April 3, 2023 - 7:00am

Prime ministers should have a firm grasp on reality. So what are we to make of the fact that the man who aspires to lead this country apparently believes that one in every thousand women has a penis? Not just that, but Sir Keir Starmer thinks that saying so will reassure women who don’t trust him to protect our rights. 

He likes this line so much that he tried it out in an interview with the political editor of the Sunday Times. “For 99.9% of women, it is completely biological…and of course they haven’t got a penis,” he insisted, as though he was saying something every reasonable person could agree with. But what about the other 0.1%?

It looks as though Starmer is talking about the 2021 census, which did indeed find that 0.1% of people in England and Wales identify as trans women. But that makes them trans-identified males, not women. To claim otherwise is straight out of the trans activists’ playbook — as absurd as the Labour leader’s announcement in 2021 that it’s not just women who have a cervix.

Labour can’t even get its story straight. Starmer’s current stance is that reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act is not a priority for the next Labour government. It’s a big change from two years ago, when he was recklessly promising to “modernise” the act, something many observers took to mean introducing a form of self-ID. In his Sunday Times interview, he called once again for a “reset” in Scotland, burbling about going on “the right journey” like a New Age guru. 

He will no doubt be pleased to see headlines suggesting that Labour’s position on the conflict between women’s rights and the demands of trans activists is now clear. But it isn’t. On the very day Starmer was talking to the Sunday Times, Labour’s official Twitter account marked ‘International transgender day of visibility’ with a pledge to “modernise the outdated Gender Recognition Act”. So what exactly is Labour policy? 

The other reason to take Starmer’s assurances with a pinch of salt is that he’s still misrepresenting campaigners for women’s rights. He talked again about “a toxic divide” that doesn’t advance “the cause of women or those that don’t identify with the gender that they were born into”. It’s the old ‘toxic on both sides’ language that ignores the actual violence directed at women, as seen a week ago in Auckland

We’ve seen the videos: the furious trans activists screaming abuse, threatening and assaulting women. Some of us have experienced it ourselves and told Starmer to his face, but he’s never acknowledged the virulent misogyny we’ve been subjected to. On the contrary, he’s still using the language of gender ideology, spouting nonsense about people being “born into a gender”. 

Human beings are born with a sex, which is observable at birth. The ones with a penis are male and they can’t change it. Many women won’t trust the Labour Party until Starmer can bring himself to get this basic fact right.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.