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The Conservatives deserve credit on sex and gender

They were slow to respond to institutional capture — but they did respond

The pseudoscience of gender ideology is barrelling across the West. The long-delayed public debate is often focused on women’s single sex spaces and services. But the assault on our society’s norms goes much deeper. 

Scientific institutions publish reports which undermine elementary science; that sex is binary and immutable. Textbook publishers teach children that sex is a spectrum and that trans women are women. (Thomas Sowell said “there are few things more dishonorable than misleading the young”.) 

Gender ideology even attempts to undermine our reliance on our senses and intuitions. We are told not to believe our eyes when we meet someone new (“do not assume someone’s gender by looking at them”). Women and girls are told not to respond quickly to evolutionary intuitions (when they find themselves alone in a toilet block with a male). 

Women lose their jobs and livelihoods if they claim sex is real and matters. The NHS has subjected children to irreversible medical experiments. Statistical data about male and female crime patterns is being corrupted. Violent men have been placed in women’s prisons. Our state broadcaster, the BBC, tells us that a woman has murdered a man — even as a simple Google search reveals that it is lying. 

We are even told to discard our shared language which has evolved over millennia. No wonder so many grassroots women are fighting back. 

Shortly after Rishi Sunak called a general election for July 4, the Conservatives made an election pledge to reform the Equality Act. They pledged to make it easier to protect single sex spaces and services for women and girls. While this was greeted positively by thousands of women there were murmurings amongst the many sane people who have been fighting gender ideology. Too little too late said quite a few. Kathleen Stock described it in the Telegraph as simply “a lure to the electorate”. She ended her article on a rather sour note: “There is no doubt that the Conservative Party knew all along what a woman was. Whether it cared, is another matter entirely.”

Stock is right — the Conservative Party does know what a woman is. Whether it cares is indeed another matter. The answer is that it does. The UK is called Terf Island. Compared to other Western countries, it has challenged gender ideology the most successfully for two reasons: the extraordinary effort and commitment from tens of thousands of grassroots women, and a Conservative government which has listened and acted. 

Let me be clear — like every single other large institution, private and public, across the UK (name one that was not) the Conservative Party was “captured” by gender ideology. This is undeniable. 

When she was Prime Minister, Theresa May set out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier to change legal gender. Penny Mordaunt announced in parliament that “trans women are women”. The 2019 Relationship, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) Guidance for schools required them to teach children about “gender identity”. Ministry of Justice guidance allowed trans-identifying men to be housed in women’s prisons. I could go on. Gender ideology appeared to have won the day.

But the tide turned. Credit to tens of thousands of women and the groups they formed. Credit to many Conservative MPs. Particular credit to Liz Truss. She became Secretary of State for Women and Equalities in 2019. It took her just under a year to announce that gender self-ID reforms were off the table. Stonewall described it as “a shocking failure in leadership”; Women’s groups such as Fair Play for Women welcomed an early triumph. Thousands of women celebrated. 

Across this period, groups such as Safe Schools Alliance and Transgender Trend continuously highlighted the harms of teaching young children they might have been born in the wrong body. What kind of society wants to encourage children on a pathway to irreversible damage? 

Responding to this, in late 2020, Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, published RSHE implementation guidance which should have reversed the damage of the 2019 curriculum guidance. It said “Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used” and “you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material”. Stonewall teaches primary school children that “everyone has a gender identity”. It should have been thrown out of schools. 

Without total commitment from key ministers … these initiatives would not have happened

Sadly this was too little, too late — gender ideology had become embedded in our schools. But it gave explicit grounds to parents and groups to highlight unscientific materials, raise concerns, and whistleblow to the press. Backbench MP Miriam Cates, became a crucial campaigner on this issue, supporting parents and highlighting problems to colleagues, Ministers, and the press. Finally, earlier this year, Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, and Education Secretary of State, Gillian Keegan, announced a series of education reforms that resoundingly pushed back against gender ideology: new guidance to safeguarding children who are exploring their gender in schools; updated statutory safeguarding guidance making clear that trans-identifying children do need safeguarding; new curriculum guidance stating that gender identity should not be taught in schools. All of this is in various stages of draft. The long delay is evidence of internal battles, including with the supposedly neutral civil service. Without total commitment from key ministers, most importantly Badenoch, these initiatives would not have happened. Will they survive a new government? 

Back to 2020, and Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, launched a review into the provision of single versus mixed sex toilets in public buildings. He said “I have launched a review to … make sure that women can expect a sense of dignity, security and safety when using facilities. We want to maintain safeguards that protect women”. It took four years — pandemics, internal battles et cetera — but in May this year Kemi Badenoch and Housing Minister, Lee Rowley, came good. They announced that new regulations would require non-domestic buildings to have single sex toilets. 

Or take prisons. Ministry of Justice policy provided for the housing of trans identifying males on the female estate. Following the tireless work of campaign group, Keep Prisons Single Sex, in late 2021, Conservative Peer, Lord Blencathra, tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime,  Sentencing and Courts Bill. It provided for the housing of male prisoners with a gender recognition certificate in the male prison estate. Although the amendment was withdrawn, debate ensued, and whistleblowers gained traction. In October 2022, Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, announced that “transgender women with male genitalia, or those who have been convicted of a sexual offence, should no longer be held in the general women’s estate”. Case by case exceptions would be allowed. This transformational shift resulted from the work from Keep Prisons Single Sex. I believe this was also the first “gender critical” amendment to a bill in Parliament resulting in a Hansard recorded parliamentary debate. KPSS’s achievement pointed the way for more such amendments and many more debates. 

The police are operationally independent. The campaign group, Fair Cop, has tirelessly exposed the force’s widespread prioritisation of gender ideology. The word “totalitarian” aptly applies to the College of Policing’s approach to “non-crime hate incidents”. An NCHI could be placed on your police record if anyone complained to the police that they did not like your views on gender ideology. Know that there are two sexes and say so publicly and you might end up with a police record. Harry Miller and Fair Cop fought this courageously. Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, took up the fight with equal vigour. It paid off. In 2023 the College of Policing announced a new, more proportionate and commonsensical approach. 

Another group, the Women’s Rights Network, picked up the issue of police intimate searches, an issue also highlighted by cross-the-board campaigner, Posie Parker. A WRN report off the back of FOI requests sent to police forces across the country revealed not only that the National Police Chiefs Council had approved a policy that allowed trans-identifying men to intimately search female suspects, but that police forces across the country had adopted this policy. They rightly called their report State Sanctioned Sexual Assault. As a result of WRN’s work the NPCC withdrew its guidance. Nick Fletcher MP coordinated a Conservative MPs letter to Minister for Policing, Chris Philp, calling for urgent action. The Minister responded confirming that he would be meeting with the NPCC on this issue and, “Whilst respecting the operational independence of the police, I expect Chief Constables to ensure that their force policies comply with all legal obligations, including under PACE and the Equalities Act 2010 … We expect the police to make every effort to ensure the safety, welfare and dignity of women in custody.” 

What to say of the NHS? It would take a book. Hannah Barnes wrote one about the tragedy that unfolded within the UK’s gender clinics. Across the last two decades they prescribed puberty blockers and then cross sex hormones to thousands of children and teenagers. The treatment was experimental without a sound evidence base and follow-up on the recipients was not undertaken. Some will have suffered irreversible damage. In 2020, following campaigning led from the start by Transgender Trend, Sajid Javid, as Health Secretary, commissioned the Cass Review. It took four years, but Hilary Cass’s final report has already had global ramifications. It established that there is no evidence base for the continuation of these treatments on children. Current Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, accepted the recommendations in full and began implementing them. The final act of the current Conservative Government was to place an immediate but short-term ban on the prescribing and supply of puberty blockers to children and young people. Will the new government, post-election, make this permanent? 

The wider NHS has probably been the institution most captured by gender ideology. (Chest-feeders anyone?) In April of this year, as the result of work led by Maria Caulfied as Minister for Women’s Health Strategy, the government announced a consultation that proposed changes to the NHS Constitution. A key component is the guarantee of single sex wards and intimate care. Will these proposals survive a change in government? 

Steve Barclay, as Health Minister, also repeatedly asked the NHS to use sex specific language when talking about women. This has been less successful — the NHS is independent — and the pressure needs to continue. 

In the lead up to the 2021 Census the Office for National Statistics proposed to allow people to self-identify their sex. It took Court Action from the women’s group Fair Play for Women to stop this decision to undermine data integrity and thereby, the entire point of the Census. Notice a pattern that so many of these organisations corroding their very reasons to exist are quangos — not under the direct control of Ministers and not democratically accountable. The Tory pushback has always had to look for ways. Earlier this year, Michelle Donelan in her role as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology secured a review into “Data, Statistics and Research on Sex and Gender” to be led by Professor Alice Sullivan. The aims of the review are to “i) identify obstacles to accurate data collection and research on sex and on gender identity in public bodies and in the research system and ii) set out good practice guidance for how to collect data on sex and gender identity.” Bingo. Will a new government follow through on the findings? 

The Scottish National Party has been completely in thrall to gender ideology. In 2022 the SNP proposed to introduce legal gender self-identification. Resurrecting regressive gender stereotypes and allowing people to self-identify as one of these, irrespective of their biological sex — who benefits? Ignoring women’s concerns for their single sex spaces; parents concern for the impact on vulnerable children. Women’s rights groups, including For Women Scotland and Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, objected. The team working for Conservative Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, worked around the clock, across Christmas and New Year (or so I’m told), supported by grassroots groups. (Across this whole era sound legal advice and options analysis sometimes has had to come from outside the civil service…) In January 2023 Jack announced that he would use section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 for the first time to halt the gender recognition bill. A brave decision.

I am sure I have missed a great deal. The fight is very far from over. We need a public enquiry into the scale of the capture of the civil service and other public bodies by gender ideology. How did it happen? Why was there no effective pushback from the top — the CEOs of quangos and the Permanent Secretaries of government departments? Why did the latter allow female civil servants to be harrassed because they know that sex matters? One good thing came out of that. Gender critical civil servants launched a network “SEEN” to support colleagues who know that sex is real and matters. These networks are now springing up across sectors. 

But we should credit where it is due — the pushback by the Conservative government has been serious and sustained. Tens of thousands of women have contributed, written letters, submitted FOIs, sent in evidence and dossiers. The Maya Forstater ruling which made clear that women are entitled to know and speak the truth on this matter in their workplaces was crucial. As was the formation and activity of the groups named above and others including Sex Matters, LGB Alliance, and the Gay Mens Network. So too was the sustained commitment and focus from backbench MPs. David Davies MP deserves particular credit for being the first MP to welcome explicitly gender critical women into parliament for debate and discussion — and he was hounded for it. Miriam Cates and Nick Fletcher were crucial. But there were many others. When Cates sought signatories to a letter she was writing to the Football Association about women’s football she quickly got over 40 signatures from Conservative MPs. Baroness Jenkin maintained the pressure from the House of Lords. She was matched for sustained day and night effort, month in month out, by my co-director of Conservatives for Women, Karen Varley. For many Tory MPs, this issue seemed to have come from nowhere but rapidly became complex and frightening to talk about. Baroness Jenkin and Varley provided briefings and made sure that MPs understood the importance and ramifications of this issue. 

The work between grassroots women and Conservative politicans created Terf Island

Yes, it all took too long, but that is because the institutional capture was and remains deep. The siren song of “be kind” and “it’s progressive” has proven exceptionally powerful. Every day, on Twitter and in WhatsApp networks. parents continue to expose the corrosive materials their children are still being shown at school. Materials that lie to children, that undermine basic science, that will place a small number of vulnerable children on pathways to irreversible damage. We owe our kids better than this. 

Yet it should be acknowledged that the Conservatives launched a sustained, serious, and difficult fightback against gender ideology. Across multiple fronts all those involved sought to re-establish the basis of our society in elementary science, reason, free speech, protections for women, and safeguarding for children. The work between grassroots women and Conservative politicans created Terf Island. But the fightback must continue. And it will only succeed with courage, commitment, and tenacity from politicians. I see none from any other party on this issue. Quite the opposite. I’ll be voting Tory on July 4th.

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