Lisa Keogh

There is always an infinite supply of money for anti-trans hate campaigners to pursue legal action, however pointless. Several students accused anti-trans hate campaigner Lisa Keogh of “referring to women as the weaker sex and…. asserting that racism isn’t a real thing”, and becoming “hostile and aggressive”, shouting at her tutor. She also made a number of hateful comments. The student who formally complained alleged Keogh was misogynistic, prone to disruptive outbursts and behaviour in class and ignored repeated requests by students and a lecturer to desist. The university investigated, but decided the allegations were not proven. It found she did not shout “intentionally”. Nevertheless she managed to raise £26,000 to sue the University: she tried to argue the very act of investigating a complaint was discrimination against her on the grounds of her “gender-critical” beliefs. One donor gave £8000. There are deep pockets available to fund hate.

She wants abortion illegal after twelve weeks, but her twitter bio claims she is “pro-choice”. I conclude she is untruthful. She is prone to ridiculous and intemperate outbursts: she argues abortion is murder, “by definition”. This aspirant lawyer has a strange idea of what a definition is.

Keogh failed to argue that someone who did not share her disgusting beliefs would have been treated any differently. Anyone who was the subject of a complaint would be investigated. Keogh’s claim did not “narrate even a hypothesis upon which her case could be founded”. On indirect discrimination, she did not allege any practice which would disadvantage an anti-trans campaigner, so her case was irrelevant.

Keogh raised arguments about the Public Sector Equality Duty, which applied to the University, but did not base her case on them. So the sheriff did not determine that point. She made vague claims that her human rights were infringed, but did not say how.

The case was thrown out after a “debate”. In Scottish civil procedure, the defender may argue that even if everything the pursuer alleges is true, she would still lose her case. So there was no evidence heard of the allegations.

I dare to hope she is not on course to be a lawyer. June 2021 was the end of the final year of her law degree, after which she would take the one year Diploma in Professional Legal Practice then work for a period before qualification for a firm of solicitors. She says it was her dream to work in the law, but her twitter account describes her as an “eternal student”.

The case decides nothing of importance, and a sheriff court does not produce a binding precedent anyway, even in Scotland. Its main interest is how far the haters will go to attack any institution that dares to criticise, or even investigate, their hatred, and how much money they have. They want to make institutions too frightened to protect trans rights. However the sheriff quoted settled law, that an investigation the University was obliged to undertake could not be a “detriment” under discrimination law. The transphobes have unlimited funds for court actions, and their every loss makes the law in our favour clearer.

In May 2022, Keogh stood in the Scottish local elections for the Alba Party in the Arbroath West, Letham and Friockheim ward, winning 86 first preference votes, coming last of ten candidates. Nevertheless The Times saw fit to report on her candidacy, quoting Keogh saying some inane pablum, and also Trans Is Bad. It gave them yet another excuse to print that women’s rights are under threat from trans people. Altogether the Times has seven articles to date on Keogh.

Keogh is a mediocre and ridiculous person, devoid of interest to anyone. But an individual pays her £8000, and the Times lauds her, because she is not ashamed to hate trans people.

Download the pdf judgment.

The Council of Europe condemns transphobia in Britain

The Council of Europe condemns “toxic” transphobia in the UK.

Since 1949, the CoE has upheld human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Britain is a founder member. It now has 46 members: the Russian Federation was expelled after invading Ukraine. The Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, visited the UK this Summer, met young trans people as well as politicians and civil servants, and condemned “an increasingly toxic discourse against trans people” here.

Her report (pdf) is written in diplomatic jargon but is still hard-hitting. I have had to translate parts of it.

She found the stories trans people told of intolerance, discrimination and violence “harrowing”. The media reports a great deal on trans, focusing on questionable allegations that we are dangerous, or that the rights we seek to live our lives quietly are dangerous. She quotes the CoE Parliamentary Assembly resolution condemning highly prejudicial “gender critical” and anti-trans narratives. The UN Expert said the press assumes “predatory determinism”- trans are dangerous by nature. Press and politicians frequently assert we are a threat. When we speak up for our human rights or even just talk about our lives, this is called “gender ideology”, a bad, dangerous thing. MPs and government ministers should oppose this slander, but instead spread it. Some politicians seek to get votes out of anti-trans hate, she says. So, the LGBT+ community does not trust the government.

The government and media claim trans rights are incompatible with women’s rights or LGB rights. The Commissioner says this is false. Trans women and cis women “have a shared experience of prejudice, gender inequality, harmful stereotyping, and … violence”. The government and media attempts to provoke conflict make it more difficult to support human rights generally. There is no evidence we are a threat.

She notes that in 2018 the Tory government recognised gender recognition procedures were “intrusive, costly, humiliating and administratively burdensome” and “perpetuate[d] the outdated and false assumption that being trans is a mental illness.” She says there are barriers to legal gender recognition and they should be removed. The World Health Organisation confirms trans is not a mental illness. The English gender recognition process still requires a psychiatric report, and that is stigmatising. It causes human rights violations. We need self-determination, say the CoE and UN: we know who we are. Nine countries have self-determination for trans people, and there is no evidence that the procedure is misused or infringes others’ rights.

The Commissioner fears the media and political attacks on trans people will weaken our legal protection in the Equality Act. Trans people suffer frequent discrimination, she says. Politicians and media constantly claiming a Trans Threat pressures organisations to exclude trans people.

Kemi Badenoch, minister for Equalities, has decided not to proceed with a conversion therapy ban. The commissioner condemns this. She says conversion practices inflict severe pain and suffering, even long-lasting psychological and physical damage.

She recommends:

Politicians should stop saying trans people are a threat, and refute allegations in the media that we are dangerous.

Children should have comprehensive relationships and sexuality education including about the existence of LGBT+ people.

The government should combat intolerance, discrimination and hate crime.

The government should rebuild trust with LGBT+ community and organisations like Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation.

There should be “quick, transparent and accessible” gender recognition, self-determined, not obstructed by psychiatric gate-keeping.

Trans exclusion should be exceptional, only occurring when justified by “concrete, objective facts”. Normally, we should be included by services and society. We know those “concrete, objective facts” are unicorns, never observed by objective investigators.

There should be a comprehensive ban on conversion practices, including attempts to convert trans people. She does not mention the government’s assertion that there is conversion from cis to trans, because it is ridiculous.

It’s sad this has to be said. But the European human rights body Winston Churchill campaigned to create has utterly condemned the British government and large parts of our news media.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes her report, in particular her call for self-determination of trans gender recognition. They said hostility to trans rights affects women’s rights. Sadly, I could not find a similar statement from the EHRC.

Sex, gender recognition, and the Equality Act

Could my sex be “that of a woman” without me being a woman? Could I be a woman, but not a woman according to the definition of “woman” in the Equality Act? Or does the Scottish Public Boards legislation only affect Scottish Public Boards (SPB)? The Outer House of the Court of Session considered that legislation again. The case may be appealed to the Inner House, which previously decided that the definition of “woman” did not include a trans woman without a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), for the purposes of the Scottish Parliament’s devolved powers to enact legislation on SPBs. But I have a GRC.

s9 of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) says my “sex [became] that of a woman” when I got my GRC, and that my acquired gender for all purposes is female. Note “female” not “feminine”- sex and gender are conflated. The Scottish gender recognition Bill leaves this section unchanged.

But s212 of the Equality Act says “’woman’ means a female of any age”. The purpose of s212 was to protect girls: your parents can make a claim under the Equality Act for you before you become adult.

The petitioners in the case, FWS, claim to campaign for women’s rights and children’s rights. However they only campaign against trans rights. This time, they couched it as a loss of rights: a trans man with a GRC would no longer be preferred for appointment to an SPB. They demanded a “rigid biological definition of sex” so that a GRC would change nothing.

To enact the SPB legislation, the Scottish government had obtained specific devolved powers from Westminster. The Scottish government argued that the first FWS case only concerned the extent of those powers, and decided they did not include the right to prefer trans women without a GRC for appointment to SPBs. So the case did not affect any other matter defining “woman”, “man”, “gender” or “sex”. FWS had won almost nothing. My GRC says I am female, so I am female according to the SPB legislation. This does not affect the operation of the Equality Act, which is yet to be decided.

The EHRC intervened, as the public body which supports Equality law. It confirmed the value of a GRC- the GRA shows there is no irreconcilable difference between gender and sex. It is not possible to have an acquired gender without an acquired sex. It agreed with counsel for the Scottish government.

The LGB Alliance intervened to say that trans rights are opposed to gay and lesbian rights. The Equality Network, a real LGB rights campaign group, said the opposite.

The judge looked at the first SPB case, and concluded (para 44) that its basis is that “sex” and “gender reassignment” are separate protected characteristics, not that “sex” in the Equality Act always and only means “biological” sex. The case is authority only on SPBs, not wider discrimination law or the interpretation of the Equality Act.

Then the judge considered whether a trans woman with a GRC recognising her gender as female is a “woman” as defined by the Equality Act. She considered the meaning of the GRA. It says my sex is female. A trans man with a GRC, his sex is male, “for all purposes”. The language is plain.

She then considered the Equality Act. She decided it did not define “woman” as “biological woman”. The word “biological” does not appear in the Act. It did not amend s9 of the GRA which says my sex is female. So, my sex is female. So, para 53, “sex” in the Equality Act includes someone whose sex is recognised by a GRC.

The petition was dismissed.

This may affect the vote later this month on the Scottish gender recognition Bill. A GRC is shown to be important. But I would argue that trans women can still be excluded from women’s services if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, because of the Equality Act sch 3 para 28. So the Bill does not, as the fearmongers would have you believe, let men in women’s toilets. It lets women in women’s toilets.

And, once again, the Scottish Public Boards legislation affects the jobs on Scottish Public Boards. A few hundred jobs at most. If there are more men on a board than women, and recruiting a new member a man and woman applicant are equally qualified, the woman should be preferred. The Scottish government wanted that to include all trans women, but the first FWS case decided it did not. Then they wrote guidance saying it included trans women with a GRC, and the second FWS case decided that, yes, it does. But there may never be a Scottish Public Board where a trans woman, with or without a GRC, applies for membership, a man applies at the same time, and they are equally qualified. All that litigation, over years, and it may not affect a single person. The hate campaigners seem to have a bottomless fountain of money for pointless court actions.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP and trans

Even with the gender recognition Bill, trans is not the most important political issue for the Scottish National Party. So what difference does the election of Stephen Flynn as the leader of the party in Westminster make to us?

There is a great deal of hatred of trans people in politics and the media, and trans people might have been worried by Joanna Cherry’s delight the former leader Ian Blackford was stepping down. When she tweeted “It’s time for fresh leadership and tolerance of debate and diverse viewpoints”, I immediately thought the “diverse viewpoint” she had in mind was her desperation to say Trans is Bad, as loudly and frequently as she can.

The Scotsman (premium article shared by Microsoft) says Flynn would bring Cherry back to his front bench (Boo, hiss). However, read the next paragraph of the article- Tommy Sheppard MP starts talking about Independence. The Scotsman journalist, Alistair Grant, says Flynn is seen as more supportive of the oil and gas industry- he opposed a windfall tax, because of jobs in Aberdeen. Since the survival of the biosphere requires no further oil or gas fields to be opened, that may be more important than Flynn’s views on trans, even to trans people. But Flynn also says he wants a “green energy revolution”.

The BBC reports Mhairi Black will be Flynn’s deputy. She is lesbian, and a committed trans ally. Previous deputy Kirsten Oswald was also a strong trans ally.

I can’t find anything Flynn has said about trans. He has only been an MP since 2019. I hope his replacing Ian Blackford won’t affect trans people. All MPs have far more important things to work on than trans rights. I could not find anything on conversion therapy either. His votes in parliament have supported women’s rights and human rights. The Times’ report on Flynn shoehorned in a reference to gender recognition, but did not manage to make any connection.

The Westminster leader was elected by Westminster MPs. His opponent was Alison Thewliss, who was seen as Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred candidate. She has been an MP since 2015. I could not find anything she had said about trans, either.

If politics was about issues which mattered, which might improve the lot of people, improve the economy, help people engage with decisions which affected their lives, gender recognition and a conversion therapy ban would be quietly nodded through without any fuss, it would be easier to get medical treatment for trans needs without the requirement to see a specialist gender psychiatrist, and politics would otherwise ignore trans people. Tories only bring up trans because they have made a disaster for Britain, and they want any distraction. SNP politicians have more important things to think about. But generally, the SNP is our ally.

I understand the Scottish Gender Recognition Bill should pass this month, and the flood of strident hate and misinformation about it might then reduce. The SNP will have very slightly improved the lives of a tiny, vulnerable minority, with Labour and LibDem support and Greens in their governing coalition. Damaging the Bill would be a colossal snub to Nicola Sturgeon. Even if Flynn’s win shows her power wanes, that will not happen.

Ian Blackford, former leader, has spoken out for trans rights.

Stephen Flynn replaced Ian Blackford, and few people care. At 11am on 7 December, the SNP website news page did not mention it. Their front page showed several photos of Nicola, and none of Flynn. Perhaps that means someone cares very much indeed. The Guardian’s online front page had the announcement at the bottom of “From the UK”, below Opinion and Sport. The Times’ online front page had it at the very bottom. It says Flynn’s win dents Sturgeon’s authority, but, weirdly, does not mention gender recognition. If even the great propagandists against trans can’t include that, perhaps Flynn really does not change things for us.

New anti-trans commissioners at the EHRC

Kemi Badenoch has appointed two new commissioners to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The minister “for” women and equalities continues her institutional capture of the now-misnamed EHRC.

Kunle Olulode MBE has been working against the rights of Black people. He was a commissioner on the Sewell report on Race and Ethnic Disparities, widely derided for minimising disparities and the difficulties PGM face in Britain. The Sewell report does not mention LGBT people, as if black LGBT people did not suffer discrimination.

Arif Ahmed MBE has been working against the rights of trans people. He gave evidence to the House of Commons Human Rights Joint Committee that freedom of speech meant the rights to say Trans is Bad without any consequences. Download two pdf documents. The Committee did not publish a report.

In June 2020, working with anti-trans campaigner Selina Todd, he gave evidence that the freedom of speech of “left-wing” “feminist critics of transgender ideology” was inhibited.

Trans is not an ideology, any more than gay is an ideology. Trans, like gay, is just how some people are. The ideology is of the anti-trans campaigners, denying that trans people have the needs we have, and alleging we are a threat to women and children. They should be allowed to voice these opinions, just as they should be allowed if they wish to claim Jews are a threat to women and children. Then they should suffer consequences for uttering hate-speech. Hate speech inhibits freedom of speech by suppressing the speech of minorities. However Ahmed, Todd and the first-named author of that evidence, Nigel Biggar who is a theology professor, wrote that the offensive speech should not be sanctioned. Instead, those complaining about it should suffer.

The evidence attacks Advance HE, an international higher education charity, for its trans equality policy statement, which says,

“The curriculum will be checked to ensure that it does not rely on or reinforce stereotypical assumptions about trans people, and that it contains material that positively represents trans people and trans lives.”

Ahmed is in favour of anti-trans stereotypes. He forced his Cambridge college to host a speech by discredited anti-trans campaigner Helen Joyce.

The evidence also attacks Stonewall for opposing anti-trans speakers who deny that trans people exist as the gender we say we are.

The evidence creates a false opposition between freedom of speech and equality and diversity. There is none.

I am always glad when haters share good news. Biggar et al write, “Universities are keen to sign up to Advance HE’s and Stonewall’s initiatives. Membership signals their commitment to equality and brings financial reward,” as if that were a bad thing.

Ahmed demanded that the Government refused to fund UK Research Innovation (UKRI) until it ceased to recommend membership of Stonewall Diversity Champions, and required universities to prioritise “free speech” and “academic freedom” as they defined it, over gay and trans rights.

In his further evidence in February 2021, Ahmed said students had demanded a college sack a member of staff. But, the member of staff was a porter, not an academic, and Ahmed produced no evidence he was actually sanctioned.

Ahmed complained that the Cambridge University proposed free speech policy sought the power to prohibit speaker events that threaten student welfare. Again, he wants the power to say what he likes- that I am a threat to women and children, for example- without any consequence.

He misunderstands free speech. He says people are frightened to say they supported Brexit. The only sanction they face is ridicule: Brexit has damaged the economy more than Covid.

Ahmed will join other commissioners, including the EHRC chair Kishwer Falkner, in working against trans rights. Badenoch named Alasdair Henderson deputy chairman (sic) of the Board. Henderson was a barrister involved with Keira Bell’s case against the Tavistock GIDS.

To calm me down a little, here is a photograph of a beautiful place.

Teeth and positivity

Why are things as they are? Is it because they are good and beautiful, or is it because they are a bit useless?

When positivity ignores problems or threats to maintain a “positive” mood, of “positive” feelings, it becomes toxic positivity, a problem. It creates blind spots blocking out reality. The threats and problems remain undealt with, so fester and metastasise. The toxic positivity becomes harder and harder to maintain, taking energy away from dealing with real world problems.

Worthwhile positivity- I might call it “realistic positivity”- finds all that is beautiful or worthwhile in a situation. It values emotions which toxic positivity finds unwelcome- fear, anger, perplexity- because they give useful information, as well as energy to deal with problems.

I want to preserve my rear right wisdom tooth, despite much of it being lost to decay. Reptiles and sharks replace teeth which break. Why don’t mammals? My understanding was that during the long Mesozoic reign of the dinosaurs, mammal ancestors became tiny, stayed out of the way, and didn’t do much until the Chicxulub meteor killed the dinosaurs. Because they were so small, they only lived one or two years, so lost the need to regrow teeth. One set of baby teeth and one set of adult teeth sufficed.

Our ancestors lost an advantage because they were small and insignificant, was the idea.

Steve Brusatte, in The Rise and Reign of the Mammals, explains it differently. Mammal jaws can chew. They move side to side. Reptile jaws take bites and swallow. Mammal teeth grind food down, so the stomach acids work more efficiently on small chunks of food. Just the right amount of wear on the teeth produced flat panels with sharp edges (p70), working like scissor blades. But, teeth which chew need to fit together. Mammal ancestors sacrificed the ability to regrow teeth in order to be able to chew, so process food better.

He also describes the Lilliput effect, whereby smaller animals may be more likely to survive a mass extinction, having shorter generations so adapting more quickly to changing conditions, and being able to burrow so avoid temperature swings. That helped our ancestors survive Chicxulub, and the end-Permian mass extinction.

The book was published in 2022. It helps to have the most up-to-date understanding. It also explains that mammal colour vision is poor because our ancestors were nocturnal. This resulted in other senses being heightened. Human colour vision is better, with three colour receptors, though other animals may have four. I see better if I avoid a solipsistic understanding.

I had thought there were five mass extinctions, but plants have suffered only two.

In the mid-20th century, extinct synapsids (from which mammals came) were called mammals if they had a particular kind of joint in the jaw. This century, mammals are defined as those creatures descended from the common ancestor of all surviving mammals. Other lineages are called mammaliaforms, though they may have had hair and warm blood, even a dentary-squamosal joint in the jaw. I notice Brusatte does not mention mammary glands until the Jurassic period: they are so important in Western culture.

There is a risk Boris Johnson may return as PM, though in July 57 ministers resigned from his government to force him from office, after he trashed ethics in government with his lies and lawbreaking. I am tempted to return repeatedly to the Guardian website, to find the latest developments. I could, thereby, maintain a feeling of horror and outrage. It is reassuring to feel as others do. I experience a heady sense of the rightness of my feelings. It distracts me from my immediate circumstances and concerns. I am probably better, then, to keep informed without continually returning to a source of inebriation. If there were an election, common feelings would help with common endeavour. I can’t link that to positivity, but it does fit to my desire to make my understanding of the world best fit my objective needs, and the continual temptation not to.

The picture is FunkMonk’s life-restoration of Morganucodon, a late-Triassic early Jurassic creature. The animal was warm-blooded, furry, able to chew, and as its young had a toothless stage, possibly it lactated. Not being a descendent of a common ancestor, palaeontologists call it a mammaliaform rather than a mammal. As Brusatte says, “nature doesn’t put labels on things, people do”.

Sonia Sodha and the Labour Women’s Declaration

Keir Starmer is clear on trans rights. He says, “Trans women are women”. Sonia Sodha is an anti-trans campaigner, who seeks to foment fear about trans people, particularly trans women, and trans rights. So, what did she say in the Guardian this time?

Sodha’s aim is to paint trans exclusion as sweet reason. She starts with scaremongering: anti-trans campaigners felt unsafe, she says, and had to hire security. Then she introduces a hate group: The Labour Women’s Declaration.

They are a hate group because they campaign against trans rights and spread fear and misinformation about trans people. Sodha repeats that misinformation here.

Sodha claims their “belief” is unobjectionable, even rational: that “biological sex cannot be replaced with self-declared gender identity”. Nobody wants biological sex to be replaced. Most women have XX chromosomes and female reproductive systems. We only want people to recognise that trans women exist: that a tiny vulnerable minority, who do not have female reproductive systems, believe we are women or desire to express ourselves as women. We are women: that is the clear definition of the word.

We are happier, and enabled to contribute to society, if we can be accepted and treated as women. The Equality Act recognises this and allows us to use women’s services unless there are exceptional circumstances. We are allowed in from the moment we decide we will transition, if we present in our true sex.

Sodha claims the LWD position is “essentially where current law stands”. This is false, taken with her statement that women have the right to “single-sex” spaces, which she interprets as excluding all trans women. She wants trans women consigned to “gender neutral services” which often do not exist. Why should I use a toilet designed for disabled people?

Sodha demands total exclusion of trans women from women’s services, and for us to be placed in gender-neutral services we do not want. She calls this extreme position, contrary to the Equality Act, a “dignified and respectful compromise”. She cares nothing for the dignity of trans people.

Sodha implies that schools tell children they are trans, when the desire to transition comes from the child. Children have to show incredible strength of character, and usually have loving supportive parents, before they can transition, leave alone receive medical treatment. Of children discharged from the Gender Identity Development Service in 2019/20, around 250 of them had been referred to an endocrinologist for puberty blockers, perhaps half that were approved for cross-sex hormones. That’s out of eleven million children in Britain. Yet she claims this medical treatment is a threat to children, and implies that far more get it than actually do. Trans people who received this treatment as children report they live happier, healthier lives.

Sodha lists the ways people associated with the LWD have been treated by the Labour Party. She says Keir Starmer has had meetings with them, but not done what they demanded. She does not say why, she just says he has “failed to address” LWD concerns. The Labour Party refused the LWD a conference stall. In candidate selection, people have been asked to justify their views. A councillor has been disciplined for abstaining on a motion. A woman I admire has had her membership application rejected. Sodha says Unions also object to LWD associates.

The Labour Party is a democratic, decentralised party. This indicates that Party members at all levels object to the LWD and their views. The party is governed by rules: this shows that people disciplined by the party have broken those rules. Sodha has not investigated, or given the party members who made those decisions a chance to respond, she has just asserted that all levels of the Labour party and Union movement from the leader down have mistreated people associated with LWD. Then she says the SNP support increasing trans rights. Does she deny Nicola Sturgeon is a feminist? Does she accept that the SNP is a worthwhile party for feminists to join? More than half the SNP’s MSPs, and more than a third of its MPs, are women. Would they support a policy which hurts women’s rights in any way? Some of them oppose SNP policy, but only a tiny minority.

Sodha says this means “gender critical women” are “not welcome” in the Labour party. That’s ridiculous. Nobody accepts the whole platform of a party. We support it because we prefer it to the alternatives. “Gender-critical” people are welcome to their beliefs, but are not permitted to take action against the party, or unlawfully harass or discriminate against trans people.

The Guardian should publish a correction to the misinformation Sodha shares. However the next week the Observer letters headline was, “toxic trans debate is making me afraid”: the writer was not a trans women victim of the Observer, but a hater, objecting to being called transphobic. I don’t want her to be afraid, but her fear does not mean she is right.

Quakers and politics

It is deceptively difficult for Quakers to discuss politics.

Being left-wing, I am in near despair. Publications I trust- The Guardian, Paul Krugman in the New York Times- tell me that cutting taxes, particularly corporation tax or higher rate income tax, does not promote economic growth as Patrick Minford and Liz Truss say. I read that the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, will be tougher on immigration than Priti Patel was.

So it is a sad pleasure to talk of this with some Friends. Like me, they believe Liz Truss will take the wrong course on the climate crisis, the cost of living crisis, the Sterling crisis- I read a suggestion that parity with the dollar is possible- and will increase division and suffering in the country. We say things like “I thought Boris Johnson was bad, but Liz Truss will be worse” and agreeing brings us together.

It is tempting in these conversations to say things like “The only good thing the Tories have done in twelve years is Equal Marriage”. I thought of writing that, drafting this, then thought of other things the Conservatives have done of which I approve. I must guard against hyperbole.

My impression is that most Quakers are left-wing, like I am now. Our testimony to Equality seems to point that way. When I went to my first Monthly Meeting the Friends taking me said their children were in the Socialist Workers Party but their values were the same- and I thought, that’s a bit extreme. At the time, I voted Conservative. I have canvassed for the Conservative party. Perhaps it is my bias to imagine people to be like me. Perhaps it is that right-wing Quakers usually keep quiet about it. There is no one right Quakerly view of immigration, leave alone economics.

In a letter to The Friend on 4 August 2022, Deryck Hillas wrote, “Johnson is the worst prime minister in British history and we will be well rid of him”. In a reply in The Friend on 8 September, Clive Ashwin wrote, “Boris Johnson will emerge as … a great prime minister for his far-sighted and effective handling of unforeseen national problems”. For too many Friends, one at least of these opinions may set us off. We get angry, and think of all the contradictory evidence. On social media, we may start typing, delighting in our rhetorical flourishes. Face to face, I go into that kind of conversation where I am planning what to say rather than listening.

Reading the Guardian, I get a different impression from those Quakers who are Times readers. Things which seem obvious to me are not obvious to them. The risk is that if we argue, both will lose. The one with the sharper rhetoric and debating skills may have the last word, but that is a hollow victory if the other is hurt and the trust in friendship is lessened.

Speaking to a Quaker Leave-voter, I was reduced to hearing his views expressed calmly and definitely, and feeling that if I contradict him it will do neither of us any good. That was better than arguing, but there is a more excellent way.

We can each state our views, without interruption or contradiction, so that we know where each stands without attempting to contradict or persuade. Or, we can worship together and see what words will bring us together in Love. We can check our own understanding: I see my temptation to fall below “strict integrity” in what I say. Especially when disagreeing about politics I should take care to be truthful, and listen carefully when someone with a different news source gives a different perspective.

These things matter. Last winter I spent some time each day wrapped in a sleeping bag cuddling a hot water bottle. I will be colder this winter.

How can I speak the truth in Love, so that I have the best chance of being heard?
Am I better to remain silent, when speaking truth as I see it will merely divide us?
Can I properly hear people who disagree?
How can we come together in Love, to know and respect each other better?