This article is taken from the October 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
You’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed that many of the charities that used to fight real and urgent injustices now spend their time on counterproductive hectoring instead.
Organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and our very own Stonewall have abandoned practical policies to help the downtrodden in favour of totalising theories of free-floating oppression and claims of harm, hate and genocide.
So extreme has this reinvention been that they now resemble the priestly caste of a joyless, godless neo-religion that preaches against whiteness, cisness and heteronormativity — original sins for which there is no absolution, only eternal self-flagellation. In the title of a recent book by the comedian and author Andrew Doyle, these people are “The New Puritans”.
The default mode of these once-great charities is finger-wagging. They specialise in caps-lock, hand-clap, repeat-after-me, “be kind, do better” tweets about micro-aggressions, systemic racism and the sacred nature of transness.
The latest offering from Stonewall is a series of mugs emblazoned with “some people are [insert identity]. get over it”. Used in the office, they guarantee that your colleagues will loathe you, but won’t dare say so for fear of being reported to hr.
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These campaign groups have infiltrated workplaces in ways far more consequential than pass-agg mugs. Their most effective tool is the ranking scheme, by which they seek to create a gender-neutral, race-obsessed new Jerusalem. Stonewall no longer publishes the full list of participants in its “diversity champions” scheme. But three years ago more than 850 organisations were signed up, covering a quarter of the British workforce.
For a few thousand quid an employer gets the privilege of having chunks of its HR policies rewritten by young graduates who think oppression means forgetting someone’s “preferred pronouns” and being kept out of the opposite sex’s toilets. These identitarians know employers’ continued subscriptions — and therefore their own jobs — depend on inventing ever more absurd instructions for self-debasement in the name of inclusion.
The latest iteration marks firms down for not having sanitary bins and tampon dispensers in the gents. Doing really well means telling customer-facing staff to wear badges proclaiming their pronouns and to ask everyone they interact with for theirs. “Gender-fluid” staff should be given email addresses and ID cards to match each of their identities.
All policies should be based on the lie that human beings aren’t sexually dimorphic — to the point of absurdity; maternity-leave provisions should avoid all mention of women and mothers, speaking instead of “birthing parents”.
This sort of overreach has led to a campaign to “get Stonewall out”. In August, Kemi Badenoch, the minister for women and equalities, said all government departments should leave the scheme; in the past couple of years several have done so, including the Cabinet Office. So have the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Channel 4 and the BBC.
But as with Hotel California, checking out does not mean you can truly leave. All those rewritten policies will stand until you instruct someone sensible to fix them — and if you try that, you’ll quickly realise that by bowing to Stonewall’s diktats you created a workplace culture that scares and silences sensible people, and empowers witchfinders and grievance-mongers.
When you imposed unpopular, reality-denying policies on your workforce and labelled dissent as bigotry, you turned the ability to avoid wrongthink into a career asset. Meanwhile those you tasked with rooting out sins against social justice will find plenty — after all, their continuing employment relies on bigotry being in endless supply. And everyone else will profess to see the bigotry, too, since confessing that you cannot is as good as saying that you are a bigot as well.
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It’s bad enough that your organisation has become a hostile environment for employees who just want to get on with the job, and that time and money have been wasted on making it so. But the new culture may also infect your core business.
Take the BBC, which left the diversity champions scheme in 2021, admitting in a statement that its participation had “led some to question whether the BBC can be impartial when reporting on public policy debates where Stonewall is taking an active role”. Debates such as whether gender self-ID should become law, whether to use experimental drugs to halt puberty in gender-confused children and whether to allow men who identify as women into women’s sports, presumably — on all of which the BBC’s reporting has indeed been terrible.
One disgruntled BBC staffer told me in confidence about proposing a news item touching on trans issues and suggesting me as an interviewee. A colleague described me as a Nazi and made such a fuss that I was dropped. Another BBC staffer who included a brief reference to LGB Alliance in a news broadcast was told to remove the reference — and reported to HR for refusing to do so. The charity represents same-sex oriented people, you see, not people who profess attraction to self-declared gender identities, as Stonewall now does. That makes it “transphobic”.
None of this should come as any surprise in a media organisation that has written gender identity into its workplace policies. Those policies signal to journalists that gender identity is real and important, sex isn’t and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bigot. Of course that is bound to influence the editorial line.
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This process can be described as “policy capture” — the distortion of policymaking to benefit a minority at the expense of everyone else. It has three major elements: lobbying and funding; the distortion of knowledge production and dissemination; and threats of trouble.
The first of these is familiar from financial corruption, when industry groups suborn regulators to weaken rules and to turn a blind eye to infractions. But as governments grant themselves ever greater licence to prescribe citizens’ behaviour, it’s increasingly done in the name of social justice.
It’s obviously not in the interests of the majority that police ignore bike theft and break-ins but question a pensioner on suspicion of committing a hate crime because she photographed a sticker saying “Keep males out of women-only spaces”, as happened in Hebden Bridge earlier this year. But it certainly suits the tiny minority who want to force everyone to pretend that people are whatever sex they claim to be.
As for knowledge production and dissemination, academics tend to leap on the latest fads from ideology entrepreneurs like Judith Butler (biological sex is a social construct) and Robin DiAngelo (all white people, everywhere, are complicit in racism).
Undergraduates get good grades by saying what they know their teachers want to hear; PhD applicants write theses that flatter the biases of journals; applicants for lectureships say what they think will get them hired and go on to publish papers they think will get published — and by the time they are full professors, it’s too late to learn intellectual independence. The result is that universities are full of adults who resemble teenagers: all non-conformist in the same way.
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“Threats of trouble” is the term used for the many ways in which compliance is enforced, from social sanctions to workplace disciplinaries to industry blacklists. A recent example concerned Dev Mistry, a burlesque performer who goes by they/them. While he was having coffee in the lobby of Hotel Malmaison in Manchester city centre, he heard a staff member “talking to others about trans people”.
Once you give the New Puritans a hold over you, the witchfinders will be everywhere
The conversation “was not necessarily malicious”, he grudgingly told the Manchester Evening News, “but it was that ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ and there’s no in between”. Naturally, Mistry complained to the hotel’s front desk about this heresy being expressed in a public place. He then contacted head office, which assured him it had “launched an HR investigation” and accepted that it “needed more formal training around LGBTQ+ issues”.
The conversation happened during Manchester Pride, in late August — and Hotel Malmaison was hosting the event’s media accreditation suite. Presumably it felt it had to take Mistry’s complaint seriously if it didn’t want to lose a lucrative contract in future years. Once you give the New Puritans a hold over you, the witchfinders will be everywhere.
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