Kemi Badenoch, the MP who came fourth in the Conservative leadership election, has written a blistering comment piece in the Sunday Times blaming activist civil servants and cowardly ministers for the failure within Government to do something about the irreversible medical harm being done troubled adolescents by the Tavistock. She describes how officials in the Government Equalities Office tried to block her meeting with critics of the NHS clinic, including the LGB Alliance. Here’s how it begins:
Government ministers have difficult decisions to make, often between options where the best course of action is unclear. Some decisions, however, are simple. They are about right and wrong. Last week’s decision to shut the Tavistock clinic is one such example.
When I became equalities minister in early 2020, the NHS gender identity service (GIDS) for young people was presented to me by government officials as a positive medical provision to support children. I was assured that was there “nothing to see here”, if anything, the Tavistock was getting unfair press. This was despite whistleblowers like Dr David Bell already raising concerns about practices at the clinic.
Children and their welfare should be a priority of any government. After receiving correspondence on the matter I decided to listen to every perspective on the issue of those experiencing gender distress to prepare future policy. I noticed officials seemed to be consulting the same people and previous ministers had created an LGBT advisory panel that was clearly suffering from groupthink.
I insisted on meeting campaigners on both sides of the debate: not just Stonewall but, to the horror of some officials, the LGB Alliance. I met clinicians and, most importantly, I asked to meet young people who had used the Tavistock’s services.
One such young person was Keira Bell. To my surprise, I was advised strongly and repeatedly by civil servants in the department that it would be “inappropriate” to speak to her. I overruled the advice. Along with other advisers across government I met Keira and listened to what she had to say. Her testimony was harrowing and brought many on the Zoom call to tears. Keira described how, after being put on puberty blockers at the age of 16, she was given testosterone shots at 17, before her breasts were cut off at 20. Worse was the casual indifference she described from the GIDS service to her continued post-surgery wellbeing.
There are two types of ministers — those who assume that officials know best and follow their advice unquestioningly, becoming spokespeople rather than decision-makers — and those who don’t.
The government machine wants to be comfortable and consensual and campaigners and activists know how to take advantage of this. A minister asking tricky questions can be stopped in their tracks by accusations of stoking “culture wars”. Minutes of private meetings with whistleblowers and concerned citizens can be selectively leaked or become the subject of numerous innocent-looking freedom of information requests, designed to identify targets for harassment on social media, as I discovered in one unfortunate case.
Whitehall has solutions for ministers wishing to dodge difficult decisions: issue another call for evidence for information you already have; publish a consultation that is captured by campaigners or form a new working group of “stakeholders”. However, the work of government is all about making difficult decisions, even if it makes us unpopular.
I write not to take credit for this result — my part in it was very minor — but to give an insight into the numerous obstacles that slow down even the most determined minister from finding out the truth and making the right decisions.
A courageous and important piece by Kemi. Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: The Mail On Sunday has an interview with Keira Bell, the young woman who blew the whistle on the Tavistock and helped persuade Kemi it should be shut down.
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