Photo by Claus Christensen
Artillery Row

The game is not the season

On the nature of the Blob

In welcome news last week, the National Health Service announced the closure of the Tavistock Centre’s Gender and Identity Development Service, infamous for its keenness to prescribe puberty blockers to young teenagers. The Times reported that GIDS “will be replaced by regional centres at existing children’s hospitals offering more holistic care with strong links to mental health services’”.

The clinic may be lost, but the transgender cause is still going strong

Those more informed about the rapidly changing discussion on gender identity assure me that this is the beginning of the end for the Tavistock mindset, with outright restrictions on puberty blocker prescription to follow. I hope that’s true, because experience suggests that this is the time to be more vigilant, not less. Due to the recent history of reforms to the British public sector, organisational change is primarily a matter of the same people who failed the public then turning up in similar guise under the new “reformed” structures. Remember, for example, that a year after her role in Britain’s disastrous beginnings to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jenny Harries was appointed to lead the UK Health Security Agency. Or consider the sheer absence of cases of senior police or social workers being publicly disgraced for failing to prevent the operation of rape gangs across English towns and cities these past twenty years.

When hiring for those regional centres, who would be better qualified than somebody who has made a career at what was until recently, a flagship for gender identity treatment? Even if GIDS veterans don’t end up in charge, there are other supporting positions they may find — and if all else fails we may find them retained as consultants, having received a healthy payoff when their employment reached an end.

It is not that GIDS veterans will be short of friends, after all. The clinic may be lost, but the transgender cause is still going strong, backed by serious, well-funded organisations outside government. Stonewall (annual income: £12m) is Britain’s leading LGBT campaigning organisation and is working hard to get all conversion therapy (in this case, the act of telling your daughter she is in fact a girl) banned by Parliament. Meanwhile, Mermaids (£1.8m) is backing such a ban but also working hard to get children of all ages to think differently about their gender, via MANGO, its 12-week programme to train and network teen trans activists.

Stonewall and Mermaids aren’t exactly independent of government, either. Stonewall received £600,000 from the Department for Education over the four years to 2021. Many other departments and agencies have given it grants and paid for its training and development services. In 2019 the Government Equalities Office (you’re forgiven if you’ve not heard of that one) tweeted out a video message from then-responsible minister Penny Mordaunt congratulating the charity on being “relentless in the fight for #LGBTequality” on its 30th anniversary. Mermaids too is able to gain audiences with ministers while also netting £100,000 in lottery money in 2020.

The Blob grows even as it is under attack

We still talk about Britain being governed by an Establishment, but that’s really now just a quaint myth: the power lies with the Blob. The description was first used by the late Sir Chris Woodhead to describe the coalition arrayed against him as England’s Chief Inspector of Schools. Rather than a group of faceless pinstriped reactionaries, the Blob is a diffuse network of salaried, open-minded professionals across a range of organisations — including government departments, but extending into those that the government funds, as well as charities and sometimes businesses. Rather than working in smoke-filled rooms, their agenda is public and “values”-driven (even if the public have yet to be fully “aligned” with those values).

The Blob’s diffuse nature is what gives it its strength. You can apply pressure to one part of it — closing GIDS, let’s say — and yet it will morph around that pressure, growing anew. If the Trans Blob can’t get into those new regional centres, there’s always the work against conversion therapy; the work to “equip” schools to teach about gender; the work to train online trans activists. Even if Stonewall and Mermaids are chased out of national government — and there have been some positive signs — there are so many quangos and regional bodies with power and funds to support their work.

For civil servants and the wider public sector bureaucracy, the Blob is how things get done. More than looking to ministers — here today, gone tomorrow, no good for complex policymaking — they look to “stakeholders” like Stonewall or Mermaids (every field has its equivalents) to shape “strategies”. More than relying on Parliament to make law, they will tell ministers that proposals are “too risky” and possibly “unlawful” (ask Priti Patel how it’s been going — then again, maybe don’t), because law is set through judicial review.

You might wonder then how the state actually controls anything within the Blob regime. That’s the point, and that’s why GIDS was operating after 12 years of formally Conservative government: the role of government is more and more to help the Blob to advance its agenda, not control it. The Blob state “enables” where the Establishment governed — it funds, it creates rights, it “builds capacity”, to let “experts” get on with “delivering”. Where the Establishment created Corporations or Authorities, the preferred model of Blob governance is the Hub. Across the public sector, Hubs are very much the in-thing these days. Hubs don’t control — they “invest” and “engage”.

It’s in this setting that activists who have worked hard for the closure of GIDS should view their accomplishment. It’s a big step forward, but the nature of the Blob is that it’s resilient and grows even as it is under attack. We can all hope that there are further victories to come — for example, when the Cass Review gives its final report — but we should not pretend that this will be the end of the fight. The same people will still be operating, with the same contacts and doubtless committed to the same agenda. None of the LGBT organisations which had previously backed Tavistock rushed to declare their recognition of GIDS’ wrongdoing. The Blob will emerge again, weaker in some ways but stronger in others. Beating it will not come from a single, fatal blow but from a continuing struggle which has only just begun.

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