On Wednesday 7 February, Sunak made his now infamous ‘trans jibe’ (as the media has called it) in front of the mother of slain transgender teenager Brianna Ghey. Sunak has since refused to apologise for the matter.
As the days go by, the problems caused by his remarks are mounting – with Sunak losing support from his own party and supporters:
As reported by Reuters:
In an exchange with Labour leader Keir Starmer, who had said Ghey’s mother was watching, Sunak said “defining a woman” was on a list of Starmer’s broken promises, joking it had been “only 99% of a U-turn”.
This was in reference to the time Starmer said 99.9% of women “of course haven’t got a penis” when asked about whether a person with a penis can be a woman. Given that trans people have existed for at least several millennia and that trans rights are legally human rights, it’s very tiring that anyone has to answer this.
Starmer answered in perhaps the most awkward way possible while still being on the right side of the matter. Sunak, on the other hand, has leaned in a different direction, as Reuters reported:
Sunak has said “a man is a man and a woman is a woman” and has criticised Starmer, saying he “still does not know what a woman, is”.
Given Sunak’s history, everyone understands that when he said what he said to Starmer, the implication was that acknowledging trans people is the wrong thing to do. And while some Conservatives undoubtedly agree with this, even they see it was repugnant to make the point in front of the mother of a murdered teenager.
Bloomberg reported on the chaos behind the scenes in the Conservative Party:
Behind the scenes, disagreements broke out around Sunak that laid bare the limits of his authority. Some senior aides urged him to stick by his comments and not apologize. Others saw it as a lapse of judgment, and one privately described it as the worst gaffe in Prime Minister’s Questions they’d ever seen. There were recriminations about the quality of work done to prepare Sunak.
But it also split the Cabinet. As the debate continued over an apology, Sunak’s Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch — seen as having her own leadership ambitions — posted on social media without Downing Street’s sign off. Though she supported Sunak’s comment, aides saw it as a deliberate attempt to force his hand over a culture war issue that right-wing Tories are keen on.
The next day Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt, whose support base is in the more centrist wing of the Tory party, urged the prime minister to “reflect” on his choice of language — an intervention that also infuriated Sunak’s aides.
The tweet from Badenoch saw her humourlessly doing the same thing as Sunak – i.e. questioning the validity of trans people’s existence:
Sunak may have bigger problems than internal party dynamics, as Tory voters are also repulsed by the man. The Telegraph reported on feedback from a focus group of Tory voters in the by-election constituency of Wellingborough:
All seven participants reacted negatively to a transgender jibe made by Mr Sunak on Wednesday as the mother of Brianna Ghey, a murdered trans teenager, attended Prime Minister’s Questions.
Claire, an admin assistant, said the joke “absolutely turned my stomach”, while Millie added: “It’s just so insensitive. It’s about trying to score points but not knowing your audience. He just doesn’t get it.”
Luke Tryl, the director of More in Common, who moderated the session, said: “Considering all of this group voted Tory in 2019, their extent of disillusionment with the Government was shocking even for someone who runs focus groups like this on a weekly basis.
Sunak: problems snowballing
Sunak has created a massive issue for himself and his supporters, as it means both he and his allies have to repeatedly defend the indefensible:
It’s unclear if Sunak would rather be an amateur comedian or an incompetent prime minister, but at this rate he’ll soon be neither.
Featured image via Number 10 – Flickr (cropped to 1,200 x 900)