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Labour Chair Accuses Tories Of Being Fixated On "Lanyards And Toilet Tsars"

Anneliese Dodds is running to be re-elected as Labour MP for Oxford East (Alamy)

5 min read

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds has said ordinary voters “don’t care” about which lanyards people are wearing, accusing the Conservative government of being “fixated” on culture wars.

Last month, The Telegraph reported that the government was planning to ban the hiring of new staff in the civil service dedicated to boosting diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI). Cabinet Office minister Esther McVey said she thought the civil service was becoming distracted by “woke hobby horses”.

She also warned civil servants not to express political views “by the back door” by wearing rainbow lanyards in support of LGBTQ+ rights – though subsequent Cabinet Office guidance did not make specific reference to lanyards themselves and instead generally instructed civil servants to maintain their “political impartiality”.

In an interview with PoliticsHome, Dodds suggested Labour would not follow the Tories’ example of cutting down on diversity and inclusion as a priority for the civil service and public sector, and stressed Labour’s attention would be focused elsewhere if elected to government on 4 July.

“We've literally got schools crumbling around our children's ears at the moment. Instead, [the government] seems to fixate on whether some civil servants are wearing a particular lanyard or not,” said the Labour Chair, who is also Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.

“Labour is prioritising national security, the Conservatives are prioritising lanyards and toilet tsars.

“What we've seen so far is a government that's fixated on matters that most ordinary people are not bothered about. They don't care about which lanyards people are wearing. They do care about having a civil service that serves the country with a government that's got our national interests at heart.”

Earlier this week, Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch pledged to redefine the legal definition of the term “sex” in the Equality Act to mean biological sex only, claiming it would help to protect single-sex spaces. It is one of numerous policies announced by the Tory party during the general election campaign in its bid to avoid what currently looks like likely defeat to Labour next month.

Dodds confirmed to PoliticsHome that Labour would not amend the Equality Act in any way, but said there should be “statutory guidance” for service providers to help them understand legal definitions.

As party chair, Dodds has also played a significant role in developing Labour’s election manifesto, which is due to be published next week. Asked whether women’s rights and equalities will be a prominent feature of the manifesto, she said that it would generally reflect the “need to ensure that our country works better for women as well as for men”.

“That we are delivering on equality is fundamental to all of the missions,” she said, referencing Labour’s pledges to halve violent crime – which would include violence against women and girls – ensure there are domestic abuse specialists in every 999 control centre, and establish specialist courts to deal with rape cases.

She said that committing to a target to reduce Black maternal mortality would be fundamental to Labour’s mission to “get the NHS back on its feet”.

“In every mission, from the beginning, we've really considered the impact on people of different backgrounds, including women, Black, Asian, ethnic minority people, LGBT+ people, disabled people. 

“We've also considered the impact on different parts of the country and the socio-economic impact.”

However, she confirmed that Labour’s manifesto will be somewhat slimmed down compared to previous general elections, with fewer specific policy pledges.

“Arguably, we had what I sometimes described as a policy blizzard, large numbers of policies being set out in a very short space of time,” she said.

“And that is not the case under Keir Starmer. We've had that long-term process building towards policies that we're confident that we can deliver, and really focusing on what the implementation will look like.”

A new YouGov poll has shown that compared to other issues, the British public are relatively more positive about the progress that has been made on equalities issues since the Conservatives got into government in 2010.

Only 24 per cent felt racial equality had got worse, 22 per cent felt the same on transgender rights and 19 per cent on lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights – compared to 85 per cent who felt the cost of living had worsened and 84 per cent who believed the National Health Service has declined.

So what did Dodds believe the Conservatives had done right in that time?

“I believe the British public is far ahead of where Conservative governments have been,” she said.

“We did see in some areas, a commitment from the Theresa May government to attempt to move forward. For example, her government set out an LGBT Action Plan, she also established the Race Disparity Unit. 

“But I have spoken with those who were involved in those initial efforts, and they're extremely disillusioned with what's happened since.”

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