Tories ignite culture war with Labour over ‘shutting women up’

A cabinet minister has accused Labour of spending a decade trying to “shut women up”, as the Conservatives reignited a political culture war over transgender issues.

Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, also claimed that the opposition had created an “atmosphere of intimidation” around the topic, after a landmark report on NHS gender services was published earlier this week.

Her comments came after the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said his former employer Stonewall had been wrong to argue that “trans women are women, get over it”.

His shadow-cabinet colleague Louise Haigh rejected the claim that Labour had tried to shut down debate, saying there had been “bad faith” actors on all sides.

Rishi Sunak was heavily criticised last month for refusing to apologise to the family of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey after making a joke about transgender people while her mother was visiting parliament.

As the political row was rekindled, JK Rowling told Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson to “save their apologies” after the debate on trans issues was blown open again with the publication of the Cass report.

Health secretary Victoria Atkins has claimed that Labour created an ‘atmosphere of intimidation’ around the trans debate (PA Wire)
Health secretary Victoria Atkins has claimed that Labour created an ‘atmosphere of intimidation’ around the trans debate (PA Wire)

The review warned that children had been let down by a lack of research and evidence on the use of puberty blockers and hormones. Mr Streeting called the findings “scandalous”.

In an interview with Sky News, Ms Atkins hit back, saying: “Labour has spent the last 10 years trying to shut women up when it comes to this. They have been part of the ideology, the culture wars, creating an atmosphere of intimidation for anyone who dared to question this ideology.

“So it is a little bit rich of the Labour Party to be lecturing the rest of us now, having been so forthright in their support for this ideology in the past.”

But Ms Haigh denied that Labour had shut down debate. “I don’t think that has been writ large in the Labour Party ... There have been bad-faith actors on all sides,” she said, adding that Mr Streeting had been right to “hold his hand up” and say that it was wrong to use language such as “get over it”.

JK Rowling has told former stars of the Harry Potter films to ‘save their apologies’ (PA)
JK Rowling has told former stars of the Harry Potter films to ‘save their apologies’ (PA)

Earlier this week, Mr Streeting told The Sun: “To the extent that – and I say this with some self-criticism and reflection – if you’d asked me a few years ago, on this topic, I would have said trans men are men, trans women are women. Some people are trans, get over it. Let’s move on. This is all blown out of proportion.”

“And now I sort of sit and reflect and think actually, there are lots of complexities.”

It comes as the Tories face a potentially devastating general election defeat, after a series of bombshell opinion polls have suggested that Labour will win a landslide victory.

Mr Sunak’s woes further deepened on Thursday when Boris Johnson described the prime minister’s flagship smoking ban policy as “nuts” and “mad”.

And the prime minister struggled to enforce discipline within his own party when one of his MPs – Nick Fletcher, the member for Don Valley – endorsed Lee Anderson, who has defected to Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party, as the “greatest champion” of the Ashfield constituency where the former Tory party deputy chair will hope to retain his seat at the next election.

Meanwhile, Ms Rowling took aim at the former stars of her most famous creation, telling them to “save their apologies”.

Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter, has previously apologised “for the pain” Rowling’s comments on the issue have caused Harry Potter fans. Ms Watson appeared to make a dig at Rowling at the Baftas in 2022, and in 2020 wrote on Twitter: “I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”

It comes as a new survey revealed the lowest level of happiness in a decade among young transgender people in Scotland, amid what a charity called an “unacceptable” level of intolerance.

A report by LGBT Youth Scotland indicated that happiness among the young transgender community has halved in the 10 years between 2012 and 2022, from 59 per cent to 28 per cent.

The charity, which surveyed more than 1,200 people aged between 13 and 25, found that 40 per cent felt unsafe using public transport, while one in five had left education because of transphobia.

Dr Mhairi Crawford, chief executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, called for more protection and support for transgender young people to protect their wellbeing.