Labour accused of ‘silencing’ women in row over sex-based rights group

A Labour frontbencher is among a group of MPs and peers calling on the party to reconsider its decision not to hand a presence at its conference to a group campaigning for sex-based rights.

A debate continues to rage within Labour over what approach the party should take on gender issues. Boris Johnson also sought to inflame the issue by suggesting that Labour leader Keir Starmer “struggled to define what a woman was”.

However, a new row is brewing within the party after it turned down a request from six parliamentarians and the Labour Women’s Declaration group for a stand at its conference in Liverpool later this year. The “gender critical” group argues that sex-based rights should not be eroded by those based on gender identity.

Among the group who made the application are Tonia Antoniazzi, a shadow Northern Ireland minister; Dianne Hayter, a former chair of Labour’s ruling executive committee: and David Triesman, a former Labour general secretary.

“This refusal comes in spite of an apparent willingness to engage constructively in debate on issues of sex and gender, including calls from Keir Starmer for ‘more light and less heat’ and from Wes Streeting for constructive dialogue on the topic,” the group writes.

“This refusal is part of the party’s historic suppression of dissenting views on gender identity and the outdated and indeed discriminatory assumption that those of us who are advocating for more discussion and the protection of women’s rights should not have a platform/voice within the party.”

A Labour source said that decisions on conference stands were purely commercial and denied the suggestion that the group had been “banned”. A Labour party spokesperson said: “We receive hundreds of applications for conference stands every year, meaning it is always oversubscribed and not everyone can be successful. Labour passed the law that protects women on the basis of their sex and trans people from discrimination. We stand by it.”

The group is challenging the suggestion that the conference was simply oversubscribed. They say that they first made an application in March, claiming that a place had been provisionally agreed. They then received a rejection in May stating: “All applications for commercial business which include an exhibition stand or branding at annual conference are subject to a review process. After due consideration, the proposal to enter into a commercial arrangement was declined.”

The group said it then approached Starmer and shadow equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds in an attempt to reopen discussions but received a second rejection last month stating: “We have looked again at your application alongside stands of a similar size. Unfortunately your application has not been successful on this occasion … You are welcome to apply again for commercial business at an annual conference in the future, when any such application will be subject to the same application process.”

The applicants said that the refusal to allow them a place at conference was part of the “silencing of women” and a “political judgment” – a claim denied by party sources.

The group is now pushing for its public meeting at the conference to be given an official listing. “What Women Need from the Labour Manifesto”, chaired by Antoniazzi, will include appearances by Labour MPs Diana Johnson and Marsha de Cordova.

In a statement last night, Labour Women’s Declaration said: “Our application for an exhibition stand handed the party a golden opportunity to make progress towards resolving the issues of sex and gender that have been described as ‘toxic’. This refusal throws our offer back in our faces. It is still not too late for the Labour party to see sense and to reconsider.”

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