October 19, 2023 - 2:50pm

So Rishi Sunak has given in. Faced with a backlash to his mild remarks about biological sex at the Conservative Party Conference, it looks as though the Government intends to go ahead with a complete ban on “conversion therapy”. According to the Times, legislation to introduce a ban will be included in the King’s Speech, even though ministers have been warned repeatedly not to lump together “gay conversion therapy” and thoughtful attempts to counsel individuals with gender dysphoria.

Trans activists are up in arms about the Prime Minister’s speech, however, and the general rule of politics these days is that they get what they want. Sunak’s statement that “we shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be” caused uproar. Ironically, he appears to have been bullied into going along with exactly that nonsense — and agreeing to criminalise parents and teachers who believe that a “wait and see” approach is sensible for individuals with gender dysphoria.

Sunak’s volte face flies in the face of advice from NHS England, which recommends “watchful waiting” for minors rather than a rush into “social transitioning” or medical intervention. In October last year, it warned that most young people with gender dysphoria are going through a “transient phase”, based on “evidence that in most cases gender incongruence does not persist into adolescence”. 

Yet our politics are so febrile these days that we could soon be in an absurd situation where doctors and therapists find themselves in serious trouble for following NHS England’s advice. It could also lead to more young people being rushed into “changing sex”, something the Prime Minister didn’t believe was possible earlier this month.

Has he changed his mind? I very much doubt it. But every time it looks as though this muddled ideology is in retreat, trans activists flex their muscles. Leading politicians from all parties seem to be terrified of them, recoiling from accusations of “transphobia” as though they’ve been caught expressing sympathy with people who mistreat animals or steal from charity boxes. 

Sir Keir Starmer’s recent conversion to the view that women are “adult females” feels like a diversionary tactic, designed to throw feminists and other annoying women off the scent. The Party has just asked Iain Anderson (“he/him”), until recently Chair of Trustees at Stonewall, to carry out an inquiry into small business on its behalf. In a new interview with the Standard, Starmer is still using trans activist language, talking about the need to find “a fairer way” to deal with people “who don’t identify with the gender they were born into”. 

His deputy, Angela Rayner, is even more open about where her priorities lie. On Wednesday evening, speaking at the PinkNews awards ceremony, she talked about the need to “modernise” the law on gender recognition, something many women see as a coded reference to a move towards self-ID. She condemned the Prime Minister’s “inaction on LGBTQ+ policy” and promised to introduce a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy — thus putting herself on the same page as Sunak. 

Both main parties are now committed to unnecessary and unethical legislation, it seems — one for ideological reasons, the other from cowardice. It’s an object lesson about the continuing influence of gender ideology. Don’t let anyone tell you British politics is no longer Stonewalled. 

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.