Anneliese Dodds isn’t just naive. Her weakness is a danger to women

Anneliese Dodds is Britain's new minister for women and equalities
Anneliese Dodds is Britain's new minister for women and equalities

Days after the major Cabinet appointments were announced, Anneliese Dodds – a one-time shadow chancellor – has been given the brief that no sane politician wants. Now in post as minister for women and equalities, Dodds will be expected to do the impossible: uphold Labour’s manifesto commitment to protect women’s rights to single-sex spaces, while apparently liberalising the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which allows people to change gender legally.

It is unclear if No 10’s tardiness in naming Dodds was indicative of Sir Keir Starmer’s lack of interest in the role, or an understanding of its cursed complexities.

What is clear is that Dodds is far from an uncontroversial choice. Despite having given birth to two children, she has been reticent to explain what a woman is. When asked on Woman’s Hour in 2022 for her definition, Dodds replied that it depended on the context. Like Starmer – who has shifted from “transwomen are women” to “99.9 per cent of women don’t have a penis”, to a women is an “adult female” – for the new women and equalities minister, “context” seems to depend on the political winds.

Unlike their elected representatives, the public has been clear. Polls show that, while many people are tired of hearing about “trans issues”, they still care passionately about their right to request an intimate examination by someone of the same sex, or indeed about protecting women’s sport.

An optimist might say that Dodds is not ill-meaning, but simply naive. Yet that downplays the danger. For as we have seen time and again on this issue, naivety is too often a green light for activists to advance policies that endanger women’s hard-won rights. Weakness, or lack of clarity, becomes an enabler of harm.

The fact that Dodds is surrounded in Cabinet by MPs known to have adopted radical positions on this issue in the past is a worrying sign. While the new PM has tacked back towards the dry land of reality, other figures have shown a worrying lack of clarity or understanding of the debate. Angela Rayner, the Deputy Prime Minister no less, has said that women’s rights are not in conflict with trans rights. This would seem to ignore the many cases – from prisons to public toilets and sport – where this is untrue.

It also ignores the extent to which there is institutional resistance to attempts to resist extreme gender policies. As Suella Braverman reflected on Monday, despite 14 years in power, the Tories failed to stop the march of the “trans fanatics” across the Civil Service. Again, a lack of clarity at the top – or worse – will see this flourish.

Dodds might even be tempted to take advantage of the honeymoon period to rush through legislation to placate the gender lobby. Many of the new intake will have bought into the idea that this whole debate is a “culture war”, somehow manufactured by the Conservatives. The parliamentary freshers are unlikely to be as aware that pledges such as reform of the GRA will have huge, unpredictable ramifications.

Time will tell whether Dodds can withstand the pressure from trans lobby groups, civil servants and her own colleagues. But when it comes to the needs of 51 per cent of the population, our new women and equalities minister would do well to remember a slogan beloved of her party’s previous leader: policy should be made in the interests of the many, not the few.