There is almost no debate more tribal, toxic or territorial than around trans issues. Often conducted on social media, through piecemeal posts and aggressive soundbites, it epitomises how divided our politics can be, especially due to some progressive voices who sought to undermine concerns raised by groups of women. It has suffered from those who have dismissed criticisms of a gender ideology that they forcefully argued did not exist.

All this is why the publication of the landmark Cass Review into gender identity services for young people is so important. When the review was commissioned by NHS England back in 2020, it waded straight into an area that stirs up passions. This particular debate speaks both to a very personal identity issue, but also how people feel about the world. But thanks to independent specialist Dr Hilary Cass, the sting has been taken out of the debate with a clear evidence-based report setting out where some grave mistakes have been made.

What Cass found speaks directly to the problem of how too much heat and not enough light results in bad policy and dreadful outcomes. Her review found many of the country’s gender identity development services for under 18s were operating in a toxic environment, without clear training or guidance. Puberty blockers were being prescribed without suitable evidence that they were safe. People struggling with their gender and other issues weren’t given the care or compassion they deserve. The report itself is written in a factual tone, building on five years of research, that makes the conclusions even more damning.

The reaction to the Cass review shows how we can have a better debate. Labour has pledged to implement its findings in full, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting acknowledging the “pretty scandalous” findings of the review. Some will be unwilling to give him much praise for repenting on his initial dismal response to discussion around trans issues, yet Streeting was at least open and clear about why his thinking has changed. He withdrew his support for the charity Stonewall’s “get over it” message, admitting: “there are lots of complexities.”

Labour was wrong to shut down the debate on trans issues, punishing the likes of MP Rosie Duffield who signalled her unhappiness at their position, and their change of heart should be welcomed. Those who feel vindicated at the findings should avoid the desire to loudly crow — as former Conservative health secretary Sir Sajid Javid has argued to those in his own party. Instead of reveling in finger jabbing at those who are on the wrong side of an independent investigation, they should welcome that substantive process is a chance to move on.

It’s not only in the trans debate where a better evidence base is slaying unsubstantiated shibboleths. A few weeks ago, the business secretary Kemi Badenoch published the findings of a Government-commissioned investigation into the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda (often known as EDI). The results had similar themes to the Cass Review: accepted practices and norms on diversity were “ineffective and counterproductive”. The independent Inclusion at Work panel spoke to over a hundred people at 50 plus organisations, finding that many employers sought to do the right thing but lacked the evidence that what they were doing would work.

As with the trans debate, the Inclusion at Work panel showed that businesses were adopting positions on what they wanted to signal as opposed to what they did in practice. Or, as the report said, “Performative gestures such as compulsory pronouns and rainbow lanyards are often a sign that organisations are struggling to demonstrate how they are being inclusive.” As with the Cass Review, the conclusions were that better understanding of evidence, data and legal responsibilities is key – EDI should not be pursued just for EDI’s sake.

Labour’s plans to effectively put EDI into law through a new Race Equality Act, giving stronger legal protections for black, Asian and ethnic minority workers workers, would repeat this same mistake. However well intentioned, it is already illegal to pay someone less because of their race, so this is more unnecessary red tape. As Tom Baldwin’s new biography of Sir Keir Starmer explains, legalistic frameworks are core to why the Labour leader entered politics in the first place — but also to how he would like to govern.

There are many other policy areas where better evidence can trump liberal emotion for better outcomes. Tony Sewell’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was met with an avalanche of criticism, yet few could dispute his work on the root causes of discrimination — like poverty, access to educational opportunity, fatherlessness and family breakdown.

Immigration data has been notoriously sketchy for some time, creating the unhelpful dichotomy between whether net migration of “tens of thousand” is a good thing or not, without any nuance. The single-handed campaign by Tory MP Neil O’Brien to gain more granular information on who exactly is coming to the UK is more of what is needed.

The default mindset of too many in Whitehall is for secrecy when it comes to opening the books about which policies isn’t working. Until that changes, independent reviews are a critical tool.

Of course, the reviews alone can’t entirely resolve such contentious issues or right past wrongs. But independent analysis points towards a better way to make policy, if people are willing to accept data over division.

Sebastian Payne is director of the centre-right think-tank Onward

QOSHE - We have the answer to ending toxic culture wars - Sebastian Payne
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We have the answer to ending toxic culture wars

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12.04.2024

There is almost no debate more tribal, toxic or territorial than around trans issues. Often conducted on social media, through piecemeal posts and aggressive soundbites, it epitomises how divided our politics can be, especially due to some progressive voices who sought to undermine concerns raised by groups of women. It has suffered from those who have dismissed criticisms of a gender ideology that they forcefully argued did not exist.

All this is why the publication of the landmark Cass Review into gender identity services for young people is so important. When the review was commissioned by NHS England back in 2020, it waded straight into an area that stirs up passions. This particular debate speaks both to a very personal identity issue, but also how people feel about the world. But thanks to independent specialist Dr Hilary Cass, the sting has been taken out of the debate with a clear evidence-based report setting out where some grave mistakes have been made.

What Cass found speaks directly to the problem of how too much heat and not enough light results in bad policy and dreadful outcomes. Her review found many of the country’s gender identity development services for under 18s were operating in a toxic environment, without clear training or guidance. Puberty blockers were being prescribed without suitable evidence that they were safe. People struggling with their........

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