I have been investigating which councils have been funding the controversial campaign group Stonewall and, if so, whether they intend to continue doing so. I will present a full account in due course. It is taking some time to obtain definitive responses – some councils have been, er, stonewalling.

Liz Truss, who, as well as being the International Trade Secretary is also the Women and Equalities Minister, has made her view clear that Government Departments should not be providing funding.

From the Freedom of Information responses I have been sent so far, the evidence is that the majority of local authorities have sent no money to Stonewall in recent years. Of those that have, several have decided to end the arrangement or have it under review. Those that have indicated they will continue funding tend to be Labour councils. But there has been a notable exception. Surrey County Council, which has a solid Conservative majority, informs me that it will be paying £3,000 to Stonewall in the current financial year.

Cllr Tim Oliver, the council leader, says:

“Earlier this year, Surrey County Council joined the Stonewall Champion programme, and the money identified in the FOI response paid for membership of the programme and the benefits associated with that membership. The Council’s decision to engage with the programme was based on the value of the tools and the access to advice and expertise that this membership provides. This decision was taken in the context of the work the authority is now doing to create a step change in its approach to being a fairer, more inclusive organisation as set out in the Council’s EDI strategy, which was approved in November 2020.”  

I believe the decision is misguided for various reasons.

First of all, it is an improper use of Council Taxpayers’ money to be sent to political campaigning bodies, regardless of whether one might happen to agree or disagree with the views of such a body. That is not only poor value for money but a distortion of the democratic process. The rules for local authority already state:

“Local authorities should not incur any expenditure in retaining the services of lobbyists for the purpose of the publication of any material designed to influence public officials, Members of Parliament, political parties or the Government to take a particular view on any issue”

It would be welcome if these rules were tightened and applied more stringently.

Secondly, the staff of a council should be entitled to their own opinions. Certainly, there should be a general professional requirement to treat each other and members of the public with courtesy and without discrimination. But it should be irrelevant which party they vote for, or which church they attend, or their views on sexual morality. They just need to be good at filling potholes, or emptying dustbins, or cutting grass, or managing libraries, or caring for the elderly, or whatever their job happens to be. Of course, they need to accept the policies decided by the elected councillors. This is quite different to sending staff off to a Conference to be told what to think – or, still worse, punishing them for uttering dissent. Imagine if a Conservative council, at great expense, packed its staff off to a Legatum Institute conference extolling the merits of free enterprise, or a Migration Watch seminar on the strain immigration was imposing on public services, or Right To Life UK on how abortion constituted the murder of unborn children. There would be great indignation and rightly so.

Thirdly, in the particular case of Stonewall, such funding is especially ill-judged. Founded in 1989 – by Matthew Parris among others – it had the worthy aim of a society where homosexuals had equal rights with heterosexuals. Yet it has mutated into becoming an extreme and pernicious outfit that threatens freedom of speech, undermines protections for women, and is a danger to the mental health of children.

A recent leader in The Times stated:

“Stonewall’s thinly-disguised threats of ostracism have nothing to do with the ethos of serving the public, treating employees well, or promoting the welfare of gays, bisexuals and transgender people. It is odious to suppose that merely by querying the organisation’s objectives, critics are somehow guilty of “transphobic” prejudice. Those who have fallen foul of Stonewall’s edicts are insisting that a culture of open dissent is healthy and that one of enforced contrition is a hallmark of totalitarianism. Stonewall has long since lost its way as a campaigning organisation. Public and private sectors employers should withhold all cooperation with its demands for orthodoxy and have nothing to do with it.”

The zealotry on transgenderism is such to include demands that “trans-exclusionary” practices should be prohibited. Stonewall wants the law changed to end protection for single sex spaces. So biological men who “identify” as women could use women’s lavatories, demand to be sent to women’s prisons and women’s refuges, and compete in women’s sports. Especially damaging is Stonewall’s work in schools – primary and secondary – providing “toolkits” for teachers that introduce children as young as four to the concept of being ‘trans’, and say they should encourage pupils to question the gender identity that has been “assigned” to them at birth.

Those who challenge any of this face being labelled “transphobic” and may even face losing their jobs. In a way, to say free speech is threatened is to understate the matter. There is forced speech. There is a requirement for people to state things they believe to false. For example, if at a girls’ school, one of the pupils decides to identify as a boy, then a teacher can get into trouble for refusing to use the “correct pronouns”.

I would urge any local authority sending money to Stonewall to desist. But I am especially dismayed that any Conservative council should regard this as a right and proper way to dispense with the money of their Council Taxpayers.