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A man married to a woman feels he can no longer resist same-sex attraction. He is a practising Anglican and consults his parish priest.  The latter remind him of his wedding vows and prays with him for guidance.  Is this gay conversion therapy?

A teenage girl is considering transitioning and becoming a boy by law.  A doctor at a specialist clinic to which she is sent believes that she may be gay and that coming out as such might be best for her instead.  Is this trans conversion therapy?

Welcome to the kind of questions that may be debated during the coming Bill to ban conversion therapy – the product last week of a Government U-turn chaotic even by the usual standards.  Let me try to approach the issue less on its merits than through the lens of what Conservative MPs think. Opinion divides in three main ways.

The first group of MPs oppose bans on both gay and trans conversion therapy.  It argues that there is no satisfactory definition of such therapy; that laws against it in other countries don’t won’t, that attempting to change people coercively is already against the law, and that non-coercive practices are rare.

When push comes to shove, most of these MPs have a traditional Christian understanding of sex and sexuality, and reject identity politics as they see it.  Furthermore, they argue that both sets of bans would alienate voters who do or might support the Conservatives.  My take is that this group is comparatively small.

The second support bans on both gay and trans conversion therapy.  They counter that such therapy can be satisfactorily defined; that laws against it in other countries work; that the law doesn’t presently catch all such forms of such therapy, and that coercive practices continue.  It is larger than the first group but still a minority of Tory MPs.

It would be wrong to claim that it is anti-Christian, because there is division within the churches themselves on the matter.  But it does not have a traditional understanding of sexuality and sex.  It accepts if not embraces identity politics, and believe that the Tories will miss out on the votes of the next generation if they don’t do likewise.

“My sense is that it is the common sense group jihadists versus the continuity Notting Hillers, with the rest of us wishing that both would go away, and these issues with them.  Which they won’t, of course,” one experienced backbencher told me.

He speaks for a third group – the biggest – which favours a compromise.  It can see that we are perhaps moving towards a future in which people self-identify their gender: in which someone may identify as a man at one point in their life and as a woman at another, and in which other possibilities are open.

Such may be the destination towards which the liberal West is travelling, and some Tory voices urge the Conservatives not to get left behind – as they did over race relations, women’s rights and gay liberation, according to this view, between the 1960s and the Coalition years.

This take has something to be said for it, but it raises a challenging question: namely, when, if ever, does the spirit of the age take a political movement up a cul-de-sac?  After all, it took most of the political establishment up such a dead end before the Second World War over support for eugenics.

And if the spirit of the times is with the movement for trans rights, what should we make of the counter-movement for women’s rights – that’s to say, of the feminists and others who argue that someone can change their gender but not their sex, according to the laws of biology albeit not the law of the land?

The disputes over women’s sport, prisons and shelters, the rights of spouses and same-sex spaces are charged with an intensity rare elsewhere.  “To many young people, opposing trans rights is like supporting racism – simply unacceptable,” one Tory enmeshed in these issues told me.

My assessment of how the Conservative Parliamentary Party divides on these matters is very provisional.  In crude terms, I suspect there is a majority for a gay conversion ban but not a trans conversion ban: in other words, I think that’s where the third group will settle.

The logic that supports such a view accepts the notion of gay identity, believing either that someone’s sexual preferences are settled, in which case conversion therapy is a waste of time, or that, if they’re not, it’s bad manners, at the very least, to seek to apply it.

However, this group is not yet ready, if it ever will be, to accept the idea of trans identity – in the sense that someone can truly change their sex rather than their gender.  And shares the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s hesitancy about practicalities. My best guess is that the Commons as a whole is in the same place.

This is the position the Government has now got itself into, more by luck than judgement.  I will save for another day the story of how Theresa May bequeathed it a pledge to end conversion therapy (not ban it), and how Number Ten has failed since the last election to develop and maintain a consistent position.

Had it not worked itself into a position of pledging a ban on both forms of conversion therapy, it might not now be in the position of seeing a UK-hosted international LGBT+ conference cancelled – after a boycott by organisations due to attend, in protest against the U-turn.

And have put Mike Freer, the Minister responsible, in an embarrassing position: he reiterated to the Commons only recently the position from which Downing Street has now resiled.  A leaked Downing Street briefing paper said that both he and Nick Herbert, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on LGBT issues, may resign.

Boris Johnson will now come under pressure from that second group of Conservative MPs, which appears to be disproportionately strong among more recent intakes: further evidence of the generational divide in the Parliamentary Party which came into play during the Owen Paterson controversy.

Nonetheless, the Government’s position looks more sustainable, in terms of the balance of opinion among Tory MPs and in Parliament as a whole, than it was before the U-turn.  And troubled though the Conservative position on trans may be, it is less so than Labour’s, at least to date.

What is damaging the Opposition is not so much Keir Starmer’s difficulty with whether a woman can have a penis – and his front bench’s troubles with the similar enquiries – but that such questions are persistently posed by journalists to Labour in the first place.

Rightly or wrongly, the trans issue simply doesn’t register on the radar of most voters when they’re asked about political priorities.  According to YouGov, they say that top four issues for the UK are the economy (partly a code at present for the cost of living), healthcare, defence (as the war in Ukraine continues) and immigration.

And the media has got the idea into its head that Labour is disproportionately consumed by the trans issue (not at unreasonably).  To date, Boris Johnson has been able to “dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge” on the issue – as he tells his Cabinet.

We will now see whether this risk-averse position is sustainable after last week’s U-turn and the Downing Street infighting that preceded it.  Though that is ultimately less important than passing legislation that is workable, coherent and watertight.