Conservative manifesto is serious about sex and gender

The Conservative Party has released its manifesto today, subtitled “Clear Plan. Bold Action. Secure Future”.

It includes a well thought-through and sensible plan on sex and gender that starts from the position that the law has not kept pace with evolving interpretations and is insufficiently clear.

The manifesto says that it is right to have provisions and protections for people whose sense of self does not match their biological sex, but that these must not be allowed to undermine the safety and privacy of women and girls. We agree that this is the right starting point for any policy-maker who is setting out to protect everyone’s rights. 

Working out how to protect both these groups is not a “culture war”, but a serious public-policy problem that requires attention from whoever is in government, and engagement with everyone concerned. 

The past few years have been marked by confusion about sex and transgender identity. This has harmed policy-making across every public body and regulator. Without a clear steer from policy-makers and legislators in Westminster, officials have ceded power and leadership to activist groups that demand the replacement of sex by gender identity in rules, laws, language and data. This has harmed women’s rights and undermined safeguarding and institutional integrity. 

This manifesto sets out a grown-up approach borne out of hard lessons learned while in government. It has been influenced by seeing up close what happens when gender-identity ideology takes hold of public bodies, including government departments. It has also been influenced by the stories of women whose livelihoods and safety were put at risk when they raised concerns about the impact of this ideology, and who were forced through employment tribunals and court cases. It does not rely solely on input from groups inside the “Stonewall Champions” bubble, and it has taken on board the input of the official anti-discrimination watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The manifesto states clearly that “Biological sex is a reality.” This should not be a radical thing to say, and many ordinary people may be surprised that it even needs to be included in a general-election manifesto. It is our hope that this marks the start of a new period in which all serious parties understand that this is a factual and ordinary thing to say, and will move beyond sloganeering and start engaging in serious policy-making.

We welcome the pledges to:

  • introduce primary legislation to clarify that the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act means biological sex (in practice this means removing the action of the Gender Recognition Act from the Equality Act)
  • make legal gender recognition a reserved matter to the United Kingdom, preventing self-ID being introduced by the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales 
  • make the proposed guidance for schools and colleges on supporting gender-questioning students statutory
  • give parents a right to see what their children are being taught in relationships and sex education
  • complete the implementation of the Cass Review, protecting young people questioning their gender from ideologically driven care and ensuring that NHS gender provision for children is evidence-based
  • legislate to permanently prevent the private prescription and supply of puberty blockers to children with gender distress 
  • amend the NHS Constitution so that it recognises every patient’s right to request single-sex accommodation and same-sex intimate care.

These pledges set a benchmark for serious, evidence-based policy-making on sex and gender. 

The manifesto also takes a welcome step back from the Conservatives’ previous pledge to ban “so-called “conversion therapy” (in reality, a ban on evidence-based, ethical talking therapy), and says that in light of the Cass Review the party would “take more time before reaching a final judgement on additional legislation in this area”. 

We would have liked the manifesto to have gone further on schools. Although it seeks to ensure that children are not transitioned behind their parents’ backs, it continues to leave room for schools to respond to children who say they want to be “treated as the opposite sex” with something other than a straightforward and kind “No”. 

All girls and boys in school should be treated fairly and equally, and schools have rules and policies to ensure this. All teachers and staff need to be clear about expectations and rules that concern girls and boys, and to be honest about what sex each individual is. Adults should not become confused between sex stereotypes about clothing and hairstyles, and rules based on the reality of sexed bodies that exist to uphold safeguarding and ensure that everyone is treated safely, fairly and with dignity. 

Take action now – write to your local candidates to ask if they will stand up for single-sex services