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The Tavistock

The broom cupboard

Polly Carmichael became the director of the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock in 2009. “I remember our office was literally a room that had probably been a broom cupboard at one stage”, she recalls. But the decision in 2011 to start offering puberty blockers to people under the of 16, and in 2016 to widen the professionals who could refer a child to GIDS had a major impact. The numbers of people on the waiting list ticked inexorably up, until the clinic felt it could barely cope

The Tavistock

A verdict

In the summer of 2022 the NHS announced it was winding up the Gender Identity Service for children and young people at the Tavistock. Critics of the service celebrated, its supporters were left in despair. In this series journalist Polly Curtis has spent months trying to understand what happened at GIDS. Why has it attracted such criticism and what is the best way going forward of treating young people with gender dysphoria?

The Tavistock

The broom cupboard

Polly Carmichael became the director of the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock in 2009. “I remember our office was literally a room that had probably been a broom cupboard at one stage”, she recalls. But the decision in 2011 to start offering puberty blockers to people under the of 16, and in 2016 to widen the professionals who could refer a child to GIDS had a major impact. The numbers of people on the waiting list ticked inexorably up, until the clinic felt it could barely cope

The Tavistock

A verdict

In the summer of 2022 the NHS announced it was winding up the Gender Identity Service for children and young people at the Tavistock. Critics of the service celebrated, its supporters were left in despair. In this series journalist Polly Curtis has spent months trying to understand what happened at GIDS. Why has it attracted such criticism and what is the best way going forward of treating young people with gender dysphoria?

thinkin

Making sense of Pride, with Liz Moseley

What is the point of Pride? A protest, a parade, or just a month of pinkwashing? The origins of Pride are relatively well-known, at least within the LGBT community. All social justice movements evolve over time, hopefully as they help to achieve what they’re fighting for. But what, and who, is Pride fighting for (and against) now? On whose behalf does it speak? These are key ideological questions, but there are structural and institutional ones too, such as who runs Pride — globally, nationally and regionally? Where does the money go? Is anybody measuring whether Pride has an impact? Does any of that even matter? Join us for a ThinkIn to share what Pride means to you, and help us make sense of what Pride is for.  editor and invited experts Liz MoseleyEditor Christopher Joell-DeshieldsExecutive Director, Pride in London Debbie BrixeyChair of Oxford Pride and VP Members Services at InterPride

thinkin

The Rules: Democracy in Britain

I wonder if Rishi Sunak has nightmares about Ant and Dec bouncing into the cabinet room early one morning and, after a few suspenseful beats, declaring: “Boris and Liz have already gone. The third prime minister to be knocked out of I’m a Conservative Leader… Get Me Out of Here! in 2022 is…” The gap between reality television and the surreal politics of Westminster has certainly narrowed this year. Last night, Matt Hancock finished third in the final of I’m a Celebrity, having survived 18 days. That’s not too shabby when you consider that Liz Truss was evicted from Number 10 after only 44. And – whatever crimes against good taste the former health secretary may have committed while he was in the jungle (bronze lamĂ© hotpants spring to mind) – he did not actually capsize the entire UK economy as he faced six consecutive Bushtucker Trials. When Hancock joined the camp on 10 November, it seemed touch and go that he would make it out alive: in particular, Boy George, androgynous pop superstar of the 1980s and now amateur pugilist, looked intent on decking the Conservative MP for his failures during the pandemic. Back home, meanwhile, Hancock was in the Westminster sin bin for deserting the Commons and his constituents. He was suspended as a Tory MP. He has also been referred to the Cabinet Office by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments over his apparent breach of the ministerial code.  The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group sharply criticised his appearance on the show, for which he has reportedly trousered ÂŁ400,000. Ofcom received more than 1,700 complaints. At the G20 summit in Bali, the PM himself said he “was disappointed when he went on the show… we’ve spent however long [on] all these challenges that the country faces – not just me.” The fact remains, however, that Hancock ended up defying all expectations and made it to the final – by which point the bookies expected him to finish second to former Lioness Jill Scott (who was duly crowned Queen of the Jungle last night). Indeed, in his knockabout debrief with Ant and Dec, he looked ever so slightly crestfallen to have finished only in the bronze position.  But not that crestfallen. This time, when he embraced his girlfriend and former adviser Gina Coladangelo – inadvertently recreating the famous CCTV image that forced his resignation in June 2021 – he looked like a man who knows that he has schemed his way to a second chance of some sort. To be clear: coming third in a grotesque television show structured around the spectacle of cruelty is emphatically different from a full-blown political rehabilitation. One Tory minister texted me anxiously last night: “You don’t think he’ll be back in Cabinet, do you??” To which the answer is: not a chance, at least while Sunak is in charge. Stripped of the Tory whip, Hancock may not even be able to stand as Conservative candidate in West Suffolk, the seat he has represented since 2010. Yet what his antics in the jungle have shown is that – yet again – the old rules of politics are being ripped up. There was a time when a disgraced cabinet minister was expected to perform quiet penance: the most remarkable example of which was Jack Profumo’s 40 years of quiet work on behalf of the East End charitable institution Toynbee Hall. It is no longer penance that is expected of discredited or redundant politicians, but a readiness to submit themselves to gruesome public humiliation. And, on that front, Hancock was as ready as it gets, eating a sheep’s vagina, a camel’s penis and a cow’s anus, and downing a glass of blended worms. He was stung by a scorpion. Protesting that he had breached his own Covid guidelines because he “fell in love”, he was stopped in his tracks by stand-up comedian BabatĂşndĂ© AlĂ©shĂ© who interjected “you were grabbing booty, bruv!”  Yet, on his own terms at least, Hancock emerged a winner. While he was in the jungle, a sharp social media team was adroitly managing his Instagram and TikTok accounts. As the show’s ratings rose from eight million to 11 million, the pandemic villain slowly became an object of fascination and (for some) of grudging respect. It would be a huge exaggeration to say that he has been forgiven.  But to his lengthy rap sheet has been appended a note to the effect that he may also be that oldest of archetypes for whom the British have a swooning weakness: a Good Sport. (Just to ensure that we all get the message, he is also reportedly due to appear in the forthcoming series of Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.) Nor is Hancock by any means the first politician to have pursued this route. Ten years ago, Nadine Dorries also had the Conservative whip removed for appearing on the jungle show, and was obliged to apologise “fully and unreservedly” in 2013 for failing to declare her fee. But that did not prevent her from being appointed to the Cabinet in 2021, did it? In 2014, Penny Mordaunt appeared on the ITV celebrity diving show Splash! Three years later, she too was appointed a cabinet minister, and this year stood for the Conservative leadership twice (she is presently Leader of the House of Commons). The most important point to grasp is that such forays by politicians onto reality TV are no longer a sideshow; they are the show, or at least part of it. In the past two decades, politics has increasingly become a branch of the entertainment industry, governed by its culture, its style and capricious brutality. By this I do not mean that all politicians are thespians – for that has been true since the first caveman showily exerted power over another. The Roman emperors were performers par excellence, as were the Medici, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Tony Blair. No: what we have witnessed in recent years is something much more profound. Donald Trump became president not on the basis of his business career – he is a multiple bankrupt, after all – but as a television celebrity, star of The Apprentice and occasional wrestler in the WWE ring. Boris Johnson’s ascent to the top job began with his appearances on Have I Got News For You? In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro made his name as a presidential contender by saying “yes” to knockabout television shows that other politicians wouldn’t even consider. If you want votes, first get ratings. Of course, all three populist leaders are now out of power; and there is a school of thought that says their era is over. We can now all heave a sigh of relief, as sensible technocrats resume control of the world; the rule of calm, evidence-based policymaking is restored; and the toxins of theatrical nativism are being driven from the system by the antibodies of data and credentialism. I am not so sure. First of all, there is no comforting pendulum in modern politics; no in-built tendency to swing back to the familiar after a period of madness. There is only what comes next, what follows in the sequence of political culture. And that is never straightforward to predict. So – yes – the Republican red wave in the US mid-terms did not come to pass, Trump looks weaker than ever, and President Biden can, if he wishes, stand for a second term. But how confident are you that the forces of Trumpism are in full retreat? Does Ron DeSantis, the re-elected Governor of Florida (the state where, as he puts it, “woke goes to die”), not strike you as a new and serious threat to the Democrats – charismatic without being visibly deranged? In France, it is true, Emmanuel Macron defeated the National Rally’s Marine Le Pen in April on her third attempt to win the presidency. But what is Le Pen up to, handing over the leadership of her far-right party to 27-year-old Jordan Bardella? A gamble, naturally – but hardly the act of a movement that is winding down and heading for extinction. Need I remind you, furthermore, that, little over a month ago, the governing party in this country, led by eight cabinet members, was seriously considering recalling Johnson to the top job after the fall of Truss? The former PM certainly had the parliamentary support he needed to challenge Sunak in a ballot of party members, which he would probably have won. It was a close-run thing. Since then, Sunak and Jeremy Hunt have worked round the clock to present themselves as a stable, businesslike duumvirate, clearing up the economic mess they inherited from Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, and seeking, in the Autumn Statement on 17 November, to renew the UK’s claim to fiscal credibility. And look: this is certainly much better than what preceded it. A spreadsheet is always preferable to a skip fire. Sunak has a calm rationality and air of professionalism that mark him out conspicuously from his two immediate predecessors. What is striking, however, is that this most definitely isn’t enough. Last week, I asked what ideals, dream or vision might be inspired by the words “Sunak’s Britain.” And I’m still waiting. One cabinet minister suggested to me: “Fairness. Stability. Prosperity”. This is fine, I suppose, but let’s be honest. It’s also pretty much the sort of platitude that would be written on a mood board by a session facilitator called Darren at an awayday for the regional management of Currys. On the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg yesterday, Mark Harper, the transport secretary, had a go: “I think what people want from their government is – we’ve got a whole load of challenges thrown at us from international events, which are also faced by every other country in the world. I think what they want is a government that grips them, is honest and straightforward with people about the challenges we face, the choices we face, and then lays out to people, with some level of honesty, the decisions we’ve made, and where we can reasonably expect to get to.” Again, who could dispute any of that? But the reason they couldn’t dispute it is not because of its incontestable power but because of its cosmic blandness. This was empty-carbs political rhetoric. It amounts to nothing more than: we’re all very professional, keep calm and carry on. If that was ever enough, it certainly isn’t so in the age of permacrisis. Recovering from a pandemic, battered by the cost of living, wondering what Putin will do next, the public needs more in November 2022 than the calm language of the accountancy profession. The Tory organism senses this is so at its most primal level – and is already panicking. Everywhere you turn, the party is disaggregating into factions, mutinous caucuses, WhatsApp-driven apocalypticism. The divisions over onshore wind farms, housing targets and immigration levels are real enough. Too many good MPs for comfort are announcing their departure (the loss of rising star Dehenna Davison, who captured Bishop Auckland – Labour since 1935 – in 2019, is especially pointed).  The consequence is that the PM, once characterised as too wealthy to govern (which is not an insuperable problem) is starting to look weak (which is much more serious). “We don’t really know what Rishi stands for other than balancing the books,” says one northern MP. “There’s no governing principle or panache. You need both to win.” That’s absolutely right. Sunak’s fatal flaw is his belief that being very able and very confident is enough in modern politics. What he lacks is the performance gene that forces a leader to rise above mere self-assurance and compels him to stretch out a hand to the anxious voter. And that involves taking risks, being more than a man in a suit, taking to the political stage with the audacity of a performer who understands that real power now courses through social networks as much as it resides in institutions, and that all politicians must at least be familiar with the grammar and cadence of modern entertainment culture. Hancock’s relative success in the jungle should scarcely be an inspiration to Sunak – it would not, for instance, be a constitutional improvement to replace PMQs with Bushtucker Trials. But it should be a warning, too. The populist era is emphatically not over. Indeed, how could it be? How could the greatest transformation of political culture of the past 40 years ago have been so quickly reversed?  Is Sunak really naive enough to believe that the old, comfortingly familiar order has been restored simply because Johnson and Trump have been seen off (for now)? What he should really be fretting about is this: what do I have to do to prevent the entire Tory camp from being evicted when Ant and Dec, and 46 million other voters, deliver their verdict in the real electoral final?

thinkin

Sack the leaders: are young people the answer to a net-zero future?

Young people are no strangers to activism. Several young climate activists — Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate and Alexandria Villaseñor to name a few — have led protests that have gathered momentum globally. From platforming the voices of young people fighting for their futures to becoming influential climate champions, young people are at the forefront of the campaign for climate justice. Despite this,  their voices often don’t reach the upper echelons of climate governance conversations.Critics argued that youth participation at COP26 amounted to inviting “cherry-picked young people to meetings like this to pretend that they listen to us”, whilst world leaders simultaneously failed to commit to the drastic action necessary to protect the lives of young people and future generations.So, how can young people turn their activism into impactful action, when it’s often a struggle just to get their voices heard? What evidence is there to illustrate that having young people around the negotiating table makes a meaningful difference in climate governance? And, is this narrative of old versus young helpful?  editor and invited experts Ellen HallidayEditor Emily VernallCOP26 Youth Delegation

thinkin

Does British democracy work for you?

How can we improve British democracy? It’s a question that doesn’t just concern our parliamentary elections, or even elections at all – but asks we consider the full slate of opportunities available to citizens. Who has the power to change Britain for the better, and where? Why is political power so unequally distributed, and how can it really change? It concerns our representatives, yes, but also our public services: from our education and healthcare systems to our police and regulators. And, in this series on British democracy, it asks us to go to the very root of our social contract – a social contract severely broken, perhaps irreparably. This ThinkIn series will ask how to fix it.  editor and invited experts Matthew d’AnconaEditor Councillor Tim WyeBristol Green Party Councillor, Ashley Dr Ceri DaviesDirector of the Centre for Deliberative Research, NatCen Louise TickleJournalist and Reporter

thinkin

Does British Democracy Work For You?

How can we improve British democracy? It’s a question that doesn’t just concern our parliamentary elections, or even elections at all – but asks we consider the full slate of opportunities available to citizens. Who has the power to change Britain for the better, and where? Why is political power so unequally distributed, and how can it really change? It concerns our representatives, yes, but also our public services: from our education and healthcare systems to our police and regulators. And, in this series on British democracy, it asks us to go to the very root of our social contract – a social contract severely broken, perhaps irreparably. This ThinkIn series will ask how to fix it.  editor Matthew d’AnconaEditor

thinkin

Does British democracy work for you?

How can we improve British democracy? It’s a question that doesn’t just concern our parliamentary elections, or even elections at all – but asks we consider the full slate of opportunities available to citizens. Who has the power to change Britain for the better, and where? Why is political power so unequally distributed, and how can it really change? It concerns our representatives, yes, but also our public services: from our education and healthcare systems to our police and regulators. And, in this series on British democracy, it asks us to go to the very root of our social contract – a social contract severely broken, perhaps irreparably. This ThinkIn series will ask how to fix it.  editor Matthew d’AnconaEditor

thinkin

Making sense of Boris Johnson’s Conservative party, with Lara Spirit

Local elections are done but Boris Johnson’s fate is far from clear. Join reporter Lara Spirit to chew over what the results really mean for the Prime Minister — and who in his party might be compelled to move against him off the back of them.  editor and invited experts Lara SpiritReporter John McTernanPolitical Strategist; Former Political Secretary to Tony Blair Peter KellnerJournalist and Political Commentator

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Should the UK leave the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth of Nations is home to 2.6 billion people and comprises 54 member states, most (but not all) with links to the former British Empire. The Queen has been head of the Commonwealth for more than seven decades, and Prince Charles has been agreed, in principle at least, as her successor. But as the UK considers the next chapter of the monarchy, would the Commonwealth be better off without the UK in it? Only 9% of UK trade is with the Commonwealth – despite all the talk of it being a major trading opportunity post-Brexit. With our greater understanding of the long-term impact of colonialism, is our continued involvement in the Commonwealth just an attempt to paper over the cracks caused by Britain’s imperial past, or do we still have a responsibility to be involved? editor and invited experts Jeevan VasagarClimate Editor Dr Sue OnslowDirector & Reader in Commonwealth History, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Kojo KoramLecturer at the School of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London Lord HowellFormer President of the Royal Commonwealth Society; Chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies

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Should we ban private schools?

To their critics, private schools are the engines of inequality which privilege 7% of UK children at the expense of everyone else. To their supporters, private schools prepare children for the top jobs in politics, law, media and business. Private education is also a booming sector: fee paying schools contribute around £13bn to the UK GDP. Solutions for reform begin with the removal of charitable status and stripping tax benefits, and end with full integration into the state system. Could the state system cope with an extra 600,000 students? How much would it cost the taxpayer?Is elitism really that bad when it comes to education, or should parents be allowed to invest in their children’s future – even if the results aren’t guaranteed? In the era of diversity and inclusion awareness, does the old public school tie still count for much? editor and invited experts Liz MoseleyEditor Fiona MillarJournalist and Education Campaigner Lisa KerrPrincipal, Gordonstoun School