DANIEL HANNAN: Why, despite two welcome victories, I fear we’ll NEVER beat the woke nightmare. And the next generation will be even MORE intolerant

DANIEL HANNAN: Why, despite two welcome victories, I fear we’ll NEVER beat the woke nightmare. And the next generation will be even MORE intolerant

Could the woke nightmare be coming to an end? Might Britain be stirring, shaking off its bad dream, and returning to common sense?

There are glimmers of hope. This week, the Michaela community school in Brent, north-west London — the strictest and one of the most successful secondary schools in the land — won a court case allowing it to ban public religious rituals, which it argued were against the spirit of cohesiveness that underpins its academic achievements.

And last week, the Cass report confirmed what almost everyone knew, though many were too frightened to say, that it was far too easy for children to be given puberty-blocking drugs.

And in Tuesday’s Mail the Culture Secretary, Lucy Frazer, urged sporting authorities to ban biologically male competitors from women’s sports.

Are we finally seeing a backlash against the identity politics that has rendered our country ill-tempered, intimidated and inane?

Yes and no. Before we get carried away, we should note that there has been no let-up in the anti-white bias that is widespread in our public sector and in universities. Preposterous demands for reparations from the only country that devoted itself to stamping out slavery get louder.

Campaigners for social change, caught up in their own moral outrage, sometimes over-reach. When they do, there is a limited and localised backlash. But the dial never quite moves back to where it was.

Let’s consider the cases separately, starting with Michaela. I used to wonder whether Katharine Birbalsingh, its famously strict headmistress, could really live up to all she was cracked up to be. Then I spent a day in her classrooms.

Keira Bell, a teenage girl who was prescribed puberty blockers by the NHS's Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), speaks outside court after she took the Tavistock clinic to court over the treatment she was given in transitioning

The teaching was better than I had had at my fee-paying school. The atmosphere was disciplined — the kids were not allowed to talk in the corridors or look around in class — but palpably happy. Michaela does not just outperform private schools in terms of raising the accomplishments of its children, a quarter of whom qualify for free school meals; it also outperforms them in absolute terms, with better GCSE and A-level results.

A lot of its success lies in Birbalsingh’s commitment to integration. Many of her children come from difficult home environments, but she never allows that as an excuse for sloppy homework. Knowing that her pupils between them speak dozens of languages, she stresses what they have in common. As they come to lunch, for example, they belt out lines of patriotic poetry.

The Tavistock transgender clinic announced it would close down the Gender Identity Development Service

Then a child on each table serves their friends a vegetarian meal, so Hindu kids don’t need to worry about beef, nor Muslims about pork. It is this togetherness that Birbalsingh wants to preserve. She worries that, in a school where half the children are Muslims, public prayer rituals would divide the community. It was this policy that prompted one Muslim student to launch a legal challenge.

The extraordinary thing is not that Birbalsingh won the case, but that it could be brought in the first place — and, indeed, funded by legal aid to the tune of £150,000. It would recently have gone without saying that, provided national standards on child welfare and the curriculum were being met, heads could set whatever policies they thought best.

Parents are free to choose Islamic schools. If they instead choose Michaela, they are accepting its philosophy. It is a pity that this principle was ever subjected to legal challenge.

The issue of trans is slightly different. Here we see the terrifying over-reach that can happen when a cause is fuelled by both fashion and self-righteousness. The idea that children should make irreversible decisions about their sexual development is, when stated baldly, so absurd that hardly anyone would countenance it. But its exponents are angry, energised and ready to destroy the reputations and job prospects of anyone who disagrees.

Dr Hilary Cass' report confirmed what almost everyone knew, though many were too frightened to say, that it was far too easy for children to be given puberty-blocking drugs

For a few demented years, the denial of biological reality has been adopted by swathes of society — publishing, broadcasting, the performing arts, universities, the civil service. Some kept their heads down for fear of criticism. Others rationalised their cowardice by genuinely convincing themselves of what was being proposed.

The publication of the Cass report was like the breaking of a spell. Many of those who had been outraged at the suggestion that women had wombs have shaken off their enchantment and, indeed, forgotten that they ever held their previous opinions.

Should we expect a wider pushback against some of the dottier woke doctrines? On past evidence, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

The vilification of those who insisted on the primacy of biology was a moral panic. The essence of a moral panic is that people act in ways that look absurd and shameful when the panic passes.

For example, during the 1980s and 1990s, many journalists, social workers and childcare professionals believed children were being used in Satanic rituals. Hundreds of children were taken from their families on the basis of bogus evidence.

Today, it is hard to believe it happened. Go back further and we find something even creepier, a serious and organised campaign to legalise paedophilia. In the early 1970s, an organisation called the Paedophile Information Exchange demanded the abolition of the age of consent.

Now here’s the thing. That campaign was backed by many of the same sorts of people as the ones who later backed the more extreme trans nonsense. Among those who gave it a measure of support were the future Labour MPs Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt — both of whom have since apologised.

I don’t mean to point the finger. I have always admired both women, and their apologies were sincere. No, my point is precisely that, when bad ideas become fashionable, well-meaning people can end up backing them.

Just as with puberty-blockers, the country as a whole was solidly against abolishing the age of consent. And, just as with puberty-blockers, most of those who got caught up in the fad eventually came to their senses.

The disquieting truth is almost every civilisation has been based on a measure of identity politics, meaning some groups are favoured over others. In the West, around 300 years ago, we did something quite exceptional. We decided freedom trumped birth, caste or tradition.

That achievement was more precarious than we realised. The liberal ideal, that every able-minded adult is equal before the law and that personal autonomy should be paramount, has given way many times before to the fierce appeal of authoritarianism.

That’s the terrifying thing about identity politics — not that it is absurd, but that it is dangerously seductive.

These recent victories don’t mean we have fought it off. Indeed, we will never definitively fight it off, for it appeals to a part of human nature. The best thing we can do is to educate our children, to teach them that open societies are happier, fairer and richer than collectivist societies where the cancel culture trumps freedom of expression.

Michaela, at least, is a school where that still happens. Sadly, it is in the minority, and there is every sign that today’s children will be an even more illiberal generation. We take freedom for granted. But, by Heaven, we’ll miss it when it has gone.

Lord Hannan is International Secretary of the Conservative Party and serves on the Board of Trade.


Daniel Hannan

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