John Stuart Mill

History and philosophy

The Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party before it, are rooted in the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, who famously wrote, “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Mill was an absolutist on freedom of speech, contending that even the falsest opinions deserve to be broadcast in an open exchange of ideas.

Mill’s On Liberty also presents a compelling argument in defence of the individual’s right to freedom of conscience. He gives open-mindedness validity not as simply an act of charity, but as a tool in obtaining the completeness of truth. Truth requires a variety of perspectives, and these perspectives can be found by listening to others even though one may believe them to be wrong. The individual’s freedom of conscience is given priority over social restrictions and moral imposition by society.

These principles, eloquently expressed by Mill, were incorporated into the Preamble of the Liberal Party Constitution, now transposed into the Liberal Democrat Preamble, as the following extracts illustrate:

“We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full.”

“We will at all times defend the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely, and we will protect the right of citizens to enjoy privacy in their own lives and homes.”

The importance of free speech and freedom of conscience is fundamental to modern liberalism and when pushed to the extreme, is its unique core value. For example, if socialism is reduced to its essence, it is about material provision; the fair allocation of resources: food and shelter. Similarly, Conservatives will argue that they are best placed to manage society in ways that maximise resources, to everyone’s benefit. For some believers in either of these philosophies, participatory democracy, the need to compromise and bend to the will of the people, can seem like an impediment to securing their aims. This may explain resistance to proportional representation on both the left and right.

Liberals will argue that regardless of material necessities, without freedom of speech and thought, there can be no meaningful life or social intercourse and will therefore argue for increased democracy accompanied by the discourse that makes this meaningful, in the belief that the outcome will have the effect of safeguarding freedom of speech and conscience.

There is a passage in John Fowles’ novel, ‘The Magus’, where the character Maurice Conchis relates an event from the Second World War. A Greek freedom fighter has been captured and tortured by German soldiers. His teeth and tongue have been torn out and he is about to be killed. He does the one thing he is still capable of. He incoherently shouts a sound that can be understood as “Elefthería” – “Freedom”. This is what he was fighting for and this is the reason why oppressed peoples throughout the world struggle for self-determination; not to safeguard living standards, but to be free to express themselves and manage their own lives. For true liberals, a political party that stifles debate can never be liberal.

The testing of ideas is essential to the development of the party and its reinvention to meet the needs of each generation. Compelled thought; imposed policies and definitions arrived at without free and open debate are an anathema and will not stand.

Recent developments

In recent years, a risk averse policy culture has developed in the party. This may be partly explained by a decade of electoral retrenchment, following participation in the Cameron coalition government. Errors of judgment by the parliamentary party were ruthlessly exploited by the media and the opposition and the electorate has not forgotten or forgiven. Our current leadership is therefore reluctant to offer any more hostages to fortune. The party’s management committees, cognisant of this new reality, enforce uniformity and steer away from what they perceive to be controversial policy areas, adopting a ‘steady as she goes’ approach. This has the effect of inhibiting the enthusiasm of activists and stifling imagination, at precisely the time when innovative ideas are necessary to reinvigorate the party’s appeal. This timidity also has the considerable disadvantage of giving the media nothing to write about at a time when the party’s visibility is already low.  

The consequence of this approach has included an avoidance of debate and the suppression of opinion on areas like defence, where motions to Conference with substantial and broad-based membership support are continuously rejected by the Federal Conference Committee on specious grounds. Policy on the Israel-Palestine question is widely perceived as being too dangerous to visit, particularly after the recent trauma and negative publicity affecting the Labour Party. In the Liberal Democrats, the party’s treatment of Jenny Tongue and David Ward has had the effect of making most activists avoid the subject.

The transgender trend

Paradoxically, the one policy area where the party has been bold and uncompromising is in its advocacy of transgender rights, a subject that has secured a fanatical hold on key party activists and influencers. This adoption of a new rights movement paralleled the transformation of gay rights charity Stonewall into a transgender advocacy campaign, setting it at odds with several of its founders by promoting beliefs that are incompatible with the rights and lives of gay men and lesbians, as well as natal women.

Stonewall’s new direction began when Equal Marriage legislation was being passed into law, signifying the end of the charity’s mission to regularise the lives of gay people in society. Trans rights and trans acceptance became the next human rights frontier that Stonewall embraced. The story is a fascinating one, though outside the scope of this essay. A thorough analysis of Stonewall’s recent history and tactics can be found here.  

Soon political parties, keen not to be left behind, also adopted the trans agenda and were briefed and infiltrated by Stonewall members and other trans activists. Superficially, this appeared to be a cost-free policy option; after all what was the downside? Unfortunately, the status that transgender activists aspired to would necessitate the sublimation and marginalisation of women. The conflicts that this generated eventually moved the debate into the public domain, but the genesis of modern transgenderism precedes this by several decades.

Transgender people in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Trans advocates claim that there have always been trans people and there have certainly been notable individuals in recent decades who have lived as members of the opposite sex, including jazz pianist and arranger Billy Tipton, a woman who lived as a man and whose sex was not discovered until her death and the writer Jan (previously James) Morris, who lived as a woman for the latter part of his life. Transsexualism, as it used to be known, was then classed as a mental health condition, requiring counselling, psychological support and in extreme cases, surgical intervention, that aimed to transform a male body into the facsimile of a female one, or vice versa, thereby, it was hoped, alleviating the dysphoria.

Queer theory takes hold  

Susan Dalgety in The Scotsman explains queer theory:

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, asserted that the idea of what it is to be human is a recent construction, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. Judith Butler, an American gender theorist, went further, arguing in her 1990 book, ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’, that being biologically male or female is a social construct. She posited that a woman is female not because she has a cervix and ovaries, but because she was identified (or ‘assigned’) as a girl when she was born.

Butler’s writings became the founding texts for queer theory, which as a core principle asserts that biological sex is irrelevant and that a person’s subjective perception, their gender identity, is paramount. So, if a man with a penis who likes wearing pink says he is a lesbian, then ‘she’ is a gay woman and should be legally and socially recognised as such.

On this basis, women who argue that biology is real and that their sex is the basis of inequality are attacked. Women who marched alongside their gay brothers and sisters in the campaign for equality are accused, by some of the people they marched with, of causing a moral panic by asserting their sex-based rights.

Over the last quarter century, queer theory has been widely adopted across academia, first in the USA and then elsewhere, where it has largely replaced belief in biological science, even in many science faculties. It is now widely accepted in UK universities and has also infiltrated the NHS and social services.

Queer theory is at the root of modern trans theology, while biological science is dismissed as an inconvenient historical fiction. For millennia, women have been discriminated against because of their sex. Only in the last century, in the West, have women’s rights come close to parity with those of men. Complete equality has yet to be achieved. Transgenderism threatens to return women’s rights to the 19th Century.

Reform by stealth

Trans campaigners have sought to secure acceptance of their philosophy by stealth, so that by the time the wider public became aware of their agenda, it would be too late to stop it. This successful strategy was masterminded by international law firm Dentons as revealed by James Kirkup in The Spectator. In doing so, they were building on groundwork set out in the Yogyakarta Principles of 2006 (supplemented in 2017). The Yogyakarta Principles have no status in domestic or international law but are frequently cited by human rights organisations. Ostensibly they formalise a set of principles relating to human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. The principles assert the reality of queer theory and affirm the validity of the transgender identity as a standard variation in humans and not a paraphilia or mental aberration. By endorsing them, women’s sex-based rights are fatally compromised.    

The Yogyakarta Principles are intended to cement transgender theory within society worldwide and strengthen campaigns for its total acceptance. Interestingly, none of the original signatories, women included, appear to have anticipated that their adoption might compromise or conflict with the rights of natal women. The implications of this fatal flaw are now clear

Transgender belief and science

The reframing of gender dysphoria as a natural and normal status for humans, called ‘transgender’ was accompanied by the renaming of the rest of the population, those who were comfortable with their bodies as ‘cisgender’ a label that is not widely recognised and is detested by some. This conceit asserts that the rejection of the body a person is born in, is as valid as its acceptance.     

It is impossible to prove that humans can be born in the wrong body and are not merely acting out delusions with the acquiescence of those around them. The leap of faith required to accept a transgender reality unconditionally, is analogous to that required of converts to a religion. And as with any religious faith, there will be non-believers. In our modern secular society, there is no pressure on atheists to recant and convert, whereas transgender faith has now become so all pervasive that those who even dare to question the concept are attacked as being bigots and transphobes. Women who refuse to accept that transgender women (biological men) should be allowed unrestricted access to their legally protected safe spaces are vilified.

Transgenderism has now acquired many of the qualities of a cult. Questioning, doubt and dissent is discouraged or even punished. There is a polarised, us-versus-them mentality among believers, which may cause conflict with wider society. Those who are most enthusiastic feel there can be no life outside the movement. They believe there is no other way to be, and individuals who change their mind about transitioning are either attacked or ignored.      

The imposition of transgender theology

Mere acceptance of the lifestyles of trans people is insufficient. Non-believers must be converted or re-educated into accepting the belief that everyone has a gendered soul. Feminists and others of different beliefs are no platformed and have been physically attacked when attempting to hold public meetings. In the Liberal Democrats a previously unprecedented level of hostility has emerged. The party’s complaints system has been weaponised to the point where all the speakers who opposed a recent Conference motion that included the mantra, ‘Trans women are women’ were subjected to official complaints.  

The conflation of sex and gender in the UK has been normalised by Stonewall and its Diversity Champions programme. Hundreds of employers, including many government departments, paid Stonewall to train them in what turned out to be an incorrect interpretation of the 2010 Equality Act – the law as Stonewall wished it to be, rather than the law that parliament had enacted. Eventually, the inevitable happened and a woman, Maya Forstater, was told that her employment contract was not going to be renewed because she held and articulated what were called transphobic beliefs. By then, the overreach of Stonewall had become so great, that it had even infiltrated the legal system. She appealed to an Employment Tribunal but the judge ruled that her beliefs were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.      

Only a later court judgment handed down in June 2021 in response to an appeal, finally confirmed that Forstater’s belief “that sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity” can be legally held.

The growth of dysphoria

In the last decade the numbers of people openly claiming to be trans has increased substantially, though, in the case of men, who tend to ‘come out’ as mature adults, it is unclear whether this signifies an absolute increase in numbers or one of increasing confidence. In the case of women, there has been an exponential increase in the numbers of mainly teenage girls reporting gender dysphoria.

In the UK, this has overloaded the resources of the specialist transgender health clinic, known as GIDS, run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. A large part of this increase may be explained by social contagion, but more research is needed to confirm this. There is also an absence of follow up data on patients who later change their minds and revert to their natal sex, (known as detransitioning). One such woman, Keira Bell, recently won a legal action against the Tavistock. The court ruled that she had been too young to have been able to give informed consent to the treatments she had been subjected to. At the time of writing, an appeal against this judgment is underway. Keira Bell’s story may be just the tip of a worrying iceberg.

At the very least, reports that the Tavistock mainly affirmed the choices of gender dysphoric children, rather than providing the necessary considered support and counselling, suggests that a thorough investigation of the organisation is required. Since 2017, over 35 clinicians have quit GIDS at the Tavistock, citing concerns about the treatment of dysphoric children.    

Politicians in all parties, with a few notable exceptions, have either avoided the subject, or have accepted queer theory and its implications, sided with the activists and attacked women who have raised genuine concerns.   

What does the law say?

The 2010 Equality Act was intended to provide a legal framework for the resolution of conflicting human rights and implicitly recognises that these conflicts can exist. In reference to the conflict between women’s rights and trans women’s rights, the Act sets out six main areas that acknowledge the need for women-only spaces, services, roles and activities and makes it lawful to exclude males (including trans-identifying males). In all cases the use of an exemption must be a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim. There are no blanket rules since each situation must be considered on its own merits and due regard must be given to all groups affected by invoking the exemption. The least discriminatory option must always be chosen.

The current Liberal Democrat position

Liberal Democrat policy is to accept without question that in all circumstances trans women, whether legally recognised as such by the possession of a gender recognition certificate (GRC) or not, are women. The Liberal Democrats as a party has been persuaded that this queer theory ‘truth’ is the new reality and dissenters must be subjected to re-education or expelled.

It is party policy to abolish the Equality Act exemptions and allow ‘self-identification’, meaning that no formal process or medical intervention should be required for a change of gender.  

Superficially, supporting the human rights aims of any oppressed minority seems like a no brainer. Liberals instinctively support everyone’s human rights, but the trans rights campaign is not quite what it seems. Trans people already possess the same human rights as everyone else, apart from the automatic right to invade places legally set aside for women, as allowed under the 2010 Equality Act. If they go, women will have no safe spaces.   

For women to be safe, no men can be trusted

As has been evidenced by the ‘Me Too’ movement as well as more recent revelations about the sexual abuse of girls in schools, women are constantly under threat from people with male bodies, however they choose to identify themselves. This is the reason why women have separate public bathroom facilities, changing rooms, rape crisis centres and prisons. All men do not pose a threat, just as all trans women may not pose a threat, but it is naïve to propose that women should sacrifice their safety on the altar of trans rights by allowing biological males into their hard-won safe spaces.

For women to be reassured, there can be no exceptions, however uncomfortable this reality might be for trans women. Sex offenders will use every possible means to gain access to vulnerable women. Even if ‘trans women’ like Karen White are not genuinely trans, they are still cynically able to exploit gullible prison authorities and attack vulnerable women as if they are. They have found it easy to use the loophole that already exists that allows men into women’s prisons. For women to be safe, no men can be trusted.   

It is precisely because trans women are not women that their threat potential remains. Thus, self-identity becomes a Trojan horse for male attackers. The fact that many trans women may not intend to assault women, makes them no different from other non-violent men and nobody is suggesting that women’s sex-based protections should be abandoned for them.      

Women are increasingly waking up to the reality of this threat and political parties that fail to acknowledge it will suffer.

Queer theory is an unsuitable philosophy for a political party         

The Liberal Democrats’ have adopted a queer theory centred approach to trans rights. This means that the party implicitly opposes women’s sex-based rights, because women no longer exist as a fixed sex class. Accordingly, any man can adopt the status of a woman on demand and because ‘transwomen are women’ in the words of the party’s mantra, there is no longer a rationale for single sex spaces. A pseudo-religious theory has become a core faith and ‘one way’ has replaced plurality. Logically, the party’s next political step must be to seek to impose this vision on society.      

This runs directly counter to John Stuart Mill, who believed that religion should operate outside party politics and individual morals should not be imposed on others. “They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals.”

Since religion, and by extension queer theory, is highly personal and not necessarily societal (though the Puritans and transactivists may disagree), Mill believes they should be separate from governmental law, enforced only among those who choose to participate.

The Liberal Democrats’ unconscious adoption of queer theory must be challenged if the party is to return to rational politics and its place in the political mainstream. Pluralism is the liberal way. Freedom of speech and conscience its touchtone.  

Controversial subjects require sensitive handling, but there can never be a reason to avoid debating them. The party must accept that these conflicts exist and hold the ring while opposing positions are stated and resolved. The current position of ignoring women, their rights and their legitimate concerns, is profoundly illiberal and will not stand.   

Liberal Democrat members (and others) who share my concern can contact me at [email protected]

Any abusive messages will be saved and added to a dossier on misogyny in the party.

2 thoughts on “The Liberal Democrats, free speech and freedom of conscience

  1. A very thorough and well referenced article. Thanks for bringing me up to date. I wonder if the party will respond with any rational arguments about their policy stance?

  2. Fully support the conclusions regarding the inherent liberalism of the party position and most of the argument. I think you are too quick to brand queer theory as religion; it is surely how it is used that has a religious element. much of the confusion and argument seems to come from deliberate misuse or attempts to change the language. Not so long ago the terms man and woman were used interchangeably with male and female. Accepting the argument that gender was re-interpreted as a “social construct”(I thought by the feminist movement, which wanted females to define what it meant to be a woman instead of a largely patriachial and mysogenistic society), that surely breaks the connection with biological sex. But the fact that sex-based rights have, for historic reasons, been legislated and debated using the terms man and woman does not mean that they are not based on sex. So conflating sex and gender seems to be a deliberate strategy. It does not matter that there are many, many genders (if you believe that) but Sex still

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