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Oh god, the Telegraph. Why do you make me rant at you?

December 26, 2012

So the Torygraph today has an article up about the fact that a consultation on the A6 to Manchester Airport relief road asks, in addition to questions on the road and whether or not you feel it is a good idea, several demographic questions. The one they’ve picked up on in the headline is the question about whether or not the person filling in the survey is trans*- or cis-gendered. 

Now, at this point I should declare a personal bias. In early 2012, one of my partners came out as transgender, and I have several dear friends and casual acquaintances who have made the journey from one end of the gender spectrum to the other, are currently doing so, or are swimming around in the middle and having fun with the whole gender thing. (Let’s face it, dresses, sharp suits, glitter and mascara beards are a lot of fun.) These are people I care about a lot. All this has meant that anything that might even slightly be transphobia is currently sounding my klaxon big time. It brings out the mother tiger in me. Claws and all.

So here’s the thing about demographic questions. The retired banker quoted in the article has, I’d be willing to bet, never encountered any oppression in his life. He may have occasionally felt out of place in a setting, but never without the means to remove himself from that uncomfortable situation. 

Now, local government consultations are one of the little everyday expressions of our democracy. It’s a way for people to engage in their community in a very targetted way. It requires certain things of a citizen too. In order to be able to engage with your community in this way you must have free time, the resources to access information about upcoming changes, and the education and knowledge to respond to them. 

Requiring people who are responding to consultations to complete demographic questions means that you then have an idea about the sort of people in that area who are engaging in time-consuming local democracy. If, for example, your area in the census was shown to be 30% people who were born in Bangladesh, and yet all of the respondents to your consultation on a flyover which would require the demolition of several Indian restaurants report that they are White British, you then have evidence that the consultation was not fit for purpose and should probably be redesigned and done again from scratch.

As my wonderful friend @seanthesean just said on twitter, ‘convenient how supposed anger at intrusive government also helps hide how many minorities there are, eh?’

I will concede to the Telegraph that whether or not someone is cisgendered probably has very little to do with how and whether they will use the A6 to Manchester Airport relief road. It does, however, have really quite a lot to do with how and whether they are able to feel engaged in the process of local democracy. Which is what this consultation is. 

For that reason, these questions are still necessary, regardless of  what Eric ‘Are There Any More Pies’ Pickles thinks, and the only consequence of removing them from the process of local democracy will be less local democracy.


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