Dissenting arguments went missing at this weekend’s conference
Conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice, and talk of it conjures up images of electric shock treatments inflicted on gay men fifty years ago. This weekend’s Liberal Democrat Conference resolved to ban it. So important was this issue to the party that it was the first policy motion to be debated.
But the new policy implemented by the Liberal Democrats goes beyond the October 2017 Memorandum of Understanding that was supported by 21 organisations including the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Crucially, that document supported exploratory therapy when working with a client who, “wishes to explore, experiences conflict with or is in distress regarding, their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Those reassurances are absent from the Lib Dem resolution — to the alarm of some party members at conference. Martin Eggleston, a first-time delegate from Abingdon told UnHerd that he was concerned that if the Lib Dem policy ever became law it would leave doctors, counsellors, and other professionals vulnerable to accusations that could destroy their careers and at risk of prosecution, for just doing their jobs. He added:
“There isn’t much wrong with what is in the motion; we all want to see an end to Conversion Therapy. But what’s missing is potentially disastrous.”Martin Eggleston
Eggleston would have liked to have expressed those concerns to the conference, but “technical difficulties” got in the way. Deplorably — in a debate that was more reminiscent of people’s democracy than a liberal democracy — not a single opposing speaker was heard. The motion was proposed, seconded and supported.
An attempt in writing to refer the motion back to the Federal Policy Committee for further consideration fell by 216 votes to 155, and it was left to Em Dean from Harrow to sum up the “debate”. Even Dean sounded surprised: “I am not sure why I am summating because I don’t think there are any arguments against.”
There were arguments against but those who had prepared them were unable to deliver them. They were marooned in a Zoom waiting room listening to “heartfelt apologies” from Nick da Costa in the Chair. But rather than adjourn the motion until the “technical difficulties” had been fixed, and all views could be heard, da Costa moved straight to the vote. The motion was passed by 368 to 44, the press-release was fired out, and the rest is now history.
Democracy? Not in any liberal sense of the word.
* This article was first published by Unherd on 21 September 2021: How the Lib Dems silenced debate on conversion therapy.