Jackie Doyle-Price is a former Health Minister, and is MP for Thurrock. Miriam Cates is MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.
This week, Frank Luntz, the U.S pollster, said that “The problem with woke and with cancel culture is that it is never done. The conflict and divisions never end,” warning that “this is not what the people of the UK want – but it’s coming anyway.” In a report for the Centre for Policy Studies, Dr Luntz states that woke culture is now the biggest dividing line amongst voters.
His research into UK voter attitudes found that ‘wokeism’ is now a top three priority for the British public, and that the divisions between the ‘woke’ and the ‘non-woke’ are greater than those between north and south, urban and rural, women and men, and even young versus old.
Into this new battleground has ridden the Prime Minister’s special envoy for LGBT Rights, Lord Herbert . The former MP for Arundel said last weekend: “I wouldn’t like to see the government in any way take a side on what some are seeing as a culture war on these issues”.
But he then did exactly that by praising the work of Stonewall, and suggesting that “it would really help to change the debate in this country if we had more trans people in leading positions in our national life here” – in particular a “transgender Member of Parliament”.
The more than 800 comments below a subsequent Times article leave little doubt that the general public have very definite views on the desirable qualities of parliamentary candidates. And that women in particular are increasingly concerned about the erosion of rights and language in this particular arena.
As the judge in last week’s High Court judicial review over the inclusion of transwomen in the women’s prison estate made clear, we are now at a point where there is a direct collision of rights: those hard-won sex based rights and protections for women and girls, and the rights of a small group of people who feel that their gender identity differs from their sex.
Implying that this is a “culture war” is to debase what is a valid fightback by women against the erosion of our rights, our descriptive language and our spaces. An aggressive agenda is currently being pursued by a number of organisations – including Stonewall – resulting in legitimate concerns amongst parents, doctors, psychologists, athletes, teachers and women’s groups as well as the wider public.
Talk of culture wars does not help to encourage moderate and sensible debate, nor the search for solutions that respect and protect the rights of both groups.
We have all seen the rifts that formed across our four nations following the EU Referendum in 2016, and the vast majority of people despair of this increasing polarisation, and wish to live in a society where we are united by our common goals and aspirations, not divided by identity politics. A Cassandra, in the form of Dr Luntz, has predicted the US-style trajectory on which we are currently plotted, and from which we need to start to steer a new course.
Tolerance, a virtue for which the British have enormous capacity, is becoming the exception rather than the rule. People are bewildered as to where the new diktats are coming from. NHS leaflets talk of ‘cervix havers’ and ‘chest feeders’, Government policy documents on menstrual products in schools’ reference ‘learners’ instead of ‘girls’, and the House of Lords had, only recently, to fight for the inclusion of the word ‘mother’ in the Ministerial & other Maternity Allowances Bill. Our own amendments to this Bill in the Commons’ stages, to ensure the word ‘woman’ was included, were not accepted.
Perfectly legitimate and temperate comments on social media by celebrities can result in outcry and calls for ‘cancellation’; ‘misgendering’ and stating biological facts can lead to the law courts; academics and people in other ‘woke-heavy’ industries feel silenced and afraid to speak out.
How can it be right when ordinary people find themselves accused of ‘bigotry’ for expressing mainstream opinion? This is not a healthy development: all ideas must be open to robust debate and scrutiny, otherwise one must doubt the very democracy on which our society is based.
And let us not forget that our Parliament is still far from representative of our population – 51 per cent of the UK are female while women make up a mere 34 per cent of members in the House of Commons (an all-time high), and 28 per cent of the Upper Chamber.
Within the Conservative Party, women make up only 24 per cent of our MPs. It is barely 100 years since women were even allowed to vote or stand for election – and less than 65 years since women were allowed to sit in the House of Lords.
But, as Pink News proclaimed in December 2019, the UK Parliament is “the gayest in the world” – with no less than 57 openly LGBTQ members, and 8.8 per cent of members in the Commons, including 11 women and 25 Conservatives. It could be said that LGBTQ representation is positively thriving.
We would like to invite Lord Herbert to engage with those whose views differ from his own; to meet some of the women’s groups who are concerned about the rights of women prisoners or victims of domestic violence; to listen to the voices of parents who are increasingly concerned about the push to ‘affirm’ questioning children and steer them down a pathway of lifelong medical interventions; to hear from those in the gay and, particularly, lesbian community whose same-sex attractions are being called into question; and to consider the views of sportswomen who have concerns over safety and fairness.
He will find that there is no battle against LGBTQ individuals, nobody wishes to deprive anyone of their rights, but that, as can be seen by the huge exodus of women from other political parties that have not stood up for the protection of the sex-based rights of women and girls, the time has come for us in the Conservative Party to stop with the entreaties to #BeKind – and start to be sensible in finding a solution that does not mean expecting women to keep quiet, move over and make space.