Radical: The criminal justice system has been thoroughly captured by gender-identity ideology

12 May

Kate Coleman is Director Keep Prisons Single Sex.

In February 2021, the Judicial College published a revised edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book. It’s been significantly updated, at almost double the length of the previous edition.

The Bench Book aims to advance fundamental principles of fair treatment and equality. It suggests steps for judges to redress inequality arising from difference or disadvantage, to ensure fairness for all those engaged in legal proceedings.

While not intended as an expression of the law, it states “judges [and other court officiants] are encouraged to take its guidance into account wherever applicable. [The Bench Book] is increasingly cited in judgements and by practitioners as to the approach to be adopted”.  

Chapter 12 is entitled “Trans People”. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, and the law is clear that no individual should be discriminated against based on gender reassignment. The inclusion of this chapter is therefore appropriate. 

However, in common with much current policy and guidance across public and private sectors, this chapter is steeped in the ideology of gender identity, which is unquestioningly presented as uncontested fact. This “institutional capture” has been comprehensively discussed elsewhere

The Bench Book goes far beyond appropriate and reasonable steps to ensure that transgender individuals engaged in legal proceedings don’t suffer disadvantage and are treated with respect and assisted in participating fully. Instead, the law is misrepresented, with judges urged to act according to these misrepresentations.   

The first inaccuracy occurs early in Chapter 12, and informs much of what follows: “The Gender Recognition Act (2014) (‘GRA’) enables transgender people to change their legal gender by applying to the Gender Recognition Panel for a Gender Recognition Certificate (‘GRC’).  […]  A person who has been issued with a full GRC is entitled to be recognised in the gender stated on their certificate for all purposes…” 

This ignores provisions in the GRA that allow, for example, a male in possession of a GRC stating that legal recognition of female gender has been obtained, to be lawfully treated differently from biological females. Possession of a GRC expressly does not affect recording of parenthood, for instance. The possibility of being convicted of a crime defined as one that only a male can commit is unaffected by possession of a GRC, as is the possibility of being the victim of a crime defined as one of which only a female can be the victim. Primogeniture is unaffected. Males with a GRC can be excluded from “gender affected sports” for females where necessary to ensure fair competition and/or competitor-safety. 

The Judicial College also ignores the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act, which permit males to be excluded from single-sex spaces where this is a proportionate means to a legitimate aim.   

The Judicial College gets the GRA wrong again in respect of section 22 of the GRA, which makes it a criminal offence to disclose “protected information” that an individual has obtained or applied for a GRC, where that information was acquired in an official capacity. The Bench Book is correct that it is not an offence to disclose such protected information where required for court proceedings. However, Section 22 includes other circumstances where protected information may be disclosed, including for investigating crime, and for the purposes of the social security or pension system — which The Bench Book disregards. 

Most importantly, disclosing information concerning someone’s transgender status can only be criminal if that information was acquired in an official capacity. This is contrary to the widespread belief, often reflected in policy and guidance, that it is an offence to reveal that someone is transgender, regardless of the basis on which this information was acquired.  Moreover, section 22 self-evidently does not apply to information about a transgender person who has never applied for a GRC.   

This misunderstanding of section 22 creates a chilling effect. Citing section 22, The Bench Book states “the court may consider making reporting restrictions under Section 4 of the Contempt of Court Act (1981) to prevent disclosure of a transgender person’s previous name and transgender history, or it may direct a private hearing”.

Judges are instructed in the book that “deadnaming” (using or referring to a transgender person’s previous, now rejected name) must be avoided, as it is “highly disrespectful and may well be inhibiting and possibly humiliating to a witness”. Again, support for this is claimed, questionably, from Section 22.   

Judges are informed that it is “rare” that the biological sex of a transgender person will need to be referred to in court. The motives of those who seek to do so are disparaged: judges are advised that “It is important to be alive to the fact that the gender history of a person may be something an opponent litigant may seek to use in order to place pressure on them…”.  

Reflecting a widespread tendency in policy and guidance (though not the law, which does not recognise self-ID) the Judicial College states that it should be possible to recognise a person’s gender identity and their present name for nearly all court purposes, regardless of whether they have obtained a GRC and without any further inquiry. Further inquiries are discouraged on the grounds that these would be “intrusive and offensive”, and (the book claims) may constitute a breach of the individual’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.   

The cumulative effect is that a person’s gender identity is to be accepted on the basis of self-ID, transgender people are to be considered to be the sex they identify as for all purposes, and referring to their former name or biological sex, or using pronouns appropriate to that sex, are potentially criminal acts. The motives of counsel who consider biological sex or transgender history to be relevant are viewed with suspicion. Reporting restrictions or private hearings are suggested.   

The criminal justice system has been thoroughly captured, therefore, and is in thrall to gender-identity ideology. Even before this latest Bench Book was published, female pronouns and names were consistently used to refer to male offenders who identified as transgender, by defence, prosecution, judges, and witnesses, including when the male in question was on trial for serious sexual offences. All with questionable legal basis. 

This matters fundamentally because it communicates a lie. It matters in court when victims and witnesses are instructed that the evidence they give must be “respectful of pronouns”.  Victims of violent offences have been compelled to use female pronouns to refer to their male attackers. Males convicted of sexual offences against children have been referred to at trial as female. Where do the limits lie concerning who will be compelled to describe their male attacker as a woman?  

Words are powerful, and the drip-drip effect of repeated reporting that serious violent and sexual offences have been committed by women distorts our understanding of the known differences between patterns of male and female offending . This affects our thinking about risk and safeguarding. Transparency and openness in judicial processes are important principles. It should only be in rare and carefully justified circumstances that the right to privacy requires reporting restrictions or a private hearing. Referring to biological sex, ‘misgendering’ or ‘deadnaming’ are not such circumstances. 

The Judicial College, and the individuals who contributed to this edition, should be accountable for what is, at best, carelessness of the law. We are all equal before the law, but it appears that the Equal Treatment Bench Book would have it that some are more equal than others. 

Radical: What consequentialism and Peter Singer have taught me about the gender debate.

28 Apr

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.

Until recently, it would’ve been funny to hear someone claim it controversial to state that only “adult human females” are women. You could even imagine this being used as an example, back then, of “something we all believe to be the case”. It’s not so funny any more.

I couldn’t care less, however, what word is used to denote members of the female sex set — as long as it’s one that’s generally understood. Use “shwoman”, or “WTDMOTFSS”, for all I care. But we need such a word. And for many reasons — though I can’t be bothered to write about them again, not least because I know you know them, even if you pretend you don’t!

I also know you know that human beings can’t change their biological sex, no matter how much some people want to, or how much it would mean to them for others to pretend they can. We should be kind to such people. That doesn’t extend to propagating falsehoods about biological fact, however; I’m not convinced such lies are kind, anyway.

But I know you know about the immutability of human sex (or that you would, if you’d ever thought about it) because it’s an obvious fact of life. Unless, of course, you truly have been taken in by the “gender-identity” lobby, which has captured our institutions and edited formal public discourse, rather than just pretending you’ve been taken in by it, because you’re scared about what might happen to you, otherwise.

Let’s turn to that. If you hold any of these standard sensible beliefs — that human beings can’t change biological sex, that sex matters, and that we need to be able to talk about these things — then you’d better follow Maya Forstater’s appeal this week. She was sacked for stating these beliefs in public, and is going through a horrific ordeal to try to redress the matter, in the hope you won’t have to.

But I want to use the rest of this Radical column to talk about something related, but, on the surface, much more niche. I want to talk about consequentialism: the moral theory that holds that consequences are the only consideration on which normative stuff (like acts) can be judged, in terms of that stuff’s rightness. Or, in simpler terms, the idea that only consequences matter, morally. The most famous consequentialist theory is utilitarianism, which John Stuart Mill described as based on “the ‘greatest happiness principle’ [which] holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”.

I grew up hating consequentialism, and particularly the work of its modern high priest, Peter Singer. My childhood beliefs followed these lines: “Consequentialists think the one can be sacrificed for the many!”; “Singer thinks infanticide is OK!”. And the more about his ideas I learnt, the more sure I was that this man was in the league of other 1990s’ villains, like Saddam Hussein. I mean, Singer did genuinely say that parents should be allowed to kill their newborn disabled babies…

This early hatred of Singer wasn’t something foisted on me by my parents, who talked to me about all kinds of philosophical ideas. It was just something I came to think. And these days, I still hold a hardcore view about the evil of consequentialism — though, now, it’s from the position of having read lots of it and about it, and having spent much time thinking about these things. The greatest blessing for me has been having wonderful philosopher parents; the greatest happiness is thinking about philosophy for myself. Now, let me explain why this indulgent bit of self-history is relevant to this column.

Last week, the first issue of the long-awaited Journal of Controversial Ideas was published. It’s edited by Singer, alongside two other philosophers, though Singer appears to be its prime spokesperson. My assumption was this journal would be a place for full-on Singer-style controversy. After all, a recent New Yorker interview shows he still believes parents should be allowed to kill their disabled babies.

So, imagine my surprise when I looked down its contents page and spotted an article defending from attack the idea that “trans women are women” (TWAW). Hilarious! Such an article is not the slightest bit controversial! TWAW is straight-up societal orthodoxy — particularly in intellectual circles. Sure, you might point out there’s also an article in the issue from “the other side” of the debate. Great. But it’s hardly controversial for a journal focusing on controversial ideas to publish a piece on a super-controversial topic — and what’s more controversial than arguing that only “adult human females” are women?

It’s also hardly controversial to slip into the whole “equal public space for both sides of the argument” thing, to hide behind the veneer of neutrality. Indeed, another sad orthodoxy of the moment is the denial that there are some matters about which there are truths: that there are topics on which it’s not about seeking consensus, but rather, about searching out what’s right and wrong.

To those of us who still believe in such enquiry, some truths are determinable via the scientific method: truths relating to whether human beings can change sex, for instance. And some are moral truths, for which there is no hope of scientific discovery. Rather, we need arguments about values, which we expose to each other, sure that there are right and wrong answers, but that nobody can know for certain whether they’ve landed on them, beyond being persuaded that they have.

Of course, some people don’t believe there are right and wrong answers to moral questions. And it can be hard to persuade them otherwise. But one technique I find helpful is to instrumentalise the views of Singer, and say, “But don’t you think it’s just totally blatantly horrifically wrong to kill disabled babies?”. If you think so, then you think it’s a matter of truth.

Singer doesn’t deny the existence of moral truths. But consequentialists do typically deny the idea that we can’t know for certain whether we’ve landed on these truths or not. They think consequentialism provides a sure-fire route: a calculator for determining right and wrong. This is its greatest selling point.

Consequentialism is seductive because it offers a (supposedly) simple approach for dealing with complex important matters, and because at its fundaments is something that’s not only undeniably important, but is also a part of everyday moral reasoning: the consequence. Consequentialism elevates the consequence into the lone foundation of a neat framework that can be be used to understand and assess difficult interrelations between good and bad and right and wrong. This is attractive to anyone believing there are moral truths out there to discover.

Well-known objections against consequentialism’s success as a moral theory, however, include the way in which its classic instantiations deny what John Rawls called the “separateness of persons”. Consequentialism thrives on treating individuals as a means to an end. And it can be used, therefore, to defend intuitively horrific things, like massacres, and the killing of disabled babies.

I’ll leave you with something to consider. In that New Yorker profile I mentioned, which Singer view do you think it was that the interviewer seemed to push back on the most, substantively? Was it Singer’s fight for the right to infanticide, or his keenness to publish journal articles on both sides of the “gender” debate? Answer that. Then have a think about what the predictable answer tells you about society today.

Local authorities should not be funding lobby groups such as the Runnymede Trust

12 Apr

Last week saw the publication of the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, sometimes dubbed the Sewell Report. It is an interesting and important piece of work from an impressive panel and offers detailed recommendations based on thorough research. It is proper that it should be scrutinised and debated. Yet the response from of its critics amounted to little more than abuse and wilful misrepresentation. BBC broadcasts announced that “racial equality campaigners” were greatly dismayed by the report – thus giving a sly implication that the report must be against racial equality. The consideration that the credentials of Tony Sewell and his fellow commissioners in fighting racism are rather stronger than those of their BBC critics, was overlooked.

One of those the BBC was keen to quote was Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust. If the BBC wanted an emphatic and rapid condemnation, rather than something more nuanced or considered, then they could rely on the Runnymede Trust to produce the goods. But the BBC’s audience was presented with the message that the response was impartial and expert – rather than entirely predictable and contrived. A report in The Times offers rather more context:

“The director of a charity that called for the government to retract the Sewell race report has branded Boris Johnson an “entitled Bullingdon Club brat”.

“The Runnymede Trust, under Halima Begum, has been a strident critic of the government. It has joined legal action accusing it of cronyism for handing three key coronavirus-related jobs to politically connected figures.

“It has also attacked the report by Dr Tony Sewell on race relations, released last month. Critics of the long-established charity have questioned whether it has been “hijacked” by socialists.

“Begum, 45, a Labour Party member, has described the report as “entirely lacking in credibility”. The trust helped to co-ordinate a public letter this week calling for the government to “repudiate the commission’s findings immediately and withdraw its report”. The letter states that “signatures from politicians and political party representatives will not be accepted in this open letter to preserve its political neutrality”.

“Begum is open about her political leanings. She became chief executive of the trust last September after standing as a prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour in Poplar & Limehouse in the 2019 general election campaign. She failed to make the selection shortlist but campaigned for Labour.”

Begum has also attacked Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, as an “Islington-born millionaire one-percenter”. Other staff members on the Trust had previously worked for Labour MPs.

A leader in The Times says:

“The suspicion must be that the trust’s response was prepared in advance rather than on the evidence, and with a political subtext…

“In a further indication of its priorities, the trust joined a venture last year called the Good Law Project, which sought to sue the government over its appointment of three senior figures in its response to the pandemic, accusing it of nepotism. These appointees included Kate Bingham, who has achieved success in heading the government’s vaccine task force. The project itself has nothing to do with the trust’s stated objectives.”

The Runnymede Trust refutes claims of being partisan by stating that it is responsible for “holding” the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. The Group does include the Conservative MPs Helen Grant and Sir Peter Bottomley and the Tory peer, Lord Sheikh. But its Chairman is the Labour MP Clive Lewis who sent a highly offensive tweet about the Sewell Report.

This saga should caution local authorities against given credence – and their Council Taxpayers money – to assorted lobby groups. The Runnymede Trust is by no means the worst offender. We also have Stonewall, an increasingly extremist outfit with its creepy demands to promote transgenderism in primary schools. Councils wishing to embrace virtue signalling via box-ticking find such associations tempting. What’s a few thousand pounds out of a budget running to hundreds of millions? In return, they can win an award or be recognised as “partners” or “champions” and display a logo with some mushy tautology about “valuing values” or “being positive about positivity.”

“Our Greenwich Race Equality Scorecard was commissioned by the borough,” says the Runnymede Trust. An earlier one was produced for Croydon Council. Some funding was provided for that from the Trust for London (which is supposed to assist the work of the Church of England.) But it was also carried out in “partnership” with Croydon BME Forum – which is funded by Croydon Council.

While council officials in Croydon spend time and money on such reports, they show less priority for repairs on their housing estates. The film below indicates the scale of the neglect. It so happens that the tenants interviewed are black. Evidence of institutional racism? Probably not. More likely Croydon Council treats all its tenants equally badly. A proud boast…





Claire Coutinho: In defence of this week’s race and disparities report

3 Apr

Claire Coutinho is MP for East Surrey.

Racism exists in this country; of course it does. And we must do all we can to combat it. However, if we want to close the gaps between how different ethnic minorities succeed in the UK then it is not enough to tackle racism; we must also take a clear-eyed look at why different racial outcomes happen.

The Sewell Report, from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, provides a data-rich analysis of ethnic minority disparities in Britain today. Overall, the scorecard is unquestionably one of progress. The Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, has repeatedly said that the UK is one of the best countries to be a person of colour and this is shown to be true.

The report references a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2019 which shows the percentage of British Black respondents who reported experiencing harassment is the second-lowest in the EU, less than half that of our neighbours in Ireland.

We also have the lowest percentage of Black respondents experiencing discrimination in housing, employment, education, health services, and restaurants, shops and bars. In education, the engine house of social mobility, ethnic minorities are now achieving extraordinary success, outperforming the national average in most cases. As we rightly look at what more we can do, it is important that we celebrate where we have made progress.

The data also shows us that the drivers of racial inequalities are complex. It is not the case that all racial inequalities are driven by racism or even that racism is the biggest driver of racial inequality. It tells us that the Government is right to ditch the catch-all term ‘BAME’. Simply being ‘non-white’ is no longer a major predictor of life chances and masks completely different pictures amongst different minorities.

Even within the category ‘Asian’, one of the clumsy ‘big five’ race labels of ‘White, Black, Asian, Mixed, Other’, outcomes are massively different for Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian people. Even amongst ‘Indians’, the urban middle-class Gujaratis and rural Mirpuri will again see extremely different outcomes.

If companies are filling their ‘BAME’ quotas with Indian and Chinese graduates from high-socio economic backgrounds, we should question whether they are in fact delivering the access to opportunity they are claiming. Because the data shows, it’s not the colour of your skin that is most likely to define your life chances in today’s Britain, but your geography, socio-economic background, and family.

The report is far from universally positive. When it comes to racism, both historic and current, it does not allow us to rest on our laurels. It acknowledges repeatedly that racism is a ‘real force’ in the UK and that ‘bias, bigotry and unfairness based on race may be receding, but they still have the power to deny opportunity and painfully disrupt lives.’

From prejudices in the labour market, to biases in facial recognition technology to incidences of racial hate crimes – which have dramatically fallen but are still too high, the Commission challenges us to use all the levers at our disposal to root out racism. It particularly highlights the rise in vile online racist abuse that Thierry Henry, Alex Beresford, or indeed many of the Commissioners of this report will know only too well.

Both the Left and the Right must show leadership here. Keir Starmer’s selective perception of racism doesn’t seem to extend to condemning Labour MPs linking the Sewell Report’s Commissioners to the Klu Klux Klan, but it should. It also shows us that we still have a damaging trust deficit to tackle in our criminal justice and health systems due to ugly legacies of discrimination. It calls for today’s perceptions of racial biases to be met with robust investigations so that we can rebuild trust where it previously has been broken.

However, if not all racial inequalities are primarily caused by racism, then we also need to look carefully at the other dominant factors. Having an accurate evidence-based diagnosis matters. It is the only route which will lead us to the policies that best help those who are falling behind.

It will affect policies designed to close the attainment gap in education that exists for Black Caribbean students, but not for the Black African students that share their classroom. It will affect how we break into the ‘snowy peaks’ in the civil service, NHS, and boardrooms, despite a wealth of ethnic minority talent. It will affect how to address why the average hourly pay rate is £11.87 if you are white British and £9.62 if you are Pakistani or Bangladeshi. It will affect how we address the mortality gap that exists for Black women of all socio-economic backgrounds in maternity services but not for breast cancer.

Different disparities will require us to design different solutions depending on the evidence. Take an example in education. The two lowest performing groups are Black Caribbean students and white working class boys. If family values of education and parental income and educational achievements are the dominant factor, as the evidence suggests, then we should spend more time on strengthening families, parental engagement, and focused programmes around these particular students.

Or take a different example in health. Low vaccine take-up in the black community has partly been caused by a legacy of deep-rooted mistrust in vaccines and health services because of historic discrimination. This cannot be overcome by Government alone and indeed it has been the collaboration and hard work of community leaders which have helped to halve the rate of vaccine hesitancy in black adults – although we still have more to do.

It should be noted that all but one of the Commissioners on the Sewell Report are from ethnic minorities, with expert in the fields of health, policing, and education..To express your expert view on how to make progress in inequality should not be a matter of courage, but it has become that. We owe them a debt of gratitude because their research has given us the springboard to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

If we can accurately diagnose the causes of racial inequality, we can design the policies that will help bring an end to it. As Conservatives, we need to unabashedly defend an evidence-led approach on racial inequality and relentlessly focus on improving outcomes. We owe that to the people and communities in this country whose ability to succeed is defined by anything other than their own hard work and talent.

Therapy and the law. The technical considerations for the Government as its plans a conversion therapy ban.

18 Mar

The Government has been under growing pressure to ban conversion therapy. The British Psychological Society defines this as “therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.” It is widely and historically recognised as a traumatic practice that can lead to depression and increase the risk of suicide among people offered such “treatments”.

What’s the Government’s position on conversion therapy?

In 2018, Theresa May’s government proposed to ban “gay conversion therapies” in England by using legislation if necessary. But this has not happened yet. Earlier this month, three of the Government’s LGBT advisers resigned from their posts, citing the inaction on conversion therapy as one reason for this.

In 2020 Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister, said that enacting a ban was a “very complex issue” and Boris Johnson, who later called the practice “absolutely abhorrent”, also said it was “technically complex”. ConservativeHome has tried to highlight what these complexities might be, and the existing rules, below:

What is the current law on conversion therapy?

Currently, all major UK therapy professional bodies and the NHS reject conversion therapy. But it is an unlicensed practice, meaning that self-appointed “therapists” can offer a wide range of “therapies” to “cure” their patients. Shockingly, when the National LGBT Survey asked people in 2019 what conversion therapy they’d been offered, the answers ranged “from pseudo-psychological treatments to, in extreme cases, surgical interventions and ‘corrective’ rape.”

What is the law elsewhere on conversion therapy?

The practice is illegal in Switzerland and parts of Australia, Canada and the US. To give an example of what one policy looks like, take Germany, which last year banned “gay conversion therapy” for under-18s. It means that minors cannot take part in medical interventions aimed at changing or suppressing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Anyone who offers the service can face up to a year in prison or a €30,000 (£26,268) fine, and parents and legal guardians can also be punished for pushing their children towards conversion therapy.

What do UK campaigners want?

A petition that was signed by over 250,000 people last year sets out some ideas for change. It reads:

“I would like the Government to [make]:

  • running conversion therapy in the UK a criminal offence
  • forcing people to attend said conversion therapies a criminal offence
  • sending people abroad in order to try to convert them a criminal offence
  • protect individuals from conversion therapy”.
Why has the ban been called “very complex”?

One big challenge for the Government is how it defines “conversion therapy”. For instance, some people might take this to be shorthand for “gay conversion therapy”, but some campaigners want it also to include “gender identity”. There are debates about how far the definition should go, and whether including gender identity could mean, for instance, a counsellor exploring whether a child wants to change gender was seen as trying to “suppress” or “cure” their identity.

Scope matters too

Badenoch also said in 2020 that “there are a wide range of practices which may fall within [the] scope” of conversion therapy. For example, the Evangelical Alliance, which represents 3,500 evangelical churches, has written to the Prime Minister, warning that “An expansive definition of conversion therapy, and a ban along such lines, would place church leaders at risk of prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality.”

The Government will want to protect religious freedom. However, it is interesting to note the National LGBT Survey found that faith organisations were by far the most likely group to conduct a form of conversion therapy (51 per cent). Other responses included healthcare provider or medical professional (19 per cent), parent, guardian or other family member (16 per cent) and “prefer not to say” with 11 per cent of the vote.

Other campaign groups

Another complication is that there are other groups that may have concerns about the “conversion” of other identities. Take Applied Behaviour Analysis, which some practitioners advocate for children with Autism. Others criticise the approach and call it a type of “conversion therapy”, as it tries to condition a child through behavioural techniques to show less symptoms of autism (something we accept people are born with). Would the Government find itself being asked to ban these types of therapies too?

On a more general point

One thing that seems clear is that the UK’s therapy industry is a bit of a free for all. Last year, a BBC investigation found that there are no laws against anyone operating as a psychotherapist, therapist or counsellor in the UK, merely recommendations that these “therapists” should do a set amount of training. So perhaps the Government thinks it’s time for a bigger rethink about the industry. Either way, these are some of the broader areas that it will have to navigate.

The Government’s new safety measures for women and girls feel rushed and superficial

16 Mar

Today, the Government has unveiled a set of “immediate steps” to make the streets safer for women following the terrible murder of Sarah Everard. It will double the size of the Safer Streets fund, which covers street lighting and CCTV, to £45 million, and there are also plans for undercover police to patrol bars and clubs.

On one level, this seems like the quickest way to address some of the concerns that have been raised this week in regards to women’s safety. Everard’s murder has caused huge shock around the country and many women have shared their own experiences of harassment and abuse from men. Evidently these problems are more common than some of us may have previously imagined, and society needs to do more to make women feel safe.

But the Government’s response also comes across as rushed, and more about appeasing protesters, as opposed to creating credible solutions to misogyny. After members of the Metropolitan Police had been filmed detaining women at a vigil for Everard, there has erupted a huge amount of anger, some of which has been directed at the politicians responsible for the current rules around lockdown gatherings. Ministers are clearly keen to show that they care.

On a practical level, it seems obvious that the funding will have a limited effect on street safety. The truth is that men harass women in lots of different conditions, daylight being one. More lighting on the streets does not solve the problem, nor does having undercover coppers in bars. That’s before we get to the fact that civil liberties campaigners are concerned about the amount of CCTV in the UK.

But the fundamental point is that there isn’t a quick fix solution to the issues we are discussing, and if there were, it certainly wouldn’t be one that could be rustled up in such a short space of time. To make women feel more safe will require a combination of measures. It probably demands an attitudinal shift among (not all) men; more conversations in the family home; harsher sentencing; more frequent public transport, and so forth.

It also involves longer-term economic planning. The decision-making process around how the £45 million should be spent feels superficial. Given the amount the Government has forked out during this crisis, perhaps that figure no longer seems like a lot. But policymakers need more time to question how the funds should be employed.

With the calls for action this week, the Government clearly felt under great pressure to act. It would have done better, however, to pause and take stock; to get to grips with the full extent of the problem before increasing the Safer Streets fund. Some might call the £45 million a “start”, but it seems to me indicative of a government that now equates spending with solutions, and one that gets panicked by pressure from protest groups. We all want to do more to tackle this important societal issue, but let’s slow down and make sure we get it right.

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.

International Women’s Day and what the polls tell us. ‘Building back better’ might need a feminist version too.

8 Mar

Today marks International Women’s Day (IWD), which I confess I have a degree of cynicism about. Like many Conservatives, I am generally wary of anything related to identity politics. It is not as empowering as some of its proponents seem to think.

Case in point: several years ago I was asked to be on a debating panel. When I replied that I wasn’t available that day, the producer replied: “do you know any other right-leaning women?” I immediately realised what box I sat in: right-wing, tick, woman, tick. But I just want to be me first and foremost.

So you can understand my wariness around a “woman’s day”, which can sometimes treat us as something of a homogeneous entity, all wanting the same thing. That or it becomes a PR exercise more than anything (as I am writing this I spot a shop offering a IWD discount).

Nonetheless there are clearly many issues that directly impact women, and IWD at least gives us a chance to pause and reflect on where feminism must go next. The very name – “international” women’s day – should give us a clue of where our efforts are most needed, as there are still unbelievably terrible stories of gender inequality in the news.

From maternal mortality rates (every day in 2017, around 810 women died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth), to women in Saudi Arabia only being allowed to drive from 2018 to the recent murder of three female journalists by gunmen in Afghanistan, these are all reminders of our duty to do more internationally.

There is a huge amount to say on feminism in 2021 – and the aforementioned issues, which deserve books, never mind articles written about them. But this week ConservativeHome will be examining these issues through more of an electoral/ domestic lens; from examining candidate selection to what policies women want, to this piece, which will look at polling and how it can help Conservatives reach more women at future general elections.

Ostensibly it looks like there is no big difference between how men and women vote, judging from the last election in 2019. YouGov found that 46 per cent of men voted Conservative versus 44 per cent for women. But the gender gap actually becomes quite pronounced when you look at 18-24 year olds. Sixty five per cent of women in this age bracket voted Labour (46 per cent for men) in 2019, and 15 per cent of women voted Conservative (versus 28 per cent for men), which is a dramatic margin.

Going up an age category, to 25-49-year-olds, 45 per cent of women voted Labour and 32 per cent voted Conservative, whereas 40 per cent of men voted Labour, and 35 per cent Conservative. These differences are smaller than those found in 18-24-year-olds, but they could prove significant at future elections. As Stephen Bush, political editor of The New Statesman, recently wrote for The Times, “the party that finds a way to merge its core vote with the growing power of the 30 to 50-year-olds will dominate politics for decades to come.”

So how do politicians engage more with these groups? What do women want (at least, according to polls)? Patrick English, Research Manager at YouGov, levels with me: “Generally speaking, we don’t find huge differences on average between men and women’s opinions on a whole host of topics, including the economy, health, and public policy.” But he does add that there “*might* be something of a gender gap opening regarding the economy versus health.”

In one of YouGov’s latest trackers, 61 per cent of women picked health as one of the most important issues, compared to only 46 per cent of men. He says to watch this space there. He also points out that there are systematic differences that tend to occur in nuclear issues, with women much less favourable to maintaining Trident, or something like it, than men are.

Lastly he tells me that “a much higher percentage of women aren’t sure about (how well) the job the Government is doing than men. This suggests maybe that there are a higher number of women than men open to convincing on the Government’s record to date.” So how could it inspire some more confidence here?

Research from polling agency Ipsos MORI suggests that women need hope more than anything, largely as a result of the pandemic. While men are the immediate victims – being more vulnerable to the virus on aggregate – women have been badly effected by the economic toll.

In 2020, Ipsos MORI found that 33 per cent of women in work said their workplaces had been closed compared with 25 per cent of men, as they “are more likely to work in sectors most affected by the pandemic, such as hospitality, retail and travel”. Currently 140,000 more women than men are on furlough (2.32 million women in total). As a result, 60 per cent of women were finding it hard to stay positive day to day compared with 43 per cent of men.

Furthermore, Ipsos MORI found that 55 per cent of working mums said that they are finding it harder to stay positive day-to-day compared 35 per cent of working dads. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that, when balancing working from home and home schooling, mothers were able to do one hour of uninterrupted work for every three hours done by fathers. These stark differences highlight one of the most challenging issues of our time: women still continue to take the brunt of childcare, which has a disproportionate effect on their careers compared to men’s.

While the conservative argument is always that childcare is about personal choice – and indeed it is for many women – there will be others who disagree with this analysis, wanting more support from the Government, their employers or otherwise. Having children may be the biggest factor of all in differences in pay between men and women (as I have written about previously for The Spectator). Add to that the housing crisis (women my own age – I’m 32 – are nowhere near owning), the struggle to “have it all” has become even harder.

As Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI, told me: “The pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities; women have been finding it harder to stay positive day to day, feel they have shouldered more of the childcare responsibilities and continue to be more pessimistic about the economy. As Britain starts to rebuild, ensuring the recovery addresses the issues facing women, such as flexible working, mental health, social care and protection from abuse, will be essential to ensuring that gender equality progresses otherwise there is a risk of rolling back.”

Ipsos MORI’s findings are not limited to the UK, incidentally. In 2020 it found similar patterns across G7 countries, where 73 per cent of women report being afraid of the future compared to 63 per cent of men; 59 per cent have experienced burnout, anxiety or depression, compared to 46 per cent of men, and there were clear concerns around childcare and careers. So many governments are going to have to think about how they do fix what could be called “the burnout gap”.

In the UK, perhaps part of the problem is that we have spent the last four years arguing over Brexit (Brexiteer here, by the way), so much so that we have lost focus on some of the more mundane aspects of people’s lives (childcare, the work-life balance). The pandemic has merely highlighted the challenges that were already there for women.

While the Government has set about an incredibly ambitious “levelling up” programme for “left behind” regions around the country, perhaps it could apply a similar process to some of the issues facing women. It cannot remedy every problem the polling has brought up – such as workplace barriers – but it can do more to do things like fixing housing. This is an issue that is disproportionately affecting the younger age groups heading over to Labour. By all indications from the data, “building back better” might need its own feminist vision too.

Caroline Ffiske: How non-crime hate incidents came into force. And why they should be reformed – or scrapped altogether.

18 Feb

Caroline Ffiske is a former adviser to the New Zealand Government and Conservative councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Sir William Macpherson, who led the damning report into the Metropolitan Police following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has died, aged 94. Tributes have poured in for his groundbreaking work in naming and tackling institutional racism.

However, his legacy is mixed. For it was the Macpherson report which introduced into policing, the concept of the ‘non-crime hate incident’ which has become so controversial today.

Introduced with the best of intentions, it has grown and morphed beyond reason – more so than Macpherson could surely have imagined. How can we now freely debate important and controversial political issues, when to do so might land us with a police record accusing us of hate?

The question is of growing importance. Conservative MPs are taking an increasing interest in free speech – and Priti Patel is reported to be considering an overhaul of hate crime law.

Action would be complicated. There isn’t a single piece of hate crime law that, with a tweak or two, would restore us to a Miltonian lost paradise of free speech. But the non-crime hate incident is part of the mix ,and needs reform. Before exploring options, it’s useful and timely to revisit its origin and evolution; and also to carefully consider whether and how it harms.

The origin of the non-crime hate incident

The widely publicised Harry Miller case in 2019 helped to bring the non-crime hate incident to public attention – and gave the police a jolt.

Miller received a call from the police and was told to ‘check his thinking’ – and so learned that participating in online debate about the meaning of sex and gender had earned him a police record accusing him of hate.

When he took the matter to court, the judge agreed that the behaviour of Humberside Police, in their visit to and warning of Miller, had breached the boundaries of the reasonable. Their actions were criticised as being akin to those of the Cheka, the Stasi, and the Gestapo.

However, the judge also concluded that it was perfectly correct for the police to maintain a record of Miller’s tweets. In doing so, they were following the College of Policing Hate Crime Guidance which originated in the Macpherson Report.

This introduced key components of the non-crime hate incident; the most significant being the validity of individual perception. A ‘racist incident’ should be defined as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. That was in 1999.

Concept creep

The College of Policing’s current Hate Crime Guidance can be found here; and the definition of non-crime hate incidents here.

As inspired by Macpherson, this says that all reported incidents must be recorded. There is a reminder of their supposed seriousness; they “should not be dismissed as unimportant; they can cause extreme distress to victims and communities”. After all, they might be “the precursor to more serious or escalating criminal offending”. This reminds us of Macpherson’s original serious intent.

But, twenty years on, nothing seems too trivial to count as a hate incident. It’s anything that anyone perceives to have been “motivated wholly or partially by hostility…the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief”. Indeed, police officers “should not directly challenge this perception…police officers may also identify a non-crime hate incident, even where the victim or others do not”. Indeed, “victims … may not be aware that they are a victim of a non-crime hate incident, even though this is clear to others”. Hostility? This from the Met: ‘evidence of the hate element is not a requirement.’

Macpherson intended the concept to tackle racism. But more ‘monitored strands’ have since been added: disability, religion, sexual orientation, and, most recently, transgender, in 2015. However, these don’t limit the concept: “non-crime hate incidents are also committed against victims who are targeted because of a non-monitored personal characteristic”.

The non-crime hate incident has become a concept without meaningful boundary – no wonder the police record people’s tweets.

The police keep notes; how is that a problem?

Firstly, the scale of the issue is not insignificant. In January last year, it was reported that police forces in England and Wales had recorded 120,000 non-crime hate incidents over the last five years.

People aren’t told when they’ve been accused of a hate incident now on police record. And there is an issue over how police handle these records.

In the Crime Report relating to Miller’s tweets, Humberside Police stated that “the suspect” was “posting transphobic comments on Twitter” and “showing hatred for the transgender community”.

This was a slur. Sarah Phillimore, a barrister who co-founded WeAreFairCop with Miller, discovered that her local police force has records describing her as ‘a barrister who has been posting hate about Jewish and transgender people‘.

Regarding her comments about Jewish people, they noted that there is nothing ‘overtly offensive’ about them, but nevertheless claimed that she had been ‘posting hate’.

Again, this was a slur. But when Phillimore asked the Wiltshire police to delete the record, they wouldn’t – and here seems to be no mechanism for review. College of Policing Guidance also indicates that records could be shared with future employers via DBS checks.

You may feel sympathy for the police as they battle the intersections of ‘culture wars’, ‘vexatious reporting’, and guidance which requires them to record trivial matters. They must, at least, minimally comply.

But here is a video from the Wiltshire Police touting for trade ‘if you experience any kind of hate crime or incident then please call us on 101 or report it online’.

More generally, the non-crime hate incident now feeds into a police culture too focused on accusing us of offence. It’s one of the building blocks, which, taken together, resulted in the police investigating Darren Grimes for a media interview with David Starkey, and arresting Kate Scottow at her home and holding her in custody for eleven hours, because of some offensive tweets.

In February 2019, Boris Johnson said of Scottow’s case: ‘Whatever the rights and wrongs of this internet feud, we are wasting too much time and resource on cases like this’.   Macpherson intended the concept to help drive community cohesion; I would argue that the non-crime hate incident has grown into a tool that can be used vexatiously to drive us apart.

Options for reform

The obvious route is a Law Commission Review. But the Commission is already mid-way through such a process – and it’s not boding well for free speech.

It’s more of the same: the Commission proposes to expand the reach of hate crime law, not limit it. It has proposed a new category of communication offence.  Here is a telling extract: “The offence does not require proof that anyone was actually harmed”.

No, the Government must take charge. Racism and discrimination must be taken seriously; so too, must free speech and open debate – and the pursuit of violent crime. None of these benefit from police focus on the inconsequential.

Here are some suggestions for reform:

  • The emotive concept of ‘hate’ is not helpful – would ‘discrimination’ be better?
  • Some degree of significance is needed.
  • If someone is accused of a non-crime hate incident, they should be informed.
  • There should be a mechanism for challenge.
  • Records should use non-emotive language; they should not slur people.
  • The police should not tout for trade.
  • Non-crime hate incidents should not be disclosed in DBS searches.

Alternatively, the government could grasp the bull by the horns; in the spirit of Macpherson, be bold. Twenty years on, the Conservatives could go full circle – and simply do away with the concept of Hate Crime altogether.

Ryan Shorthouse and Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield: Domestic abuse is everyone’s business

12 Feb

Ryan Shorthouse is the Founder and Chief Executive of Bright Blue and Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield is a Researcher there, whose work focuses on the inequalities of remote work, and integration and immigration.

The necessary national response to the threat of Coronavirus has come at high cost in myriad different ways. However, among those paying the highest cost may be domestic abuse victims trapped with their abusers.

Evidence on the trends on domestic abuse during the pandemic is yet to completely emerge, but that which has tells a concerning story. Crime data reported by police forces and collated by the ONS shows an increase in domestic-abuse related offences during the pandemic — in the period of March to June 2020, the police recorded a seven per cent increase in such offences in comparison with the same period in 2019 and an 18 per cent increase in comparison with that period in 2018.

Such figures should be understood in the context that lockdowns have reduced opportunities for victims of domestic abuse to escape, seek help or go to the police, so likely show only a fraction of offences. This is reflected in survey data — after the first lockdown, Women’s Aid found that 78 per cent of survivors surveyed reported that Coronavirus had made it more difficult for them to leave their abusers. Seventy-two percent also said that their abusers had gained more control over their lives during lockdown, demonstrating the dangerous isolation wrought by such measures and the erosion of informal support structures for victims of domestic abuse.

There has also been some evidence that domestic abuse has intensified during Coronavirus restrictions. The first three weeks of the first lockdown saw murders of women reach a ten-year high. Points at which families spend more time together, such as Christmas, are already associated with significant rises in reported incidences of domestic abuse and well-established as a dangerous time for victims.

However, recent research from City University argues that the pandemic exposed rather than created Britain’s domestic abuse crisis, finding that long-term trends are largely responsible for increases in domestic abuse seen in the last year. However, these researchers agree that getting out of dangerous situations has become harder for victims in the context of restrictions, meaning domestic abuse is likely intensifying in severity.

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which has taken years to go through parliament as a result of political disruptions such as Brexit, promises to include the imposition of a legal duty upon local councils to provide safe accommodation for victims and their children, and an expansive statutory definition of domestic abuse. In the meantime, the Government is introducing new ways to reach domestic abuse victims, especially during lockdown. Recently, the Ask for ANI scheme was launched meaning that victims can use the ‘Ani’ code word to discreetly signal that they need help at pharmacies, which remain open as essential businesses.

But employers, not just government, have an important role, especially during this crisis. Indeed, employers – specifically, line managers – are perhaps uniquely placed to act as a vital contact point for victims at the moment, whether that be through a Zoom or phone call. They may be one of the very few points of contact an abuse victim has.

Some are doing lots already. For example, recently commended by Paul Scully, the Business Minister, Lloyds Banking Group has developed a domestic abuse policy for its workforce and launched an emergency assistance service for employees, covering the cost of a hotel and associated expenses in the event of someone from the company needing to flee their home and requiring a temporary place of safety.

There are some sensible first steps employers could take, as Scully points out in an open letter last month, including raising awareness of domestic abuse among staff, communicating clearly what help an employer can provide colleagues who are victims and fostering an inclusive environment where victims feel safe to speak up. Similarly, the TUC advocates that line managers be trained to recognise the signs of domestic abuse in their junior colleagues and peers. Furthermore, staff who deal directly with the public, such as those who work in retail, generally already receive training when they begin their jobs — there is no reason that basic information on spotting the signs of domestic abuse among colleagues and customers cannot be added to this training.

As Victoria Atkins, Safeguarding Minister, wrote for Bright Blue last year, domestic abuse is everyone’s business. Employers, especially at the moment, should realise that includes them.