As war rages in Europe and inflation rockets, the Tory party is tearing itself apart in its hunt for a new leader. Only days into the contest, the transgender debate is emerging as a key issue that divides the candidates. It’s a mistake to think of it as a niche issue: the question of women’s toilets and pronouns has the power to derail a leadership bid, as Penny Mordaunt may soon find out.
Suella Braverman, the Attorney General and one of the leadership hopefuls, has been clear in her frustration about the impact this debate has had on her. Last year, Braverman made history as the first cabinet minister to take maternity leave. Legislation needed to be passed, but it was not without controversy.
She told The Spectator‘s Katy Balls that ‘the original wording (of Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances (MOMA) Bill) said that pregnant persons were able to enjoy the benefits of the bill. I was quite disappointed, actually, that that wording was originally chosen.’
If those comments were not enough to upset the transgender thought police, Braverman has now upped the ante. In a statement, she said:
‘Rather than being an uncontested celebration of women in the workplace getting on with the job, this bill was hijacked for Trans activists who insisted that I had to be referred to as a ‘pregnant person’, and not what I was and am: a mother.’Suella Braverman
Well said! But it’s a pity that such basics need spelling out at all. What Braverman said is the truth, after all; women give birth, and we call them mothers. Yet a ‘progressive’ ideology has taken root in western societies. It makes a grand claim: that transwomen (male people) are women (female people). This is nonsense, of course, but its followers tolerate no dissent. The appalling treatment suffered by J.K. Rowling, Labour MP Rosie Duffield, tax expert Maya Forstater and choreographer Rosie Kay to name but four is a clear warning of what happens to those who don’t toe the line.
But trans activists only succeed because others sit on their hands and say nothing. This means it’s vital that whoever wants to become the next Tory leader – and indeed our new prime minister – doesn’t shy away from this debate. Braverman, at least, has spoken up.
‘We have gone through a very unhappy time in British politics where inaccurate recall of uncontested facts gas badly hurt our party,’ she said. ‘It is my hope that just as we should call pregnant women what they are, we will all of us accurately recall what we did and said in office.’Suella Braverman
A dig, perhaps at her rival Penny Mordaunt? In the early hours of Sunday morning, Mordaunt released an extraordinary statement, in which she posed a question: ‘Do I know what a woman is?’. Her answer?
‘Some people born male and who have been through the gender recognition process are also legally female. That DOES NOT mean they are biological women, like me’Penny Mordaunt
But are these people – people like me, indeed – actual women? Mordaunt didn’t say. Nor did she recall her words spoken as Paymaster General when the MOMA Bill passed through the Commons in March 2021: ‘Transmen are men and transwomen are women,’ she told her fellow MPs. Has Mordaunt changed her mind about that remark? We don’t know. But if she hopes to become elected as party leader, she needs to be clear about where she stands on this issue.
Mordaunt also needs to stop revising history. In her statement, she claimed she had been responsible for replacing neutral language with female terms in the MOMA bill. But those amendments were, as Mordaunt admitted herself at the despatch box, made in the Lords.
For too long, politicians have prevaricated on the transgender issue in the hope that they might not cause upset and lose votes. It is clear now that in the polarised debate about trans rights, it is simply impossible to avoid disappointing anyone.
The Tory leadership candidates now face a simple choice: they can declare that women are adult human females and send the transgender lobby into apoplexy; they can repeat the mantra that ‘transwomen are women’ and disappoint women; or they can sit on the fence and annoy everyone.
We know where Braverman stands. We’re still awaiting Mordaunt’s response. But if she – and indeed the other Tory leadership candidates – fail to take a position on this issue, they are not fit to be anyone’s leader.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.