Kit Malthouse, UK Secretary of State for Education (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Sorry, Mr Reasonable

It’s too late for centrism in the gender wars

Artillery Row

Rejoice! Send forth for the Ocado delivery of Prosecco and release the canapes — Education Secretary Kit Malthouse has declared peace in the culture wars. More saviour than mere politician, on Monday the man who gave his name to the dimly remembered “Malthouse compromise” during the Brexit negotiations, told the Times he would introduce a “common sense” approach to trans policies in schools. Malthouse’s belief that he can stay standing whilst straddling intransigent positions is not just naïve and ill-considered, it is doomed to fail.

Transgender ideology has warped the norms of civil society

At present, most schools follow the line of the self-appointed “experts” in the booming equality and diversity industry. In its advice to schools, trans lobby group Stonewall is clear: “All schools, colleges and settings (including single-sex schools) have a responsibility to support trans children or young people through a transition.” This means that a student’s stated trans identity must be allowed to override the reality of their biological sex in all circumstances. When it comes to the nitty gritty of how this is practically interpreted, the policy options available are resolutely binary — you either play along with a youngster’s belief that they are really the opposite sex, or you don’t. There is no spectrum of options or happy medium between acknowledging material reality and indulging in a fantasy. 

Malthouse’s solution is reported to be the introduction of “gender-neutral toilets” alongside those for each sex, and workarounds like staggered changing for physical education lessons. Costly and impractical, these suggestions are unlikely to satisfy the demands of students, their parents and teachers, who take their lead from trans lobby groups. Any policies or procedures that accommodate youngsters who identify as trans, rather than just accept them according to their professed gender identity, are a rejection of the belief that individuals can change sex. To those whose identities rely on external prompts and props, from pronoun badges to accessing preferred changing rooms, a third option can only be seen as a snub. Whilst reasonable on the surface, these political solutions cannot solve what is a theological disagreement — they will only serve to grate the twackers of people on all sides.

In her role as attorney general, Braverman was clear that, for example, schools “don’t have to and shouldn’t” allow pupils who are born male to use girls’ lavatories. Amongst fruitier epithets, detractors have branded this “unkind”, but allowing youngsters to self-identify into female or male spaces on the basis of their feelings could be seen as “unkind” to those who, for reasons of religion, safety or simple dignity, need single-sex spaces. That this is seen as a hard-line position, is a testament to how far transgender ideology has warped the norms of civil society. 

In the same article which outlined Malthouse’s “common sense” approach, the Times reported a senior government source as complaining: “This never used to be such a divisive issue: people just accepted trans people and got on with it. It only became an issue once the activists got involved and polarised people.” Whether through design or well-intentioned ignorance, activists including Stonewall were until recently invited to be “involved” at every level of government. The polarisation happened when ordinary citizens began to take notice. For all the sneering at the disarray caused by the woke warriors within the left, it was under the Conservative administration that trans ideology came to march through the corridors of power.

Malthouse has set himself in opposition to many senior Conservative women

Stonewall has now fallen from grace but its influence is still felt keenly. In 2019, Jonathan Slater, then Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education (DfE), was named as the Stonewall “Senior Champion of the Year”. In 2018 the group was awarded a £233,673 grant by the DfE. Whilst this is an extreme example, projects like the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, which many statutory bodies paid money to, have helped to normalise the radical ideas of trans lobby groups within the civil service and across government. Contentions such as that biological sex not only doesn’t matter, but that it might not exist, have become the polite default. With break-neck speed, contradicting the mind-bending and dangerous beliefs of trans lobby groups has become so “unkind” as to be unspeakable. Today, even telling the truth is a brave act.

Arguably, by positioning himself as “Mr Reasonable”, Malthouse is seeking to distance himself from a fringe he fears might trigger the memory of “the nasty party”. In doing so he has set himself in opposition to many senior Conservative women — not least home secretary Suella Braverman and prime minister Liz Truss. The suspicion that Malthouse believes himself to be charging into the fray to save the hysterical ladies from an unedifying squabble with a magic and mysteriously hitherto overlooked answer, is hard to shake. Rather than dribbling out insipid comments about compromise and the nastiness of the culture wars, Malthouse needs to face-up to the institutional capture that has happened under the nose of the Tory government. To be effective, he needs to not only wrestle back the DfE, but control of the narrative that telling the truth is “unkind”. The reality is, “common sense” is no longer an option — trans ideology killed it.

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