Victoria Hewson: The NHS single sex accommodation policy is a dire reflection on how far gender ideology has travelled

13 Aug

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

It has been heartening to see some positive developments in the sex and gender debate recently. Prominent and respected individuals like Baroness Jenkin and Nimko Ali have made considered comments questioning gender ideology.

While the inclusion of Laurel Hubbard in the women’s weightlifting competition at the Olympics was regrettable (not least for the young woman whose place at the games was taken by Hubbard) it has prompted a more informed consideration of trans participation in sports by governing bodies and in the media. 

But a quick scan of relevant stories from the past couple of weeks shows that troubling policies and lobbying are still widespread. 

The Telegraph reported that hospitals across England accommodate patients on wards on the basis of gender (including self-identified gender) rather than sex. This has led to males, including sex offenders, being treated on women-only wards 

Looking back at the origin of the legally binding commitment to single sex wards, it is clear that Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary at the time, was unequivocal that patients would be separated based on biological sex, for reasons of privacy and dignity, as well as safety.

This seems obvious when one considers the vulnerable state of many people being treated in hospital, including the elderly and those who are in mental health wards, who often unable to leave.

The applicable NHS guidance on meeting the commitment is indeed unequivocal on single sex sleeping, bathing and toilet facilities. Until it comes to the Annex on trans patients and gender-variant children. Which undermines the entire policy by mandating that ‘Trans people should be accommodated according to their presentation: the way they dress, and the name and pronouns they currently use’ – even if they have not legally changed their name or gender and even if their transition is only temporary.

Moreover, ‘Non-binary individuals, who do not identify as being male or female, should also be asked discreetly about their preferences, and allocated to the male or female ward according to their choice.’ Transgender-identifying children are also to be accommodated in line with their gender identity, even if the parents disagree: ‘the child’s preference should prevail even if the child is not Gillick competent.’ 

The guidance claims that the NHS is required to manage wards in this way, and can only carry out risk assessments to exclude transwomen from female wards on a case by case basis. This is, of course, the preferred interpretation of the Equality Act put forward by Stonewall and other activists, and it fundamentally undermines the premise of single sex wards when any man can simply assert that they identify as a woman and must be taken at their word.

Carrying out individual risk assessments on trans patients would entail a significant burden on clinical staff and ward managers, and it is unclear what risks are to be assessed, if fears and threats to the personal dignity of fellow patients who do not wish to sleep and undergo medical and care procedures alongside members of the opposite sex are effectively excluded as a consideration. As with the case of prisons, if this is truly what the Equality Act requires, it is surely time for the law to be changed. 

We have written in this column before about the disproportionate influence that LGBT charity Stonewall seems to exert, in both public and private sectors. The deference to its legal advice and guidance was criticised by barrister Akua Reindorf in her report to the University of Essex on the ‘no platforming’ of certain speakers at the university.

A number of organisations have subsequently distanced themselves from the charity. Now research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance has revealed that over just a three year period, Stonewall received at least £3,105,877 from 327 public sector organisations for its Diversity Champions scheme, conferences, events and training programmes. This included almost half a million pounds from the NHS.

The TPA has rightly noted that Stonewall’s privileged (and well-funded) position has allowed it to lobby and campaign at the taxpayers’ expense. The TPA has called for this taxpayer-funded lobbying to come to an end so that public money is not being used to distort political decision making and to advance policy positions which many taxpayers may seriously disagree with. 

The vision of gender identity activists has been allowed to infiltrate public life for a generation, either because politicians and activists did not understand the implications of phasing out references to ‘sex’ to replace them with ‘gender’, or because they thought it was the right thing to do to support transgender people. In either case, the practical consequences for women and girls and for fairness and accountability in public services have not been properly considered.

Unwinding these consequences seems likely to be the work of a generation too, and greater transparency about the relevant policies in bodies like the NHS and the pernicious influence of Stonewall is essential for that purpose. We await with interest the outcome of current Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s review of the NHS single sex accommodation policy. 

Profile: Priti Patel, who promises to stop asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats

8 Jul

On 24th July 2019 Boris Johnson appointed a woman of Indian descent, born in London to parents who had fled Uganda, to one of the great offices of state.

Two years later, Priti Patel remains Home Secretary, and has introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill, intended to deter illegal entry into the UK, the most conspicuous route being by small boat from France.

On Tuesday, Patel told readers of The Daily Mail: “This cannot go on and as Home Secretary I will not allow this to continue.”

By introducing a two-tier system, making those who arrive illegally in the UK far less eligible for asylum and far more liable to be deported, Patel promises she will break the power of the people smugglers.

Henry Hill has examined, for ConHome, how likely these plans are to succeed, but we shall not know for sure until the legislation has been passed, and operated for a reasonable period of time.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, has suggested on this site that trying to send refugees who have arrived illegally in Britain back either to the safe countries through which they have passed, or to their countries of origin, will not work, and will merely increase the already disgraceful backlog of cases.

The Home Office’s administrative record is so poor that one cannot feel much confidence in its ability to clear the backlog. Nor is Patel’s task made easier by the leaking from time to time of implausible proposals said to be under consideration by her department – waves in the Channel, a detention centre in Rwanda or on Ascension Island.

But these obstacles in some ways make Patel’s appointment all the more comprehensible. It is harder for liberal critics to impute racism, or undue severity, to a Home Secretary who herself belongs to an ethnic minority.

And Patel is in any case capable of showing a remarkable imperviousness to argument, as when she defended the death penalty against opposition from Harriet Harman and Ian Hislop in a Question Time debate in 2011, the year after she entered the Commons.

“She’s small and a woman and an Asian – to be heard she has to be quite aggressive,” a parliamentarian who knows her well remarked, and went on:

“She is intolerant of people who disagree with her. I think she does go too far.

“People do like her straight talking. That’s part of her appeal. I’m full of admiration for her. It’s a bloody tough job. She’s still there.”

She might not be there. In February 2020 Sir Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, resigned, claimed he had been “the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign”, and accused Patel of bullying staff.

Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s Independent Advisor on Ministerial Standards, looked into these allegations, and in November 2020 concluded:

“My advice is that the Home Secretary has not consistently met the high standards
required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration
and respect. Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be
described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her
behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.
This conclusion needs to be seen in context. There is no evidence that she was
aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the
time. The high pressure and demands of the role, in the Home Office, coupled
with the need for more supportive leadership from top of the department has
clearly been a contributory factor. In particular, I note the finding of different and
more positive behaviour since these issues were raised with her.”

Johnson, as ultimate arbiter of the Ministerial Code, decided to stand by Patel, and Sir Alex resigned.

When Patel was interviewed by ConHome in 2015, she described how her family lost everything in Uganda, and the death of her mother’s father soon afterwards in India:

“He was a businessman. So he had tea factories, cotton plantations, coffee plantations as well. My grandfather was incredibly well known in Uganda. R.U.Patel, a very pious man, so always giving back to the community, very religious, a big Swaminar in the Hindu community.

“I think the trauma, it was just incredible for my entire family, for my Mum’s family in particular. My Dad’s family were shopkeepers as well. Everyone in that era of East African Asians was hugely displaced, hugely displaced, their rights taken away from them, and they were persecuted for what they had.”

They arrived in Britain with nothing, and set out to rebuild the family fortunes:

“And it was from a people point of view just deeply challenging. You know, hostile, immigrants coming in, really, really difficult. I was born [in 1972] in Islington, in Highbury, and my Mum and Dad rented a room off an elderly man in Finsbury Park, and that’s where we lived.

“Typically in Indian culture, if you’re the eldest you bear the burden of everything else in terms of family responsibility. So my Dad, who’s the eldest, he’s got a brother and two sisters, did the right thing, he had to think about looking after his Mum and Dad and his brother and sisters.

“So my Dad dropped out of university to just get a job, basically, to get cash wherever he could, low-skilled work, just to build up pots of money to get some security. So he then helped my grandfather, his Dad, to buy a shop in Tottenham, Number One, White Hart Lane.

“That was a newsagent. That gave my grandparents the footing to get on. My Dad became a shopkeeper as well. My parents have been self-employed like that for over 40 years. So I effectively grew up on top of a shop for most of my life. So we’ve done everything from newspapers to post offices to small supermarkets.”

Patel grew up with Thatcherite assumptions. Her father rose at four in the morning every day for 40 years and built up a chain of newsagents despite unfair competition from the established chains, who saw to it that independent competitors got the papers too late to be sure of delivering them in time for breakfast.

She went to Watford Grammar School, studied economics at Keele and politics at Essex University, became a devout Eurosceptic as well as Thatcherite, joined the Conservative Party in 1991, from 1995-97 was head of press for the Referendum Party, but rejoined the Conservatives as a press officer under William Hague, and also worked for several years in public relations.

At the 2005 general election she stood for the Conservatives in the safe Labour seat of Nottingham North. Early in David Cameron’s leadership she was placed on the A list of candidates, and in 2006 she put in for the newly created seat of Witham, in Essex.

The finalists for what was going to be a safe Conservative seat included Geoffrey Van Orden, who was already an MEP and had served as a brigadier at Nato, James Brokenshire, whose seat of Hornchurch was going to be abolished, and Patel, who looked like an outsider.

There was an open primary, and Baroness Jenkin, who was in the audience of about 200 people and in 2005 had co-founded Women2Win with Theresa May, recalls that when Patel started to speak, “It was very clear straight away that she appealed to Conservatives but also to people who weren’t Conservatives.”

Patel, who had begun to wonder whether she would be selected anywhere, was the unexpected victor, and on arriving at Westminster said in her maiden speech:

“My own deep and personal interest in what I call the economics of enterprise and small business stems from my family background…my youth was literally spent sleeping above the shop and playing directly under the till, while watching my family—thanks to the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher—thrive and grow. Wherever my parents set up shop, they employed local people, contributed to the local community, and made a substantial contribution to the local economy.”

Along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, she wrote Britannia Unchained, published in 2011 and somewhat critical of the British attitude to work:

“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

Harsh words, but four of the five authors are now in the Cabinet. Perhaps this is a more Thatcherite administration than has yet been noticed by the pundits.

Patel rose swiftly, in 2015 becoming Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions,  and in 2016 backing Leave in the referendum campaign and Theresa May for the leadership, who rewarded her with the post of International Development Secretary.

But Patel had already displayed a marked capacity for annoying some of those around her. Here is Sasha Swire in her diary entry for 12 November 2015:

“Modi comes to town. Priti Patel has been inserting herself into this trip at every turn. As the PM’s Indian Diaspora Champion she does have a role, but she is behaving like the Minister for India, which is actually what Hugo [Sasha’s husband] is. Sure enough, she turns up at the VIP suite to greet Modi. She has also done all the press that morning, at Craig Oliver’s insistence, and got herself invited to a small lunch with the Queen when we were told no ministers were invited. H has thrown a wobbly…”

Sir Alan Duncan is even less complimentary in his diaries, in which she is variously referred to as Priti Horrendous, Priti Outrageous, Priti Appalling, Priti Frightful and Priti Unspeakable. In his entry for 23 January 2017 we read:

“They hate Priti Patel in DfID, mainly because she seems to hate all of them.”

Patel came a cropper at DfID when it was revealed in November 2017 that she had held a series of meetings with senior Israeli figures without informing the Foreign Office, or indeed the Prime Minister. A senior Tory backbencher and former minister described this episode to ConHome as “absolutely disgraceful”, and after a much publicised flight home from Africa, some not entirely candid statements about whom she had seen in Israel, and two meetings with May, she was obliged to resign.

In July 2019, Johnson put her back in the Cabinet in the altogether more senior role of Home Secretary. Here she has developed, presumably at his behest, a more stringent immigration policy than liberal opinion would wish.

Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party, yesterday reminded ConHome that the choice between being stringent and liberal about immigration is by no means new:

“As is well known, Tory Home Secretaries have to choose between offending much of their party and alienating the complacent lefties who always seem to be in the ascendant at the Home Office.

“Perhaps no holder of the post pleased the Party more, or attracted more derision from bien pensants, than Sir William Joynson-Hicks, known as Jix, who served throughout the five years of Baldwin’s dominant second cabinet of 1924-9. He detested short sentences, and thought prisons should be the permanent homes of the irredeemably wicked.

“His proudest boast, however, was to have stemmed ‘the tide pouring in here to secure better conditions than can be obtained in their own lands’. He visited the Channel ports amid great publicity, and looked into immigration control arrangements in minute detail.

“Afterwards, he told the Commons that ‘few aliens crept through the net that stretched round the coast, and that most of those who evaded the net were subsequently discovered and deported.’ Priti Patel must take heart from Jix’s success a century ago.”

Johnson believes in gender equality (but is putting more men than women in the House of Lords)

10 Mar

Last November, Boris Johnson became the first Tory leader to endorse the goal of a Parliament containing equal numbers of men and women.

A month after he contributed his promise of support, the following letter appeared in The Times:

Sir, After Boris Johnson’s enthusiastic conversion to a 50:50 gender-balanced parliament, announced in a video on November 20, I looked eagerly for evidence in the latest list of peerages. As the prime minister said: “There is one first that is still long overdue and that is the moment when — for the first time — we finally achieve 50:50 in our parliament.”

Parliament, of course, includes the House of Lords, where even today 92 seats are reserved exclusively for men because of primogeniture. Thanks to our appointments system it would have been easy for the prime minister to appoint only women and improve the proportion (27 per cent) of women on the Conservative benches. However, his list included six men and two women for the Tory benches, taking the total announced since he became prime minister to 22 men and six women. Not even a nod in the direction of the 50:50 parliament.

As the prime minister said in that message four weeks ago, we need more women in parliament “not just because it is about the oldest and most powerful of all political ideas — the equality of all human beings in dignity and rights — though it certainly is about that. It is because, as I passionately believe, if you give men and women the same opportunities you will solve some of the world’s biggest problems.”

I couldn’t agree more.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington
Co-chair, Women2Win House of Lords

It is generally recognised that the dynamic and resourceful Lady Jenkin, who with Theresa May set up Women2Win in 2005, has done more than anyone else to increase the number of Conservative women MPs, by encouraging capable women to come forward and helping them to become parliamentarians.

The party’s contingent of women MPs, which after the 2005 general election stood at 17, increased to 49 in 2010 and 68 in 2015, fell back to 67 in 2017 and is today at 87, just under a quarter of the total, which stands at 365.

Just over half of Labour MPs – 104 out of 202 – are women. So if that is the way the world is going, the Conservatives are still a long way behind.

Nor is the gap likely to be closed without anyone having to do anything much about it. Supposing at the next general election about 50 or 60 Conservative MPs, mostly men, decide the time has come to retire, it seems unlikely that more than half of their replacements will be women, so only another 25 or 30, which means parity will still be a long way off.

Meanwhile in Scotland, highly qualified women have this week been placed too low on the regional party lists to have any hope of election, while in Wales, women have also fallen back.

On Monday, ConHome asked Lady Jenkin if she thinks Johnson means what he says when he endorses the 50:50 target. She said:

“I think he genuinely means it, but I don’t think he’s given any thought to how it happens, because he’s been very busy.”

Johnson devotes enormous energy to demonstrating that even on issues like the NHS, or the prosperity of voters in the Red Wall seats, or gender equality, where Labour might at least be assumed to have its heart in the right place, the Conservatives can be relied on not only to have the right feelings but to be hard at work implementing effectual plans for reform.

He noted at an early stage in his career that “the trouble with Tory associations is that they don’t groove to chicks”. But where were his effectual plans for reform?

As Mayor of London, he became, as Nimco Ali has related, an opponent of female genital mutilation, before that cause became fashionable.

As Foreign Secretary, he cast around for a cause he might champion, and came up with 12 years of education for every girl worldwide, a cause he will be promoting during Britain’s presidency of the G7.

As Prime Minister, he celebrated International Women’s Day with a reception at Downing Street, held in early March 2020, just before the pandemic rendered such occasions impossible, and reported upon by Hattie Brett for Grazia:

“‘Do you believe men and women are equal?’ the Prime Minister bellowed at one point…no prizes for guessing what the audience of 50 girls from five schools around the country, businesswomen and his new fiancée bellowed back.

In a state room overlooked by a painting of Ada Lovelace, the female mathematician credited with realising the full potential of the modern-day computer, Boris Johnson went on to underline a pledge he made as Foreign Secretary: that his government is committed to providing 12 years of quality education for all girls, in the UK and around the world.

‘Let’s make sure that every girl in the world gets the same investment, same care, same love, same attention in her education as every boy in the world,’ he said. ‘This is the best way to help economies grow, tackle poverty, prevent early marriage and empower women. It is the single most important utensil at the disposal of humanity to change all our lives for the better.’”

As an earnest of his sincerity, Johnson appointed Lady Sugg as the UK’s first ever Special Envoy for Girls’ Education. Sugg declared:

“Today around 130 million girls worldwide are being denied the right to an education, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. Girls are kept out of school due to poverty, the threat of violence and because often, girls are simply not valued as much as boys. This tragic waste of potential must end.

“Giving girls the chance to learn is not only the right thing to do, it’s one of the smartest investments we can make with UK aid.”

But in November, Lady Sugg resigned as Special Envoy, and Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, in protest at cuts in the aid budget.

Those cuts jar with the Prime Minister’s long-standing commitment to girls’ education worldwide.

As Lady Jenkin has observed, he has a direct role in appointments to the House of Lords. If he wishes, he could demonstrate his commitment to gender equality by recommending only women for peerages until the Conservative Party had attained gender equality in that house.

But to do so would be to refrain from using, as a means of control over men, one of the richest sources of patronage he possesses.

Puritans disapprove of patronage, but it is the principal power possessed by any Prime Minister.

Many men who believe themselves to be in line for a peerage might withhold their support from Johnson, or refrain from donating funds, if they were told must abandon hope of obtaining that bauble.

A “women only for the House of Lords ” policy would open the Prime Minister to the charge of allowing political correctness to run mad.

He would also expose himself to bitter reproaches if he were to support a compulsory retirement age for peers of 80, which would change the balance of the house by clearing out around 160 mostly male peers.

One suspects that Johnson will prefer to get his spokeswoman to insist, as she did this week, that he is a feminist, who will soon reshuffle his Cabinet, which at present contains five women, in order to admit one or two more.

For his Commons majority, Johnson will continue, for the foreseeable future, to rely on the votes of men as well as women. He will be aware that if, in order to attain gender equality, he denies male MPs, no matter how gifted, all hope of promotion to ministerial office, he could very soon find his own position in danger.

So although Johnson is a fervent believer in gender equality, one may surmise that he will be unable to attain it in the immediate future even within his own party.

He is, however, reported to be considering scrapping primogeniture, a reform which would in time ensure that about half the 92 hereditary peers who remain in the Lords were women.

Here is a change which would demonstrate the Prime Minister’s staunch commitment to equality, and essentially modern outlook, without impairing his powers of patronage.