Peter Tatchell and the Conversion Ban:
A Case Study in British Conservative Politics
(23rd April 2022)
Conversion therapy is the attempt, by prayer, by nagging, and by playing with mental associations, to change sexual tastes. It is mostly tried by male Christians who are disturbed by their inclinations. It may be inadvisable or perhaps dangerous to try altering sexual tastes. However, the agreed libertarian view is that anyone who wants to offer or to try this therapy should be at perfect liberty to do so. Unless there is fraud or force as traditionally defined, what consenting adults do or have done to themselves is their business alone. Anyone who chooses conversion therapy may or may not get what he wants from it. But I doubt if anyone is forced to choose it. I doubt if there is any shortage of information about its nature or likely effects.
Peter Tatchell wants a complete prohibition. He wants it made a criminal offence to urge or to help someone change his sexual tastes – and to urge someone not to have a sex change operation. I might observe that Mr Tatchell has recently come to occupy the place long vacated by Mary Whitehouse, as this country’s leading authoritarian bigot. But I will say no more about him in himself, or about conversion therapy in itself. What matters is that a supposedly Conservative Government is giving him rather more than half of what he demands, and is under attack for not giving him everything he demands.
Here is a summary of the story as reported on the GScene Blog:
The UK government has insisted it will ban so-called conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people in England and Wales – but not for transgender people….
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and vocal opponent of conversion therapy, said in a statement:
“…The Peter Tatchell Foundation will never accept a conversion therapy ban that does not protect our trans siblings. We will support their struggle for reinstatement. United we stand.
“The Government promised a comprehensive ban nearly four years ago and reiterated this commitment in the Queen’s Speech last year. We feel conned and tricked.
“The Prime Minister has taken a decision to appease transphobes who oppose protection for trans people and who support attempts to turn them cisgender. He’s throwing trans people under the bus. It looks like a bid to stoke trans culture wars for political gain in the run-up to the next election.
“This half-baked ban is another broken promise by the government. It’s more proof that Boris Johnson cannot be trusted.”
What we see here is a perfect illustration of the relationship between the supposed conservatives we elected to run the country and the cultural leftists who are allowed to run the country. I know they make full confessions of faith in closed meetings, and that they treat the rest of us to nods and winks as often as they want our votes. But I have not met a single Conservative politician since about 2000 who cared for any approval but from cultural leftists. What people like Boris Johnson and David Cameron and Michael Gove and all the others want is an admission in The Guardian or on the BBC that goes something like this:
I don’t like his party or the common little people who vote for him, and I don’t agree with some of the policies he has to support. But, on all the issues that matter, XXX is a decent human being who gets my respect.
You can add to this invitations to speak at book festivals and theatrical openings, and appointments within the vast cultural domain of the left. These people need us to vote for them. But that is something managed by promises or implied promises made during election campaigns. At all other times, if someone like Peter Tatchell comes asking for a monstrous violation of freedom of speech and association, the standard response is a red carpet followed by an hour of sounding woker than woke.
You are welcome to say what you like about Peter Tatchell, and there is much to be said. He is, even so, a rational and very effective operator in a country of conservative majorities and Conservative betrayals. He knows the Ministers want – or desperately need – his approval. He knows what it means to them. He will only give it in exchange for abject obedience to his agenda. In this case, it did look as if the deal had been made. The mainstream churches in this country are about as Christian as the permitted churches in East Germany. They would make no fuss. As for believing Christians, the view was that they were a dying minority who could safely be walked all over. Sadly for the Ministers, there was a sudden resistance to the idea of locking people away for the crime of urging teenage boys not to have their penises cut off. There had to be an adjustment to the Bill the Home Office lawyers had already drafted.
Sadly for the Ministers. The established rule when dealing with Peter Tatchell and his like is that he must be given everything he has asked for. Leave anything out, and he will scream just as loudly as if he had been given nothing at all. And what could be more rational or more effective? If he cares not to say at present all that he wants, he wants what he presently says he wants; and he knows how to get it. Equally rational and equally effective his claim of a “culture war for political gain.” This comes from a man who has spent his whole life aiding a cultural revolution that has already made the England of my boyhood as foreign as the England of Upstairs, Downstairs. But the claim is not to function as an arguable proposition. It is a message to the Ministers that they or their advisers will somehow understand: “This deal is off. You will need to crawl even harder next time you come looking for moral absolution.”
Something I keep hearing is that there is no difference between Conservative and Labour politicians. I agree that, whoever is in office, the direction of policy is always the same – or has been at least since Margaret Thatcher was forced out. But there is a difference. Labour politicians are intelligent and reasonably honest. Whatever euphemisms they prefer to plain English, they really do believe in a utopia for the parasitic wing of the bourgeoisie, where most people will be cold and hungry, and lied to and censored and atomised, and therefore prompt in obedience to authority. Every time they win an election, they do what they must to bring on their utopia faster than it will come by its own speed. Conservative politicians do not, for the most part, want such a world. But they are too stupid to know how to stop its arrival, and too cowardly to ask anyone else to advise them.
Look at the past twenty five years, which divide almost equally between periods of Labour and Conservative government. Labour won in 1997, and immediately set about packing every institution with its own people, and setting up more institutions to employ the overflow. A generation of arts graduates was taken onto the payroll. This was the revolution. Much more than the new laws that eventually were made, this is what transformed the tone and the priorities of government. Hardly anyone in or about the Conservative Party understood what was happening. In 1998, I put an early version of this case in a talk I gave at a supposedly libertarian policy institute. I was laughed at by men who thought leftism was about renationalising the telephone network and putting up the top rate of income tax, and nothing more. Someone even assured me that, judged by their partiality for setting up devolved assemblies and independent regulatory agencies not easily controlled from the centre, the new Ministers were best described as classical liberals. I replied that revolutions proceeded best not by central control, but by choosing the right people. It hardly mattered whether an institution was formally independent, if its personnel did by choice what was required of them. It had advantages too, so far as a change of government might not easily be followed at once by a change of policies.
Sure enough, there was a change of government in 2010. Those arts graduates were too entrenched to allow immediate changes of policy. But natural wastage and a little firmness at the top could soon have opened opportunities for a counter-revolution. Instead, the past twelve years have seen an unchallenged reproduction of leftists within the administration – of leftists who have evolved to greater malignancy at every reproduction. There was never any wholesale appointment of conservatives, nor any slow replacement by conservatives. Therefore, the people have voted Conservative since 2010 is continually greater numbers – even Theresa May got more votes in 2017 than David Cameron did in 2015 – yet never once have we had a conservative government. Instead we have Conservative Ministers formally presiding over an administration that despises them – an administration they are too cowardly to challenge and before which they stupidly abase themselves in the hope they will not be despised.
To the obvious question arising, the answer is to find a better Conservative Party. The old advice – to keep the Stupid Party in office for fear of the Evil Party – no longer applies. Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives have reached a stage of stupid abasement beyond which Labour might be an improvement. But the risk of a Labour Government is over two years away. Unless they really believe courting war with Russia is a vote-winner, the Ministers will cower in office as long they possibly can. That surely gives someone worth voting for to get himself organised.
Until then, I suppose we should thank Peter Tatchell. He may not have our best interests at heart. But there are times when someone is needed who goes too far. This is perhaps one of those times.