.

But there is of course a reason why Reeves is taking time to do all this. Practically the only hitch to the juggernaut that is Labour’s election campaign was J K Rowling’s pronouncement that she would struggle to support the party, having previously given it a million quid.

Potentially to criminalise arguments between parents and children about these fundamental things is bad news

Her scepticism about its stance on the issue went straight to the neuralgic divide within the party about whether trans interests trump women’s. Its latest policy clarification doesn’t quite clear up the doubts. The party would, if elected, make it easier for anyone to self-identify as a member of another sex. The requirement for a spouse’s consent (what a vista that conjures up) is to be dropped as is proof that the applicant has lived as a member of that sex for two years; instead there’d be a two-year “reflection” period.

Most significantly, it would no longer be necessary to testify before a panel of experts to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria; instead just one specialist would be needed. That looks like lowering the bar quite significantly. A panel of experts provides reasonably serious scrutiny of a claim; a single hard-pressed, in-demand specialist can’t offer the same level of robustness.

And what about the proposal to ban conversion therapy? Again, the most problematic aspect is to do with individuals, including young people, questioning not just their sexuality but their gender. Hilary Cass, the author of the review of gender services for children, said of the proposed ban that it is “beyond me to know how on earth to do it… I think clinicians will be really worried”, the worry being about whether a conversation with a young person could lead to accusations of conversion.

Potentially to criminalise arguments between parents and children about these fundamental things is bad news.

It all feeds into the growing worry that there’s more to Labour than nice Rachel Reeves wanting to stabilise the public finances and steady Keir restoring trust. Labour may well be terrified of J K and her cohort on this explosive issue, but there’s a social and cultural aspect to the Labour programme which we really haven’t taken on board and could prove a nasty shock.

Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist