The United Kingdom is likely to hold elections in the coming year, the same as their ally the United States. While the Conservatives — the Tories — currently hold power, polling indicates that their main rival, the Labour Party, is favored to win. Recent polls put Labour’s lead at 14 percentage points, as economic woes and frustration with untrammeled immigration suggest the Conservatives aren’t up to the job of righting the ship of state.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is also in a tenuous position personally.  The previous prime minister, the popular Boris Johnson, was deposed in a Tory coup — in other words, Sunak helped oust Johnson. Sunak, the first British Asian prime minister in U.K. history, is also incredibly wealthy, which makes it very hard for him to appear as a “man of the people.” 

If the Tories and Sunak are to beat the odds and win, boldness is key. And boldness has been on display in the Conservative Party conference held this week. Americans should pay attention, because many of the issues facing the U.K. are in play in our own election. It is instructive to watch how Sunak has handled these; he is clearly highlighting the issues he thinks will win him votes that would otherwise go to Labour.

Where was Sunak the boldest? On what he called matters of common sense:

“It shouldn’t be controversial for parents to know what their children are being taught in school about relationships. Patients should know when hospitals are talking about men or women. And we shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t. A man is a man and a woman is a woman; that’s just common sense.”

Every one of those sentences is linked to real controversies in the United Kingdom and also in the United States. Should schools keep secrets about the gender identity of pupils from the children’s parents? In the United States, that is being litigated all across the land, with lawsuits and counter-lawsuits flying. That’s also been the case in the United Kingdom, but Sunak’s government is putting into place official guidance that will ban keeping such knowledge from parents. 

Should doctors and hospitals refer to “pregnant people” and “chestfeeding”? This erasure of women and mothers has proceeded apace in the United States. In the United Kingdom, however, the government is now prohibiting that erasure, restoring the words “woman” and “mother” and “breastfeeding” to the information given out by the National Health Service.

The prime minister has now also gone on record as stating that belief in the reality of biological sex is simply common sense. How utterly refreshing to hear the head of a G7 nation — the nations that are the most developed, most advanced in the world — say this. It takes real courage in 2023 to do so. In fact, in the United Kingdom, the belief that sex is real is now a belief protected under law. An individual cannot, for example, lose their job or endure workplace harassment as a result of holding that belief.

Perspective: How societies can step back from the precipice
Perspective: How societies can step back from the precipice

The protection of the belief in the reality of sex has real-world policy consequences for women. The U.K. government has announced that hospital wards will no longer be mixed-sex. The government has also mandated that schools must provide single-sex restrooms, even if other restrooms are “gender neutral.” England and Wales have also banned prisoners with male genitalia from women’s prisons. Puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones can no longer be given to children unless they are enrolled in formal, clinical trials.

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That the United Kingdom has managed to back down from increasingly extreme positions on these issues over the past several years to a much more commonsensical approach is terrifically heartening. While no one wants any type of discrimination in employment, housing or civil rights for individuals with gender dysphoria, there is a reality to biological sex that cannot be vouchsafed. For issues where bodies matter, such as sports and shelters and safeguarding, sex must trump gender.

British Olympian Sharron Davies, in anticipation of the coming U.K. election, has undertaken a brilliant, but simple initiative to help voters in her country: “an apolitical new grassroots campaign is gearing up to meet all MPs and parliamentary candidates at hustings events and on their doorsteps to ask each one the question: ‘What is a woman?’ Their answers will be video recorded and uploaded individually to a website which is being launched in the coming months. ... This campaign will bring honesty to politics and to the debate, so every voter in the country knows if their MP will stand up for women.”

As a voter in the United States, I’d dearly love to know that information for U.S. candidates before I cast my ballot in local, state and national elections next year. Congratulations to Sunak, Davies and the myriad of other individuals in the U.K. whose efforts have enabled a much-needed and seemingly miraculous U-turn in the direction of common sense in a Western nation. Your bravery has encouraged us all. As Millicent Garrett Fawcett said, “Courage calls to courage everywhere.”

Valerie M. Hudson is a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a Deseret News contributor. Her views are her own.

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