“The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.” ― George Orwell, 1984
Liberal Democrats who are pushing back against the ideological capture of the party by transactivists face re-education to correct their beliefs. This is the story of how it is carried out.
In 2020, the disciplinary sub-group of the party’s Federal Board, drafted a ‘Definition of Transphobia’. The sub-group comprised Candy Piercy and two Federal Board colleagues. The Transphobia Definition was envisaged as a device that could be used to ‘educate’ or purge party members who fail to accept the mantra, “Transwomen are women”. Its wording draws heavily on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, with key words substituted as required. This similarity caused raised eyebrows in some quarters.
The sub-group’s new Definition was then approved by the ‘Steering Group’ of the Federal Board, which is chaired by president Mark Pack. It was never discussed by the full board or debated or considered by any other party body – a surprising absence of democracy, some might say. On the 19th September 2020 its adoption was announced to the readers of Liberal Democrat Voice as being ‘key to supporting the Party’s disciplinary processes’, as though it had just been handed down to Moses on the peak of Mount Sinai.
The Definition seeks to constrain thought and speech well beyond the bounds that should be acceptable in a democratic party. Its sanctions are draconian. For genuine “errors and misunderstandings”, an apology or retraction will usually suffice. However, repeat offenders should be dealt with more severely: “this is especially true if they have been challenged by others, and they have been pointed to resources to help them learn about trans rights and transphobia.” In other words, re-education and a chance to repent are to be the first resort, with the possibility of disciplinary action and expulsion to follow for those who persist.
Audrey Ludwig of legalfeminist.org.uk studied the Definition and made several points in a critique she published. She highlighted its fundamental flaws, particularly vis a vis its impact on anyone who dared to defend women’s rights. Her conclusions were damning:
“Taken at its highest, it could be said that this definition treats both the Equality Act and Gender Recognition Act as “transphobic”, since both contain provisions identifying circumstances where trans people are treated as a separate category.
In some contexts, it requires the denial of simple biological fact. This is the case, even if you believe that it is possible for a human being to change their biological sex – given that very many trans people will have undergone no medical transition whatsoever, as the document itself expressly recognises. To say that a person, or a group of people, identify as female but are biologically male is not only a factual statement, it is in some contexts a highly relevant statement: for instance, when considering how they should be housed within the prison estate, or whether they can fairly compete in sport against natal women.
It is hard to see how there could be any meaningful advocacy of gender critical views within the Liberal Democrats. In particular, it is hard to see how one could either oppose gender self-ID, or advocate for maintaining sex-based rights or single sex spaces and facilities, or for keeping the provisions in the Equality Act that make such things possible. The document therefore effectively requires certain policy positions to be supported, on pain of a finding of transphobia and potential expulsion. Dissent is to be rooted out, not by reasoned discussion and debate, but by the exercise of power. It is authoritarian, and illiberal, for a party to close down internal debate in this way on issues of live political controversy.”
“You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
― George Orwell, 1984
Since the party’s revised discipline process was introduced in 2019, more than 1,000 complaints have been raised, many of which relate to transphobia and now fall under the new definition. More ‘troublesome’ members have been subjected to multiple complaints. One prospective parliamentary candidate, Natalie Bird, was stripped of all party roles and suspended because she once wore a T-shirt bearing the statement, “Woman – adult human female”. When grilled by Andrew Marr on television, leader Sir Ed Davey was unable to say what was wrong with the statement. Bird is crowdfunding a case against the party for breaching the Equality Act.
A Muslim member and former councillor with a distinguished track record as a campaign organiser expressed the view that some aspects of the party’s current LGBTQ policy are ‘unwise’, particularly in the way they might impact on school students. Although he indicated that he was prepared to keep his misgivings to himself, the Transphobia Definition was used against him and his continued membership of the party was declared “conditional upon successfully completing mandatory training on LGBTQ+ rights and awareness . . .. and he . . . should not be permitted to hold any office or be on any approved list of candidates until such training is successfully completed.”
The training he was instructed to submit to is provided by Midas Training Solutions, a company controlled by Candy Piercy, LibDem Federal Board member and co-author of the Transphobia Definition. In any other political party, there might be accusations that Ms Piercy has a conflict of interest here, but the Liberal Democrats are not that sort of party.
“Perhaps the Party was rotten under the surface, its cult of strenuousness and self-denial simply a sham concealing iniquity.” ― George Orwell, 1984