Starmer defends record after JK Rowling accuses Labour of ‘abandoning’ women

Sir Keir Starmer has defended Labour’s track record on women’s rights, after writer JK Rowling claimed the party had “abandoned women”.

The Harry Potter author said she would struggle to vote for the Labour leader, saying she had a “poor opinion” of his character.

Ms Rowling has in the past been a donor to the Labour party.

Asked about her criticisms while on the campaign trail, Sir Keir told reporters in south London: “I’m really proud of the long history of the Labour Party in making real progress on women’s rights, passing landmark legislation that has changed millions of lives.

“Now that battle is never over and we need to make further progress, which we will hope to do if we earn the trust and confidence of the voters at the General Election.

“As we do so, I’m also determined that one of the changes that we will bring about if we win the election is a reset of politics, to make sure that as we make progress, we do it in a context that brings people together, and all dialogue, all debate, is always done with respect for the views of everybody involved in those progress and in that discussion.”

Among Labour’s offer on women’s rights, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said she wants to eliminate the gender pay gap “once and for all”.

Writing in The Times, Ms Rowling said: “As long as Labour remains dismissive and often offensive towards women fighting to retain the rights their foremothers thought were won for all time, I’ll struggle to support them.

“The women who wouldn’t wheesht (be quiet) didn’t leave Labour. Labour abandoned them.”

She continued: “I’ve been a Labour voter, a member (no longer), donor (not recently) and campaigner (ditto) all my adult life. I want to see an end to this long stretch of chaotic and often calamitous Tory rule. I want to want to vote Labour.”

The issue of transgender rights has long caused issues within the party.

In 2021, Sir Keir described comments by MP Rosie Duffield that only women have a cervix as “something that shouldn’t be said and were not right”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stands in front of a lectern in a TV studio
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special on Thursday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In a televised debate on Thursday, the Labour leader agreed with one of his predecessors, Sir Tony Blair, saying “biologically, a woman is with a vagina and a man is with a penis”.

Last week Ms Duffield said she had not attended election hustings while running in Canterbury because of “constant trolling”, and has spent £2,000 on bodyguards while campaigning.

“Rosie has received literally no support from Starmer over the threats and abuse, some of which has originated from within the Labour Party itself, and has had a severe, measurable impact on her life,” Ms Rowling wrote in The Times.

“The impression given by Starmer at Thursday’s debate was that there had been something unkind, something toxic, something hard line, in Rosie’s words, even though almost identical words had sounded perfectly reasonable when spoken by Tony Blair.”

She continued: “For left-leaning women like us, this isn’t, and never has been, about trans people enjoying the rights of every other citizen, and being free to present and identify however they wish.

“This is about the right of women and girls to assert their boundaries. It’s about freedom of speech and observable truth.

“It’s about waiting, with dwindling hope, for the left to wake up to the fact that its lazy embrace of a quasi-religious ideology is having calamitous consequences.”

Earlier this month, an internet troll who posted online messages threatening to kill Ms Rowling and Ms Duffield was given suspended jail sentences.

Glenn Mullen, 31, of Clyde Road, Manchester, admitted uploading audio clips in Gaelic threatening to kill Ms Rowling “with a big hammer” and said he was “going to see Rosie Duffield at the bar with a big gun”, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.