Radical: Our top five reads for the summer – on gender-related issues

7 Jul

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

Last week, it was reported that Dominic Cummings had set the special advisers (SpAds) some books to read ahead of an “away day”. Dubbed “spad school”, by Times journalist Stephen Swinford, the advisers’ homework allegedly included reading all 350 pages of Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting, alongside Andrew Grove’s (only slightly shorter) High Output Management.

Now, whatever your preferred method for predicting the future, it seems unlikely that the reading-list-story trend will stop here. It’s a yearly classic, after all. Whether you’re a school-leaver preparing for university entry, or a Government minister intending to use time away from Westminster to learn the historical context of your brief, your summer plans probably include some targeted reading. 

So, here are our top five Radical reads for the summer. As regular readers of this column might expect, they’re not cheerful page-turners. But they may well change your life.

1) It’s a badly kept secret that the Equality Act (2010) and the Gender Recognition Act (2004) aren’t exactly the best-drafted pieces of legislation. Discrimination solicitor Audrey Ludwig’s deep dive into the former – published just a few days ago on the WPUK site – emphasises its incredible complexity, in a neatly practical manner: she explains how she goes about determining whether someone has faced unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act’s purview.

Along the way, Ludwig highlights the lack of “objective research and analysis” into the impact the introduction of “self-IDwould have on sex discrimination, and related issues, such as pay. Key to these matters, she reveals, is the role the “legal comparator” plays in discrimination cases: self-ID would change “who and who cannot be used as a legal comparator”, and this would have serious repercussions. 

2) Employment solicitor Rebecca Bull’s recent briefing note for MBM Policy Analysis, Impact of Gender Recognition Reform on Sex Based Rights, sets out the implications of proposed Gender Recognition Act reforms on sex-based rights and protections under the Equality Act.

Like or loathe the Equality Act (and there’s a lot to criticise about it), it’s now woven into the way in which every business and public-sector organisation has to operate. How services are provided, and how employees are paid and treated at work, are prescribed by the Equality Act.

Where Audrey Ludwig’s blog gives a snapshot of how self-ID would affect the way in which the Equality Act works in cases of workplace discrimination, Bull sets out the “significant concern that single sex service provision on the lines of natal sex will be rendered unworkable and severely compromise the rights which women currently have to single sex services”.

3) The NHS recently edited its guidance on puberty blockers as a treatment for transgender children, to remove the claim that suppressing puberty with synthetic hormones is reversible, and to introduce a description of harmful side effects.

Much concern has arisen about the medical path increasingly regularly embarked upon by children who identify as the opposite sex. And, in Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria, professors of medicine, Paul W. Hruz, Lawrence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh, give a clear and comprehensive account of the use of puberty blockers, and the subsequent hormone therapies and surgeries that many of these children move on to as young adults.

The authors rebut the claim often preferred by medical professionals and advocacy groups that puberty suppression is fully reversible, and highlight a lack of scrutiny of the safety and efficacy of what they consider to be “experimental medicine” being practised on vulnerable children.

Anyone who’s concerned about the treatments currently being administered to hundreds of UK children who’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria will find this article useful and troubling in equal measure.

Published last month, Joanna Williams’ Civitas report, The Corrosive Impact of Transgender Ideology, is as punchily written and hard-hitting as its title, and her spiked credentials, suggest. But it’s also well researched and argued, with Williams’ experience as an academic grounding her readable style.

Culminating in five policy recommendations – including the immediate prohibition of the prescription of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children – this paper (or short book, really, as it comes in at about a third the length of Tetlock) addresses the “social impact” of the “emergence of the idea of transgender”.

It also provides a neat summary of a shift in “progressive” rights-based activism – away from demands for “more freedom from the state for people to determine their sex lives unconstrained by the law’, and towards demands for “recognition and protection from the state […] to regulate the behaviour of those outside of the identity group”. 

5) Deep philosophical claims and arguments lie beneath all policy recommendations and legal analyses, and the written output of the sex/gender debate is no exception. Indeed, those of us who write about these matters are often criticised for being too esoteric, and for failing to engage with the real world.

Hopefully, the practical focus of the works listed above will serve to counter that criticism sufficiently, however, for us to be able to end this week’s column by recommending some top philosophical writing. We have great hopes for Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s upcoming book, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminists, due out in 2021.

But, until then, check out her recent TLS review of Judith Butler’s The Force of Nonviolence, and her 2019 Aristotelian Society talk on sexual orientation as a “reflexive disposition to be sexually attracted to people of a particular biological Sex or Sexes”.   

Anand Menon: Our latest research finds that the Conservatives are divided on economics, but united on culture.

30 Jun

Anand Menon is Director of the UK in a Changing Europe.

Dominic Cummings must be rubbing his hands with glee. As more and more questions are raised about what some are calling the ‘lethal amaterurism’ that has characterised the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the country spent most of June distracted by furious arguments about race and statues.

This has moved the debate on from Boris Johnson’s chief advisor’s unique approach to optical health. More importantly, a debate about values rather than health outcomes suits the Government down to the ground.

The referendum of 2016 polarized the country along values lines (between social liberals and social conservatives) rather than along the left-right cleavage that traditionally structured political competition.

Source: British Election Study

Nor was this a one-off phenomenon. The values division laid bare by the referendum went on to shape the nature of subsequent electoral competition. Think back to last year’s election.

The fact that the Conservatives won seats like Wakefield, Bishop Auckland and Workington, or that they won by 21 per cent among working class voters is testimony to the realignment that had taken place in our politics.

So too is the fact that in seats where over 60 per cent backed leave, the Tories increased their support by an average of six per cent, whereas in those seats where more than 60 per cent voted Remain, the party’s vote actually fell by three points.

The argument over statues that has been such a central part of the Black Lives Matter protests in this country has mobilized that same division. And it is terrain on which the Conservatives are relatively well equipped to fight.

Recent work carried out by the UK in a Changing Europe compares the attitudes of MPs, party members and voters, by asking each group a series of questions about fundamental ideological attitudes. The findings are revealing.

When it comes to social values, the Conservative clan looks relatively united. Even more importantly, on values they are far closer to those crucial voters who switched from Labour in 2017 to the Conservatives in 2019 than to Keir Starmer’s party.

But when it comes to the politics of left versus right – questions like whether ‘there is one rule for the rich and one for the poor’, and the idea that ‘ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth’ – the picture could hardly be more different.

Conservative MPs are to the right of both their own party members and Conservative voters, and significantly to the right of those 2019 Labour-to-Conservative switchers. Labour, on the other hand, is not just far less internally divided but considerably closer to those lost voters.

Looking forward, then, the Conservatives have an interest in maintaining a focus on values. Think of it this way. On the (feigned) threat to Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, the Conservative Party spoke with one voice and rallied behind Boris Johnson. When it comes to the economic response to Covid-19, the party’s backbenches are increasingly restless.

The easing of lockdown will focus attention firmly on economic recovery. How these issues are framed then takes on crucial importance. We face another decade in which political life will be shaped by the impact of an economic crisis.

The Conservative narrative may well seek to major not on the details of the economic response – on how great the role of the state should be, or how we pay for ballooning deficits – but on arguably more ‘ephemeral’ concerns.

Conservative commentators are already queuing up to point out that it is surely no longer a priority to publish gender pay gaps, or to ‘suffer a little for the sake of the planet.’ Others argue that fads like the war on plastic have been made redundant by the virus.

It seems Number 10 is, in the short term, planning a number of ways of triggering values divisions. The Sunday Times reported that the Government is planning to scrap plans to allow people to change their legal gender.

Other reports suggest that some in Downing Street are encouraging the Prime Minister to launch a ‘war on woke’. The hope is clearly to profit from profound values divisions within Labour’s electoral coalition and detatch voters who might, if it really were all about the economy, stupid, support the centre-left rather than the centre-right.

For Labour, then, the key will be to find a way to nullify this strategy. Paul Mason has rightly argued that the party must focus on coming up with a more convincing narrative about reshaping the role of the state in the economy, as a means of uniting a coalition that has fractured over the last decade over values questions.

The party now has a leader that the public, including Leave voters, find broadly convincing – and one who is going to be less easy to label as an unpatriotic ultra-liberal.

A narrative about economic fairness unites Labour and has the potential to tap into the ideological attitudes of the median voter.

The Government’s current plans to emerge from lockdown will create millions of economic losers, and the Conservatives look set to incur significant governing costs.

A laser like-focus on the economy and on the steps needed both to recover from the post-lockdown slowdown in such a way as to tackle the numerous inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted could command broad support, not least among those voters that fled the party last year.

As the recent Labour Together review of the 2019 election concluded, Labour could win by building support for a ‘big change economic agenda’ that neutralises cultural and social tensions.

Whatever happens, the relative impact of the two cleavages – left vs right and social liberal vs social conservative will be crucial. The relative success of each side in imposing its own agenda on the political debate will help determine who ultimately triumphs.

This article is a cross-post from the UK in a Changing Europe’s website.

Read the Mind the values gap report here.