Who do the Conservative leadership hopefuls think they’re impressing with their spiteful stance on trans issues? | Zoe Williams

LWe do a quick recap of the bad anti-trans posturing that ruined the Conservative leadership race. Yes, it will be depressing, but I’ve just had enough of being doused in this poison and expected to sweep it away and go about my business.

Kemi Badenoch launched her campaign at a venue with gender-neutral restrooms, but by the time her team arrived, handmade paper signs saying ‘men’ and ‘ladies’ had been taped to the doors – highlighting the fact that, with her in charge, no one would ever have to endure the indignity of unisex toilets again, as God help them if they ever got on a train. Penny Mordaunt referenced Thatcher’s remark ‘every Prime Minister needs a Willie’, giving it a new twist: ‘A woman like me doesn’t have one’. Its supporters thought it was clever, although, back to the wall, could someone explain what it means? Was she reassuring conservative members that she was not trans, which no one thought she was? Or soothe them with memories of Margaret? It’s the kind of unnerving half-message you might whisper to someone while they’re sleeping, just to ruin their dreams. Liz Truss wowed an audience of conservative Leeds by telling them ‘a woman is a woman’, while Rishi Sunak committed to the Mail on Sunday that it would reverse “recent trends of erasing women via the use of awkward, gender-neutral language”.

pic.twitter.com/paeE6wf49x

— Camilla Turner (@camillahmturner) July 12, 2022n","url":"https://twitter.com/camillahmturner/status/1546793200978911232","id":"1546793200978911232","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"c5e1db6e-d308-42c4-9e4f-c4bd9d5dbdd3"}}'>

No neutral toilets here…. Just arrived at Tory leadership candidate Kemi Badenoch’s launch event where makeshift signs have been added to toilet doors to say ‘Men’ and ‘Ladies’ pic.twitter.com/paeE6wf49x

— Camilla Turner (@camillahmturner) July 12, 2022

Even if we park (and I’m reluctant) the sheer, cynical nastiness of using a minority group’s right to exist as a talking point in a popularity contest, it’s kind of terrifying, isn’t it ? Many things, from the economy to the climate, have taken an extremely dark turn. How could a serious person focus on “awkward, non-sexist language”?

Maybe it doesn’t matter what I think, since I’m not choosing the next prime minister; except you know who agrees with me? conservative members. Opinium pollsters have made salience research on a sample of 500 conservative members, to discover the subjects that fascinated them the most. Trans issues, which had been asked as two separate questions (participation in sport and rights more generally), came 26th and 27th, out of a list of 28. Is it because they have already been swept into a frenzy? about migrant crossings – the second biggest problem – and voters, like milk, cannot be foamed twice? Or is it because there’s a cost-of-living crisis – by far the most worrying topic – with difficulties looming so severe that even triple-locked people don’t see the months ahead with anything other than fear? Who the hell do these politicians think they are, that they can run this country to the rocks and then make the wreckage more festive with their malevolent fireworks?

Duh, my mistake. They are not trying to distract their own constituents; there probably won’t be a vote on the leader anyway. Rishi Sunak, if his restless chatter and petrified fake laugh were anything to see on Monday’s Today show, will have conceded within the week, leaving Liz Truss to be anointed. It’s just a sordid play to divide the left so that instead of building a cohesive critique of this mess of one government, instead of having a platform on which they are united, the Labor MPs are signing open letters to each other about drivel. Let us know when we can eat one of these made-up controversies, or warm our hands by setting them on fire.

Sun Tzu arguably puts it more concisely, but progressively, throughout: if you’re chasing a stick that Liz Truss threw for you, you’re chasing the wrong stick.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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