Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Brianna Ghey’s murder is being weaponised – but not by Sunak

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered Brianna Ghey, meets Labour leader Keir Starmer (Credit: Getty images)

We really have seen the worst of politics over the past 24 hours. I’m not referring to Rishi Sunak’s dig at Keir Starmer for not knowing what a woman is – a swipe made while Esther Ghey, mother of the murdered trans teenager Brianna, was in Parliament. I’m referring to the cynical milking of this Commons spat by those who are desperate to get one over on the Prime Minister. They’re calling Sunak ‘crass’, but that insult suits them far better.

It isn’t the PM who has lost his moral bearings – it’s his noisy, fuming critics. All Sunak did during Prime Minister’s Questions was mock his opposite number for his ceaseless U-turning, including on the question of what a woman is. Sir Keir is notoriously bad at giving a straight answer to that simplest of queries.

Shame on those who have taken Brianna’s name in vain

No, it’s the behaviour of Sunak’s detractors, their pitiless transformation of this non-event into the scandal of the moment, that really turns the stomach. They are weaponising the unimaginable grief of the Ghey family to try to rattle the PM, to land blows on the Tories. They are marshalling a mother’s pain to the tyrannical ends of censuring Sunak and chilling public discussion on the trans question. It is politics at its unsightliest.

Let’s be clear: Sunak did not insult trans people. He absolutely did not insult the mourning Ghey family. He insulted Keir Starmer. He took Sir Keir to task for his flip-flopping and for once saying that 99.9 per cent of women don’t have a penis (which means 1 in 1,000 women do have a penis). This is Sunak’s job – to expose the shortcomings of the Leader of the Opposition. He did nothing wrong.

The same cannot be said of his haters. It feels like they are using a family’s pain as a political cudgel, a moral truncheon. They are invoking Esther Ghey’s name – without her permission, I presume – to add the weight of her grief and sorrow to their tired Tory-bashing. I find it horrendous.

Consider Lewis Goodall, the BBC reporter turned anchor of the News Agents podcast. On yesterday’s show he said ‘Esther Ghey is now a very powerful woman in British politics’ because ‘how she chooses to respond to this could be devastating for Sunak’.

I’m sorry, Lewis, but did you consult Ms Ghey before baptising her the judge and jury of Sunak’s fate? Before announcing to the middle classes who lap up your pod that this woman could give a Nero-style thumbs up or thumbs down to the PM if she wanted to? To my mind, marching Ms Ghey into your own political psychodrama, and allotting her the role of the final boss the Tories must face, is far more presumptive and exploitative than anything Sunak did in the chamber yesterday.

It seems to me that some people are exploiting grief to try to circumvent democratic debate. Everyone of sound mind and good conscience feels the utmost sympathy for Esther Ghey. Her loss is incalculable, her dignity inspiring. But she is not your moral sock puppet. She is no one’s political tool. She is a mother in deep grief – respect that.

Sunak’s job is to expose the shortcomings of the Leader of the Opposition. He did nothing wrong

The harsh truth is that grief and policy are not a good mix. There have been many cases in recent years where a mother’s suffering has been used by politicians for authoritarian ends. One thinks of poor Denise Bulger, mother of James, the Liverpool toddler murdered by two 10-year-old boys in 1993. As Nick Cohen put it, Tony Blair, then Labour’s rising star, ‘hijacked’ that tragedy for ‘political ends’. The Bulger horror boosted Blair’s determination to be a firm leader, unforgiving of any species of ‘anti-social behaviour’.

One thinks, also, of Doreen Lawrence, whose son Stephen was murdered by racists. That horror gave rise to the Macpherson report and the idea that ‘institutionalised racism’ and ‘unwitting racism’ are widespread. The end result is the race-obsessed society we all now live in, where no one really knows what they can say or how they should behave. Raw grief over a racist slaying gave rise, in my view, to poor policy.

We risk seeing the same following the appalling murder of Brianna. The activist class’s weaponisation of the Ghey grief feels like a politically correct version of what happened after the murder of James Bulger. The aim this time is not to intensify the policing of society itself but to increase policing of what people say and even how we think on the issues of sex and gender. Seeking to control public discussion of the trans issue on the basis that it might be insensitive to the family of Brianna Ghey is not good or moral – it is cynical and anti-democratic.

Esther Ghey deserves our solidarity and our sympathy. Sunak absolutely should meet with her to convey the public’s sorrow over what was done to Brianna. But political life and policymaking must be free of the influence of grief, and must continue to be driven by openness and reason. Shame on those who have taken Brianna’s name in vain to try to shush the Prime Minister.