Politics, United Kingdom

How the Trans Pledge Damaged the Labour Party

Is political correctness just a storm in a campus teacup? Not if its effects ripple through the concrete structures of society, leading to major consequences.

Consider PC’s effect on the electoral fortunes of the mainstream Left. Centre-left parties are struggling across the West, and one reason is their “cultural turn” away from economic issues toward the politics of identity. Yet their inability to adapt to electoral realities is not just ideological, but exacerbated by a political correctness which hands radical activists the ability to silence dissent. This stymies efforts to move to the centre on cultural issues, leads to a doubling down on progressive stances, and powers ideological purity spirals. The result, as we shall see, leaves swing voters feeling cold.

In the US, centre-left commentator Noah Smith argues that the “woke” Democratic candidates–Beto O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, even Kamala Harris–did poorly in the primary, flaming out relatively early. Only Elizabeth Warren remains, and her performance in the polls has been lacklustre. Whether wokeness is strong enough to shackle frontrunners like Bernie Sanders, and therefore harm his chances with the wider electorate, remains to be seen.

Blowback effects

The aforementioned observations gain credence from academic research. An emerging body of work in political psychology focuses on how blowback against political correctness tends to increase resistance to progressive policies and heighten the popularity of populist right candidates. One study, by Lisa Legault and colleagues, found that asking whether a group of students agreed or disagreed with the following statements led them to become more prejudiced than another group of students who did not see the statements:

  • It is socially unacceptable to discriminate based on cultural background.
  • People should be unprejudiced.
  • I would be ashamed of myself if I discriminated against someone because they were Black.
  • I should avoid being a racist.
  • I would feel guilty if I were prejudiced.
  • Prejudiced people are not well liked.
  • People in my social circle disapprove of prejudice.

Research by Duke University’s Ashley Jardina finds that using the phrase “racist” when describing confederate statues or Donald Trump increases support for both among a segment of the electorate.

In Britain, the Labour leadership election is underway, with three candidates–Rebecca Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy–contending for the role. Of the three, Long-Bailey and Nandy both signed up to the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledge, which led to heated debate both inside and outside the party.

What, I wondered, might the response of potential Labour voters be to news of the pledge? To find out, I ran a small survey of 214 people on the Prolific Academic survey platform on February 23rd. These online survey platforms are widely used in political psychology research, and give a good answer to the question of how the views of subgroups in a sample differ from one another. These samples tend to skew young and left, but there is plenty of diversity in the respondents to test hypotheses.

The study

In the study, I had half the respondents–the “control” group–read nothing, then asked them how likely they were to vote Labour.

Another half–the “treatment” group–first read a paragraph of text, derived from an article in the Morning Star of February 12th, 2020:

“Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy have backed a 12-point plan put forward by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights group that calls for sex-based rights campaigners to be expelled from Labour. Angela Rayner and Dawn Butler, who are in the running for deputy leader, also backed the group’s pledges. The trans rights group is calling for long debated changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would allow people to formally self identify as the opposite sex without paying for a certificate or demonstrating that they have accessed transitioning services. It also vows to ‘organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance, and other trans exclusionist hate groups.’”

People were then asked whether they agreed with the pledge. Then they also answered the question about how likely they were to vote Labour.

The results show that being exposed to even this small snippet of news about the pledge seems to reduce support for Labour. As figure one reveals, the share of survey respondents who said they would likely vote Labour was 42.6 percent among those who read nothing and just 32.7 percent among those who read the paragraph about the Labour trans pledge.

Source: Prolific Academic, sample of 214. February 23rd, 2020.

One reason for the drop was the limited popularity of the trans pledge among many survey respondents. For instance, less than a third of this mainly left-leaning sample who read about the pledge agreed with it. Among Labour voters, agreement rose to 40 percent, with 18 percent opposed and the rest undecided. However, Green, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party (SNP) voters split fairly evenly between opposing and supporting the pledge, with many undecided.

It seems that most opposed the pledge or were undecided. Among the 40 people who agreed with the pledge, 70 percent said they planned to vote Labour. Among the 99 who either disagreed or were unsure about the pledge, just 20 percent planned to do so.

Tellingly, even among those who voted Labour in 2019, 15 of the 33 respondents who opposed or were unsure about the pledge said they would not back Labour next time compared to all 22 respondents who both voted Labour in 2019 and backed the pledge.

Meanwhile, among those who didn’t vote Labour in 2019, just 21 percent backed the pledge. And among this small group of 18 pro-pledge Lib Dem, Green or SNP voters, only six people said they would switch to Labour.

All told, it seems the trans pledge resulted in Labour losing 2.5 times more people than they gained from other parties: hardly a good trade.

Moreover, Britain’s electoral arithmetic weights the socially conservative “Red Wall” seats of the North and Midlands more than the progressive cities and college towns. Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair clearly revealed his exasperation with the pledge when he opined: “If you go, ‘Transgender rights are our big thing,’ and the right say, ‘Immigration control is our big thing,’ you are going to lose that war, so you are not going to advance any of the things you want to do.”

For Labour to have lost so badly and to have immediately indulged in a politics of progressive virtue-signaling raises the question of whether they are serious about returning to power.

It also points to the broader problem of highly-organised progressive networks like the trans rights lobby leveraging taboos around minority sensitivity to amplify their influence. This permits them to advance unpopular platforms that both weaken the Left and contribute to cultural polarisation.


Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and author of Whiteshift: Immigration, Populism and the Future of White Majorities (Penguin/Abrams, 2019).

Featured image: Rebecca Long-Bailey (Rwendland/Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Transgenderism is a war on too much of the rest of society to win elections.

    Most people rightly understand it as a war on basic truth. But it’s also a war on homosexuals, who care just as much about the plumbing of the person they’re having sex with as the heterosexuals do. It’s a war on feminists, who insist that “gender is a social construct” (notice that I mention feminists in addition to those who understand basic truth).

    It’s a war on science.

    It’s a war on healthcare.

    It’s a war on language.

    It’s a war on the colloquiallisms of the black community.

    It’s a war on tomboys.

    It’s a war on everyone who’s having a pschological issue and is WebMD’ing their way towards self-diagnosing a genitalia-reformat as a way to solve the fact that they don’t love their lives.

    There are too many people on the wrong side of the fence that transgenderism is building. It stands apart from other identity politics agendas in that way, and that’s why several countries that approved a lot of other SJW movements drew the line at this one.

  2. It also points to the broader problem of highly-organised progressive networks like the trans rights lobby leveraging taboos around minority sensitivity to amplify their influence. This permits them to advance unpopular platforms that both weaken the Left and contribute to cultural polarisation.

    If cultural polarization is the price I must pay to weaken the Left, then I will gladly pay it.

    Left-wing women and transsexuals screaming at each other in rage is something that I would never discourage. Quite the contrary.

  3. With today’s technology a handful of people can make an awful lot of noise. But they are still just a handful of people. People and corporations fear shrillness and frequently cave into it. However cowardice is seldom rewarded and placating bullies generally leads to more bullying. Political Correctness operates on the same principles as terrorism. The only choices are fight it or be bulldozed by it. There is be to be no mediation or compromise. The core of Political Correctness is denial of the truth. Political Correctness is about not daring to speak or tell the truth.

    “…It also vows to ‘organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance, and other trans exclusionist hate groups.’”

    Notice how one can not disagree with transgender issues or legislation without being transphobic or a member of a hate group. In other words there is nothing to debate because the other side is only populated with hateful small minded deplorables. This is not a reasonable position and it is unsurprising most people would reject it or be repulsed by it.

  4. Maybe you ought to start a web site …

  5. It would seem that the far left progressives in the major left wing parties are under the delusion that woke causes are popular with the mass of the people.

    I would argue that most of us do not want members of any minority or group of people to suffer as a result of the characteristics that make them members of those groups. Live and let live is the motto that the vast majority of us follow. But the left will not acknowledge this. To them, unless we are all constantly affirming our active love and acceptance of the approved groups we are hopeless bigots. Thus they have to pull stunts all the time that rub our noses in it and signal to us how virtuous they are. They don’t know the difference bewtween offering a lead and imposing change upon us.

    People will put up with a bit of posturing about woke issues. But if a political party is seen to favour the ‘‘victim groups’’ more than the vast majority of the people, then it will flop in elections. A successful political party needs to stand for more than PC pieties. Thye problem with British Labour is that it is all PC pieties, as its other policies were obviously complete fantasy.

  6. That’s because most of them are activists on twitter- which is the only place where roughly 50% of those posting have bought into wokeness (2% of users, account for 90% of the posts), The actual demographics of progressives in the US, show that they comprise 8% of the population, with 30% of them believing that the Left often goes too far. This is contrast to 80% of Americans who say that they don’t like Political Correctness.

    Nassim Taleb has written on the subject, suggesting that relatively tiny minorities can exert a disproportionate control over the cultural landscape. One of the examples he cites is that if a tiny portion of a prison population is Muslim, then everyone will end up eating halal meat, and pork will be off the menu- because it is easier to bend to the needs of the few, than cater to diverse requirements. Of course, the reason why more sensible moderate liberals don’t call the woke out is because they are terrified of being cancelled themselves, being all too aware of the dangers of being set upon by the Outrage Mob.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully in favour of equality under the Law for everyone, including trans people, and have used preferred gender pronouns myself- solely because it seemed like the polite thing to do- although I haven’t yet been asked to use any of the new pronoun concoctions, currently being pushed by the proliferation of the non-binary category. But what I don’t accept is the strangulation of the free exchange of ideas, which has been the basis of our Western societies ability to self-regulate themselves through the cultural commons for hundreds of years. The only other alternatives are Government fiat or violence- the first is Orwellian and the latter is too grim to contemplate, a return to warring memetic tribes.

    This recent post by Posie Parker, highlights a question raised to Lisa Nandy on the subject:


    But my favourite recent clip came from Dave Rubin interviewing Andrew Doyle, the creator of Titania McGrath:


    In the interview, he makes the point that it is always the people on twitter who adorn their profiles with Rainbow flags and announce their gender pronouns who are the the nastiest bullies. He also briefly touches on the subject of preference falsification- which also happens to be the reason why Trump is likely to win. I love Andrew Doyle’s mind, in a previous video he made the point that lived experience used to be called anecdotal evidence- he has that clever habit of taking the modern cultural moment, and reminding us of what we’ve always known.

    I also came across this talk by Niall Ferguson on Google Zeitgeist, from before Trump’s victory in 2016:


    Some will probably dislike his description of Trump as a demagogue, and other will disagree with his depicting globalisation as a positive, but he does draw some interesting parallels from history. Generally, Western societies are the most tolerant, welcoming and egalitarian in history, but they do seem to have natural limits, before social cohesion breaks down, and political polarisation takes over. He notes that there were three points in American history when the percentage of foreign-born citizens reached 13% or 14%, and in each instance the result was an immigration backlash and the rise of populism as a political force.

    Personally I don’t like the term- it’s effectively designed to look down upon, ordinary people exercising their right to express their opinion through the ballot box. But it is interesting to note that this percentage threshold reflects the total percentage of foreign-born citizens in the UK, as well. I wonder whether European demographics reflect similar population changes, or whether the threshold varies by culture…

    Good article though. Largely reflects the growing schism in political movements on the Left, and the reason why the cultural centre-Right is likely to prevail for the foreseeable future, in many Western countries.

  7. Yes, when the left has an electoral victory they never say that their policies of giving away a lot of free stuff were ‘‘populist’’.

    When a left winger uses the term populist I usually correct him or her and say ‘‘you mean popular’’. it always sets the little buggers back on their heels.

  8. I sincerely hope the community will reconsider obscuring the content of this post. Obviously the poster still stands by the remarks. What is the point of hiding them?

  9. Me too. We’ve got some trigger-happy flaggers lately.

  10. Are you Marianne Williamson? You make about as much sense, with about as many words.

  11. After a Dallas, Ore. school district adopts a new policy allowing a transgender male high school student to use boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms, the parents of students who feel uncomfortable changing clothes in front of someone born biologically female sue, alleging a host of constitutional objections, along with a Title IX claim. Ninth Circuit: We recognize the sensitivities of all involved, but the claims fail.

  12. I guess I never focused on it before. Having read the Ninth Circuit case you referenced, something that strikes me as a major issue moving forward is the phrase “assigned at birth.” Like gender identity, this is now so accepted in society as to have become almost imperceptible. How can biological sex be assigned at birth? Assigned by whom? Sad.

    Nevertheless, while the case/appeal may have failed under other circumstances, it appears to me that the plaintiffs’ lawyers were inept at best.

  13. This is embarrassing, but not long before the trans movement relieved me of my women’s restroom at my workplace (at least there’s another one on the next floor below); I began to ask myself why I thought I was a ‘progressive.’ Concern for the environment and health care seemed to be the answer. Then the text on solicitations from the Democratic party got viciously demonizing. It no longer spoke of solutions but of how evil Republicans are. Next came the meetings in my workplace at which a buxom black woman insisted she was a man and, if any of us failed to address her as such, there was something EVIL about us. And then you have handing over meritocracy to race, so the quality of scholarship is suffering as interpretations of virtually everything seems to be whether or not it is “racist” or “sexist.” At a recent conference in my field, this was the topic of the plenary speaker’s lecture. It was absolutely USELESS. (Unless you’re a useful idiot inclined to believe it).

    In any case, I started backing away.

    If this is supposed to be a democracy, being forced to share bathrooms with penises is not that. Being forced to say what I don’t believe is not that. Loading every interaction among human beings with the fear of offense is a destructive practice. They’ve taken humor. Scholarship. Feelings matter more than learning. Teaching children that they can be a boy or a girl…BINDERS. Mastectomies. Politicians in a debate spewing the right to abortion for trans women in a country where access to healthcare presents numerous financial obstacles. Abortions for trans illegal immigrants! Come one, come all, to the useful idiot show!

  14. If a heterosexual man asks a heterosexual woman on a date and she rejects him, she will call him creepy.

    “Creepy” is a woman’s way of expressing disinterest without feeling obligated to have a good reason and placing responsibility for the rejection on the man. More unfortunately for him, it suggests that he might be guilty of sexual harassment (which is basically rape, you guys!), even when the reason for the rejection might be nothing more than her own bad mood.

    Conversely, if a man rejects a woman, he’s a jerk. Probably “fatphobic”, among other things.

    In short, there’s a “spectrum” of expectations regarding a person’s willingness to have a relationship with another person, and that “spectrum” is just the intersectionality hierarchy all over again.

    The Left is attempting to promote the sexual expectations of Huxley’s A Brave New World, but only provided that the solicitor is lower than the solicitee on the hierarchy.

  15. Yes, this is the most terrible part. The impact of the post-modernist destruction of the humanities is finally almost complete. There is little left of actual knowledge in the humanities (literatures of various languages). The knowledge base of these disciplines has been reduced to examining the manner in which early documents were written. Vast conferences concern not the meaning of Beowolf or the Arthurian stories but the manner in which “the period symbol” was placed upon the paper (my SIL does this).

    My SIL was teaching a course last year, and suddenly discovered that he had boxed himself in. He was doing a French medieval class with all women students. The romances written in the middle ages were written by women for women. Sometimes, “forbidden” matters were included. In one book, a maiden enamoured of Lancelot d’Lac arranged for a fake rape that Lancelot was to rescue her from. When you hear the words “fake rape” in today’s world, this is of course philosophically, practically, and morally impossible. Believe that woman. But it’s in the book. Somehow he got through the class without charges of whatever sort being filed with the main office.

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