July 19, 2023 - 9:30am

The Conservatives can’t be said to be in touch with the public mood on many subjects, but there is an important exception. Tory ministers and MPs have been outspoken in defence of women’s rights and single-sex spaces, making the official Opposition look feeble by comparison. Now, though, the Government’s delay in publishing trans guidance for schools is ringing alarm bells.

It’s being reported that ministers have been told that the tough guidelines supported by the Women and Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, might need a change in the law. Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General, has apparently told colleagues that the proposed guidance on “social transitioning” in schools would be unlawful because gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act.

But reports about the legal hurdle raise questions about whether the Government is having second thoughts. Did they really wait until this late stage to seek legal advice? It’s a highly emotive subject, with some parents said to be angered and upset after discovering that their children have been allowed to use new names and pronouns at school without their knowledge. Teachers have been waiting for months for official advice, with Rishi Sunak promising in March that it would appear this week.

Government sources have denied that the delay is due to a conflict between Keegan and Badenoch, but rumours about rows in the Cabinet persist. We’ve known for ages that a handful of Tory MPs — Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities committee, for instance — are sympathetic to the demands of trans activists. But parents have been hoping that the Government would draw a line against the encroachment of gender ideology in schools, where it has been adopted largely under the radar.

The idea that children can be trans is hugely contested, with NHS England warning that “social transitioning” — where kids change their names, clothes and pronouns — is not a neutral act. Two weeks ago, Keegan caused dismay when she suggested that 16- and 17-year-olds should be permitted to change their pronouns at school with parental consent. “We think the answer to that is yes,” she said.

It now appears that the “we” in that sentence may not include Cabinet colleagues like Badenoch. Critics of the proposal highlight that allowing pupils to adopt new names and pronouns doesn’t happen in isolation, forcing classmates to accept one of the key propositions of trans ideology. Why should a teenage girl have to pretend that a boy in her class is now a girl, when she knows perfectly well that he has male genitals?

There is apparently agreement that single-sex toilets and changing rooms will not be affected when pupils change their gender, ensuring protection for girls who don’t want to share intimate spaces with boys who “identify” as girls. Last month it was reported that police had been called into a secondary school in Essex following allegations that four female pupils had been sexually assaulted by a teenage boy, three of them in “gender-neutral” toilets.

If the Cabinet really is split on this issue, it is further evidence of how deeply the UK’s political parties have been influenced by organisations such as the controversial charity Stonewall. Leading figures in Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP have repeatedly made fools of themselves with their willingness to repeat meaningless slogans about sex and gender. 

The Tories’ days in government are numbered, but they still have time to do the right thing for children and parents. They need to clamp down on this nonsense in schools before any more damage is done.

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.