Gareth Roberts

Does Stonewall have no shame?

Does Stonewall have no shame?
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Watching people brazening it out can be tremendous fun. The higher the stakes, the more extreme the disparity between reality and what we now call ‘cope’, the greater the cheer.

We remember the brass neck of Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi information minister dubbed ‘Comical Ali’, still denying the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime as American tanks rolled into Baghdad. Or the final balcony address given by Nicolae Ceaușescu on his pet TV station as his regime was toppling.

We associate this kind of thing with despotic regimes, but in the democratic world we get the occasional glimpse of it: a public figure refusing to acknowledge openly the import of a reverse or a loss. Theresa May’s frankly terrifying croak of ‘nothing has changed’ after the 2017 election that changed everything; or Jeremy Corbyn assuring his disciples he had ‘won the argument’ after leading Labour to its most crushing defeat for eighty years.

In his favour, Boris Johnson was visibly squirming throughout his recent travails, and seems to have regained some of his oafish charm since he resigned. It looks like a giant weight off him.

To acknowledge that a bad thing has happened is regarded as a sign of weakness. But this is not a good strategy. Accepting the truth of a reverse – with a smile or with a call for justice – can galvanise support for you. It’s a jolt to remember how, not so long ago, John Major was regarded as the exemplar of the gracious loser. His genial acceptance of defeat in 1997 now looks like something from a vanished world.

A few recent incidents have gone way beyond this normal level of fronting out, and have brought the flavour of the cornered emperor in his palace into the Western twenty first century. There’s a point at which brazening turns from silly to sinister, not merely downplaying something but a refusal to acknowledge that it has happened at all.

The Biden administration has escaped from recession simply by changing the definition of recession, with Big Tech in the shape of Wikipedia rewriting its definition to suit. This is something you might expect to find in one of Evelyn Waugh’s travelogues of failed states of the 1930s.

Closer to home, it was announced last week that the Gender and Identity Development Service (GIDS) clinic of the Tavistock Trust is to close after a review found that it had failed vulnerable under-18s. Dr Hilary Cass, a paediatrician who led a review of GIDS, found that the Tavistock clinic was ‘not a safe or viable long-term option’. Her damning report found that:

‘The evidence base on which it prescribed major hormonal interventions such as puberty blockers was close to non-existent, and many clinicians had expressed concerns about poor diagnosis and record-keeping, and a culture of shutting down criticism.’

(Credit: Alamy)

You might expect that the Tavistock would respond with the customary boilerplate – ‘we welcome and accept the findings, etc, etc’. But no. ‘The Trust supports the need to establish a more sustainable model for the care of this group of patients given the marked growth in referrals,’ they stated. ‘The expertise that resides within the current GIDS service will be critical to the successful formation of these early adopter services and providing continuity in patient care.’ No response – not even bare recognition – of the unprecedented criticism, the ‘shut it down ASAP!’ closure.

The gender charity Mermaids reacted similarly. ‘We welcome the news that NHS England plan to provide a more resilient and robust gender identity service in 2023 by expanding provision,’ it said, spinning as good news what had happened.

Elsewhere on the gender beat, Stonewall reacted to Allison Bailey’s win for damages against Garden Court Chambers – after it had signed up to Stonewall’s ‘diversity champions’ scheme – with the gobsmacking: ‘Leaders within organisations are responsible for the organisational culture and the behaviour of their employees and workers. Stonewall’s resources, support and guidance is just one set of inputs they use’.

Even Trump and Remain didn’t go this far. It’s not so much rewriting the past but rewriting the present.

You have to take your hat off to the audaciousness. These people have made the calculation that not enough people care about the issue for them to worry about it, and that they can probably still get away with what they’ve been up to, at least on the quiet.

All you need is to have no shame.

Written byGareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts is a TV scriptwriter and novelist who has worked on Doctor Who and Coronation Street

Topics in this articleSociety