Jo Swinson vs biological truth

The Lib Dem leader won’t even say if she believes there are men and women.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan


Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson is not known for taking a nuanced approach to issues. Brexit? Bollocks to it. Single-use plastics? Ban them. Differences in biological sex? Not really a thing.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto pledges on gender and equality have raised some eyebrows. The party promises ‘complete reform of the Gender Recognition Act’; it says it will ‘remove the requirement for medical reports, scrap the fee and recognise non-binary gender identities’. It will also bring in an ‘X’ gender option for passports, extend equality law to prevent discrimination against ‘gender identity and expression’, and require schools to introduce gender-neutral uniform policies.

In short, the Lib Dems have marked themselves out as the party that will heed the demands of extreme trans activists by reshaping laws, norms and truth itself.

This has all caused quite a stir. But it was a frosty exchange on the Today programme yesterday that really revealed just how extraordinary the Lib Dem view on gender has become. Swinson was asked if she believes that biological sex exists – that is, in the words of presenter Justin Webb, that ‘there are men and women, males and females’, and a ‘vanishingly small number of people who are indeterminate because of chromosomal abnormalities’.

Humbly repeating several times that she was ‘not a scientist’, Swinson insisted that things are not ‘as binary as is often presented’. She compared the discrimination against trans women – by which she means they are currently not legally allowed to become women through simple self-ID – to the treatment of gay people in the past. When pushed on the problem that automatic self-ID would compromise women-only spaces, including women’s refuges, Swinson said that individuals should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

She was then asked about the physical difference between male and female bodies, particularly in terms of strength, and whether feminists are right to suggest that this is a good reason for keeping men out of women’s prisons or rape-crisis centres. Swinson replied: ‘I don’t think that there should be some kind of hierarchy of equality.’ She continued: ‘Trans women are some of the most vulnerable women in our society.’

It was a car-crash interview. Perhaps the most telling point was when Swinson tried to cast aspersions on those who raise critical questions about this issue – a tactic that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to have an open discussion about gender. Reprimanding Webb for questioning her proposals, she said: ‘I think there is a demonisation of a community going on here and I often find that the media is complicit in it.’

Like most of their political plans, the Lib Dems’ views on gender identification are undemocratic and out of step with the majority view. Contrary to Swinson’s ahistorical comparison, we are not living in the early 20th century, when discrimination and abuse against individuals who refused to adhere to rigid gender or sexual norms were more commonplace. Thanks to historic fights for equality, it is now widely accepted that it is wrong to mistreat someone on the basis of how they talk, dress, who they sleep with or what they call themselves. We should continue to argue for everyone’s right to be who they want to be.

But this does not mean denying biology and smearing all opposing views as ‘bigoted’. Trans women are not automatically inclined to violence, as some of the more alarmist, so-called ‘TERFs’ might argue. However, removing medical and legal distinctions between the sexes does raise serious questions about the protection of sex-segregated spaces. Many commentators scoff at discussions of toilets or changing rooms as right-wing alarmism. But there are many women who are capable of being sympathetic to trans people while also wanting to maintain women-only spaces and opposing the idea of ‘gender neutrality’ in schools. They understand that sometimes gender and sex are important distinctions.

The debate around gender recognition has turned toxic. Disagree with someone like Swinson and you’ll be accused of conspiring in the demonisation of a vulnerable community. Thankfully, though, the Lib Dems’ views on gender are entirely unrepresentative of the public at large. Most people have a balanced take on these issues – it’s the mad platitudes from people like Swinson that make discussions of gender and freedom more difficult.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Hugh Oxford

24th December 2019 at 10:34 am

To preserve our freedoms, to promote equality, to fight patriarchy and misogyny and to protect the most vulnerable women in society a raft of anti-gender legislation is urgently needed, and the UK government should proudly pioneer it.

This anti-gender legislation must:

1: Enshrine in law the definition of a woman as a person of the female biological sex, the only exception being those individuals with defined, demonstrable objective chromosomal or physiological abnormalities who do not clearly fit into either sex (as determined by a panel of impartial medical practitioners).

2: Make it illegal to provide a service, run an organisation, organise a sporting event or run a facility for both sexes where it is advertised as being for women or girls.

3: Make it illegal to masquerade as a member of the opposite sex for the purposes of entering a single-sex environment or participating in a single-sex activity.

4: Reinforce the inalienable right to refer to another person using scientifically correct nouns and pronouns (man/woman/boy/girl/he/she) according to their objective biological sex.

5: Abolish the use of the term “gender” in government documents, reports, forms, censuses or surveys, replacing it with “sex”, where the word “gender” has been misapplied.

6: Make it a requirement for organisations to provide facilities such as toilets (where provided) for both sexes.

In summary, the UK government must act now against “gender”: a baseless, transgressive, patriarchal and misogynistic ideology with damaging ramifications for the whole of society, but especially for young, poor and vulnerable women who require single sex environments the most, and all women who face the threat of legal and practical eradication.

Tony Collins

15th December 2019 at 8:06 pm

‘Okay then lady, up till now I’ve always been male. But suddenly I’ve decided to self-identify as a woman. Now we can both get our kit off. Shall we?’
Shouldn’t be a problem should it?

Gerard Barry

15th December 2019 at 7:46 pm

Oh well, at least she lost her seat so she won’t be able to implement any of her crazy ideas!


13th December 2019 at 8:51 pm

The use of ‘X’ on passports as a marker for biological intersex people seems eminently reasonable to me. Clearly, the intersex people themselves should be fully consulted on this issue. I am certain that their responses would be significantly more calm and rational than some of the ignorant, hysterical nonsense than we have seen on this media organ.


13th December 2019 at 8:42 pm

I am more concerned by the massive damage done to western society by feminists and liberals who have spent a hundred years demanding the right to do as they please and now that they have received that right seek to prevent others from doing the same. I believe the technical term for this is ‘rank bull**** hypocrisy’. Women have spent a century trying to turn themselves into little men and now another group demands liberation they descend into invective and hysteria!


13th December 2019 at 8:39 pm

‘Biological truth’ lol. Try telling that to someone with AIS, CAH, Klinefelter’s, etc. Whelan needs to do some basic research and then engage brain before putting mouth into gear!

david rawson

11th December 2019 at 2:52 pm

I remember a few years on a leaving-do at a beer garden in Munich, some roma-gypsies were playing their instruments & singing for drinks, food & a few euros.

I was the only Brit there and for some reason they wanted to sing The Kinks’ Lola !

I remember trying to remember & sing ( after far too many weissbiers ) the line “…. I’m not the world’s most passionate man, but I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man …”

In Swinson’s world , this would be hate-speech. We’ve gone mad in about 5 years.

cliff resnick

11th December 2019 at 3:12 pm

take enough “mind altering drugs” and anything is possible!


13th December 2019 at 8:44 pm

Women have been wearing trousers in our society for decades. Prior to WWI, any woman wearing trousers in public would probably have been considered a transvestite and arrested. Do you see how feminism has eroded the distinction between the sexes, long before the transgendered movement came on the scene. Feminists have surely bought this on themselves!

Bella Donna

11th December 2019 at 10:12 am

I look around me and wonder how on earth did we finish up with these lunatics on charge? I’ve put it down to living in relative peace these past 70 odd years, peacetime has allowed these nutters and imbeciles to replicate unhindered! Whilst I don’t pray for a civil war I cannot see how we can avoid one!

Michael Lynch

11th December 2019 at 1:47 pm

Precisely how I feel. However, I wonder if we are merely suffering from a touch of the Victor Meldrews sometimes. When I look back to my youth, the Punk era, I’m sure that the older generations thought the same of us. Mind you, it has to said that back then it was the older people who used to be offended about our words and gesture – it’s the other way around nowadays! Calling Soubry a Fascist can can get you arrested and yet back in 1977 when we called the Monarchy a Fascist Regime (the lyrics from the Sex pistol’s ‘God Save the Queen’) we’d just be dismissed as a bunch of stupid kids. So much for preserving the principles of free speech, eh?

Gerard Barry

15th December 2019 at 7:49 pm

I’m “only” 37 so no Victor Mildrew yet I also find this transgender nonsense deeply worrying. I’m not the only one either.

david rawson

11th December 2019 at 2:47 pm

Nice one Bella

William Murphy

11th December 2019 at 9:31 am

I thought that nothing in Lib Dem history could surpass the glory days of the late Jeremy Thorpe, the conspiracy to murder trial and the “Bunnies can (and will) go to France” letter. But, adapting the Spinal Tap metaphor, Jo Swinson has pushed the insanity dial up to 11.

Ven Oods

11th December 2019 at 9:09 am

“This has all caused quite a stir.”
I don’t understand why. Swinson has less chance of being PM than do I (and I’m not even in the game). I suppose if she was in coalition with Jezza (or his successor) she could be working that agenda in exchange for supporting the government.
But, does anyone expect her still to be leader after the election? She’s been airbrushed from all their campaign literature.

Michael Lynch

10th December 2019 at 9:19 pm

The real battle going on currently in the West seems to be between pragmatism and emotionalism. Swinson is a typical product of the latter camp and is an utter air head who has absolutely no business being in Parliament. I’m hoping against hope that the common sense masses will consign her, and her ilk, to the dustbin of history on the 12th.

Jim Lawrie

10th December 2019 at 9:04 pm

Politicians are love the idea of assuming authority over us in the name of protecting a minority. Ditto the lawyers. It is the basis of The ECHR. They subordinate the democratically decided rights of women to what they have decided are higher rights of which they are the custodians. Dissenters are denounced as bigots.

Women howl, but do not ask why it has been so easy for this lot to hijack their movement. All they can say in response is that trannies don’t have fannies, but that is pointless when the basis of feminism is identity, not sex. If someone challenges and usurps female identity, they are in. The trannies do not have to establish that they are women, and nor can they. Men can be feminists. But they could not be part of the women’s movement.

Feminists could do us all a favour by not announcing someone as a “feminist, wife, mother, sister, daughter, colleague etc … ” which is just stretching out the identity thing to yawning ridiculity.
Feminists could stop calling themselves feminists and get back to beng women. You don’t need -isms, or back formations to and from Latin. That is pretentious and is no substitute for intellectual rigour.

Jon Hubs

10th December 2019 at 8:39 pm

Human placards,felt tip emotions.

Ven Oods

11th December 2019 at 9:04 am

I liked that.

steve moxon

10th December 2019 at 7:43 pm

Yes, sex IS BINARY: intersex is a vanishingly rare condition through an extra sex chromosome, and ‘trans-sexual’ is a misnomer — the ‘somatic’ sex is a constant, with in-embryo malfunction creating ‘brain patterning’ of the opposite sex (Gina Rippon talks nonsense on this, as on everything re the sexes and neuroscience; she’s an ideological bigot).
Even so, ‘trans-sexuality’ [sic] DOES EXIST, albeit nothing remotely as commonly as is currently supposed, and they are mainly birth-males, hence the hatred by feminists, who are the real villains here, as they are with everything.

Jim Lawrie

10th December 2019 at 9:59 pm

The conflict arises first when a medical condition is made a trump card over all social and legal norms, then the fallacy is exposed when the “medical” requirement is dropped and the political ploy of identity is played.


13th December 2019 at 8:48 pm

And yet the Danish and Irish changed the law to allow so-called transgendereds to change their documentation without the need for medical approval, and did so without all the hysteria we are seeing in the UK. It seems the English and Scots are a little less sophisticated and fearful than our Danish and Irish friends.

Jim Lawrie

10th December 2019 at 7:29 pm

Swinson thinks that having achieved Office of Leader, she can dispense with consultation and representation, and dictate policy and the Party line as she see fit on a day to day basis. When the polls flattered her and she decided she could overrule a referendum. It has been downhill ever since. She is not the learning type.
Theresa May did the same once she had been made leader and the polls were flattering her. She started to shove all sorts of manure onto the manifesto and almost lost the election.
Sturgeon in Scotland is the same. With no mandate authority, she increased the tenure of the current Scottish Parliament from four to five years, and introduced stuff like The Named Persons Act.

These women care not a jot for democracy and have not the capacity to understand its principles far less the reasoning behind them. In their eagerness to be the useful idiots of globalism and trample on our rights, they will lead the country into civil war.

a watson

11th December 2019 at 11:38 am

Agree. Well said.

Willie Penwright

10th December 2019 at 6:34 pm

British Liberal-Democrats are a recognised community of British citizens whose beliefs set them apart from the broader community. However this is no justification for discrimination or liberophobic attacks, mockery and other forms of hate speech. Anti-libdemism needs to be called out for what it is – a vile attempt to set Lib-Dems apart from other British citizens. We must practise toleration regardless of how bizarre their beliefs may seem. Accepting differences is what makes Britain strong.


10th December 2019 at 10:27 pm

How right you are Willie. It is the surely a sign that ours is a strong, confident and tolerant society when it can allow an anti-democratic cult like the Lib Dems to freely publicise its bigotry.

Claire D

11th December 2019 at 4:31 am

Very funny Willie.

Jerry Owen

11th December 2019 at 7:51 am

W Penright
The Libdems have set themselves apart from the rest of sane rational society. I hope they stay there and reap their just rewards at the ballot box.
Saying “Bo**ocks” to 17.4 million people shows breathtaking arrogance rudeness and grotesque behaviour.

Filbert Flange

10th December 2019 at 5:07 pm

It is a dreadful mistake to assume the views and opinions of the public at large are some sort of defensive bulwark against the creeping madness of hardcore trans ideology — which is but the current weapon of choice with which to snuff out the west. Just wait until the misanthropic loons again fib their way into controlling public policy in the UK and USA, when it is declared that in order to save democracy it must be suspended. Only long enough to save the planet of course, or some other febrile excuse. It’s game over then…

Everything in media today is carefully crafted subterfuge — a vehicle ridden by the degraded left towards some insane ulterior design. Chairman Mao’s Long March continues in earnest. Here too.

Jerry Owen

11th December 2019 at 1:31 pm

Filbert Flange
Very well said, it is by a thousand small moves we will lose our democracy, even when it is gone most people won’t realize its gone. Totalitarianism will become the new norm for most. the likes of you and me though will be in the Gulags.


13th December 2019 at 8:45 pm

What about the Capitalist Gulags of the last 200 years? The sweatshops and labour camps of the so-called Third World that feed the West’s insatiable demand for cheap labour? Capitalism thrives on such exploitation, and a pliant population can only be achieved through physical coercion and the continual threat of violence.

Jerry Owen

10th December 2019 at 5:05 pm

Just how have we got to the absurd point where a politician will not acknowledge male and female it is absolutely mind boggling that we even discuss this lunacy as if it deserves any credence whatsoever.

Matt Ryan

10th December 2019 at 9:06 pm

Judging by Swinson, I can see how one might think that there were more sexes than men and women.


13th December 2019 at 8:46 pm

Is that all you’ve got Ryan? A pathetic misogynistic diatribe?

Jerry Owen

10th December 2019 at 5:03 pm

‘The Lib Dems views on gender are entirely unrepresentative of the views of the public at large’.
Just like their views on Brexit. What is it about the Lib Dems that they are trying to court the votes of a minority view point? If they were a business they would be bust, instead they are a busted flush.
They will have a miserable election night. And thank God we won’t be seeing her dreadful drab non feminine clothes traipsing in and out of number 10.

Neil McCaughan

10th December 2019 at 4:36 pm

The Liberals are a bunch of freaks. They always were.


13th December 2019 at 8:38 pm

No evidence adduced, just irrational invective. Do you have anything substantial to offer or do you just say the first thing that enters your tiny mind?

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